5 Amazing Tips on How to Write Lyrics
In this article I want to give you 5 amazing tips on how to write lyrics to a song. Many songwriters struggle knowing how to approach lyricism, so this article will give you some extremely useful tools.
1.Write Words That Are Emotionally Captivating
Lyricism is far more of an art than it is an exact science. In the realm of science you have to be as objective as possible and take emotion out of the situation. It’s all about the empirical facts and data NOT your feelings. On the other hand when it comes to art, whether it be painting, sculpting, or writing lyrics or otherwise, you have the luxury of doing the opposite. You want to write lyrics that are emotionally compelling. This is what draws people in to listen to what you’re trying to say. For example you could explain a relationship breakup by writing lyrics such as;
“My lover left me
with all I had
now I feel envy
and I’m really sad”
LOL! This is some terrible lyricism! It’s bland, plain, cliché and just… well terrible, lol…. Considering we’re trying to express a very emotional moment, it’s actually surprising how unemotional and almost ‘robotic’ it is, to the point where I can’t read it and say it back without laughing! There’s nothing emotionally compelling about it at all. Similarly it doesn’t really make any sense, “now I feel envy”…. Ok, WHY do you feel envy? Just because your lover left you? Can’t you elaborate on that in some way or another? Can’t you at least express the feeling of envy in a more compelling way than simply saying you feel it??……
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is a place for ambiguity within lyricism. But you have to do it in a way that’s emotionally compelling.
So let’s see if we can say the same thing in a more emotionally compelling way. How about;
“You bled my soul dry
I got nothing but pain
I had a beating heart
and you cut every vein”
The above might be a bit cliché too, but you can at least see the difference and which is the more emotionally compelling set of lyrics and also which is the more dramatic. Notice the provocative imagery to describe how it feels. It’s far more emotionally provocative than saying, “I’m really sad.” Of course you’re really sad, but don’t just say it, show it with words!
2.Appeal To All Senses
Don’t just think about your lyrical appeal on an emotional level. Also think about how your choice of words sound in line with the instruments within the music or the general music in the background. Think to yourself, ‘Do these words sound auditorily pleasing?’ ‘Do they sound as if they fit within the style of instrumental?’ Sometimes the subject itself might fit, but your choice of words and the way they sound doesn’t. In which case you should look to perhaps adapt what you’re trying to say in a more fitting way within the music.
On top of that, it’s also important to think what visual images your lyrics paint in the mind of the listener. Or what visual stories they might tell. You can even go as far as to trying to get listeners to imagine a certain type of smell, or a certain touch and how that type of touch feels… Is it smooth? Is it soft? Is it rough? Is it hard? (A somewhat cliché sense of old school romance novel partially intended lol…) Regardless the main point still stands… Try to utilise your words to appeal to all the human senses in a provocative way!
3.It’s Less About The Overall Subject, But More About How You Express It…
Generally when it comes to thinking about how to write lyrics in my opinion it’s more important to think about how you express and describe a given subject rather than the subject itself.
For example there is all plethora of cliché subjects brought up in songs i.e. love, breakups etc… But not all songs written, even about the same subject matter, are written the same. Especially if the subject is generally quite emotionally compelling. In fact many songwriters and lyricists dedicate their entire career to the one single subject of love for example. But you can still express that subject in a varied, innovative and interesting way no matter how many times it’s been used.
You just have to look at how to express it in a compelling way and that often comes down to utilising my previous points about being emotionally compelling and appealing to all the senses. But there are ways beyond that too. You can tell a story, you can describe the emotion, appeal to the senses etc… But we can take this a step further when we go to tip 4….
4.Narrow In, Focus, Then Creatively Expand!
I once gave a friend that was trying to develop their lyrical skills the task of writing a verse for a song about an extremely mundane and simple subject. I wanted to see if they could take a somewhat dull, mundane and extremely narrow subject and still develop and expand on it in an emotionally compelling way. The subject that was chosen, was in fact a curtain…. Despite this being a somewhat mundane subject, it still brought out one of the most intriguing pieces of lyricism I’d heard from them at the time. But why did this work?
It worked because they narrowed in on this one small niche subject, (in this case a curtain) but described it in a very creative way. They thought to themselves, ‘How could I describe this curtain?’ ‘What is intriguing about it?’ ‘Are there emotive ways in which I can describe it?’ ‘How could I describe this curtain in a way that’s emotionally compelling?’
Bringing all these aspects together made for some very creative lyric writing and transformed an otherwise dull item and subject into something interesting. Simply by trying to narrow in on a subject, then trying to creatively expand upon it…. This feeds into my final valuable tip which is…..
5.You Don’t Have to Say Everything. Try and Say More With Less!
I was once teaching on a songwriting course and a student on the course was looking for feedback on their friends lyrics to a song they had recently written.
It was a passionate, heartfelt song where the writer was trying to openly express all their emotional turmoil. It was provocative and written in a way that appealed to the varied senses. It was potentially a really well written song, but it had a flaw…
It was too long to a point where it came across as though it was trying to be chapters of a book, rather than the lyrics of a song.
What is and isn’t too long when it comes to songwriting can be very subjective. Having a lot of verses, or one very long verse taking up the entire song without a chorus isn’t always a bad move. Sometimes it brings a great sense of heartfelt authenticity in bucking common songwriting trends and going for a longer more in depth piece.
However it is important to hold the listeners attention in my opinion and that should always be in the back of a songwriters mind when writing lyrics to a song. In the case above, I felt the songwriter was trying to use this one song as an opportunity to deliver everything they had to say, when in fact they could have utilised exactly the same subject and split it into multiple songs in a multitude of varied ways even if they essentially express the same subject.
You don’t have to express everything in one verse or one song. Sometimes it’s much more appropriate to utilise tip 4 and narrow in on how you want to express this one specific feeling, situation, etc and expand on it. What isn’t said, can always be utilised in another song or album. You could even look to do a concept album and look to tell a longer story across multiple songs rather than just one. One verse, or one song doesn’t have to be your only opportunity to say everything you want to say. It doesn’t need to be all said in one place!