Tips For Writing Lyrics
Most new songwriters quickly realize that it is not easy to write song lyrics. Truthfully, your first few songwriting sessions will probably end in frustration as you step back and realize that what you’ve put together just isn’t that great.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. There is a reason this is happening.
Forget about songwriting for a second. If you were asked asked to write a poem, it’s likely you could do it in a heartbeat.
If you were then asked to write a poem that millions of people would love and is just as good as the best poems ever written, you’d probably get stuck.
This is what’s happening when you’re writing lyrics.
Most of the struggle you might feel while writing is simply because of the pressure you’re putting on yourself. The trick to writing lyrics is to simply embrace the process while building up some new skills.
In this chapter we’ll teach you those songwriting skills, but always remember to cut yourself some slack – the words will come.
How to Write Lyrics That Are Meaningful
The first step to writing an amazing song is to write lyrics that people can connect with. This is actually incredibly easy, you simply need to do two things:
First, write from experience and write from your heart. Our shared experiences as humans means that, generally speaking, if you feel something millions of other people will too.
As long as you’re honest anyway. People pick up on inauthenticity quicker than you can imagine, so keep your writing truthful and write from the heart. Tell stories you know. Talk about breakups, times when you had to struggle, and times when you were upset. Go deep and people will connect with your lyrics.
Katy Perry’s Roar is a song we referenced earlier when talking about song structure and it’s worth mentioning again in this chapter. People instantly connect with the lyrics in that song (you can see the lyrics here) – they’re meaningful to anyone going through any number of struggles in life. That brings us to our second point: Make sure you keep your lyrics a bit open ended.
Leaving room for interpretation is the hallmark of a good songwriter. If you go through the lyrics in your favorite songs you’ll find that many of them contain phrases that leave a bit up to the imagination.
This broadens the appeal of your song. Make sure you add detail, but not so much that it constrains the message to too narrow of an audience.
On a related note, have you ever noticed that in interviews artists tend to be hesitant to talk about the meanings behind their songs? It’s because they know it strips away other interpretations and makes the song less meaningful to many people.
Lyrical Progression: How to Tell a Story in Your Songs (and Make Your Chorus Pop)
Think about the last story you read. Did it open with the most exciting part at the beginning or did the plot develop over time? It was the later, right?
Authors spend time developing the plot and characters, and then the story develops from there until it reaches the climax.
Your songs have a different format than a novel, but should follow a similar progression of story development. In a song you will use the verses to write the story and the chorus to nail down the overall theme.
In your first verse, don’t rush the story. Take your time and slowly reveal the theme of the song. This gives the listener a sense of anticipation and draws them in, making them want to continue listening.
You want your audience to have a few questions in the first verse. Don’t answer everything right away and build tension instead.
When you get to the chorus, that’s when you drive home the main point of the song. Your goal is to make the “hook” sink into people’s minds, so keep your lyrics simple and don’t be afraid of a little repetition – it only makes it easier for them to catch on.
In verses two and three you want to continue developing the story. Verse two is generally a good place to reveal everything that’s going on, and verse three brings it all together.
An Example of Story Development
Let’s outline the story of a new song. We’ll say that the theme of our song is a break up that has gone bad. The relationship was great but fell apart quickly and the person who caused all the pain told the other person “go to hell.” We’ll tell the story from the victim’s point of view.
Here’s one way we could lay out the story.
Verse 1: It went bad but the relationship was amazing while it lasted…
Verse 2: With a sudden split the relationship was over, here’s what happened…
Verse 3: Now that it has ended our protagonist is left alone, wondering what they could have done, if anything…
Chorus: “As you walked out the door you told me to go to hell…”
Now that’s the kind of lyrical content that people want to listen to.
It’s All About Perspective
As you write your song lyrics, always keep in mind who the story is about and who the singer is talking to.
As in literature, perspective applies. There are three different perspectives you can use:
Third Person: In a third person narrative the song is about “he”, “she”, “it”, or “they”. This isn’t a very intimate way of writing, but it is an effective way of telling the story from a distance.
Example: She looked at up at him and he smiled down at her.
Second Person: In second person you will address the listener directly as “you”, but refer to everyone else as “he”, “she”, “it”, or “they”.
Example: You looked up at him and he smiled down at you.
First Person: In first person the song is told using “I” or “we”. This is a great way for a singer to build an intimate connection with the audience, whom he can directly refer to as “you” or indirectly as “he”, “she”, “it”, or “they”.
Example: I looked up at you and you smiled down at me.
Intimacy grows from third person to the first, so which narrative you use depends on how closely you want the listener to relate to the song.
The third person narrative “she looked up at him and he smiled down at her” makes the listener an observer. The second person “you looked up at him and he smiled down at you” puts the listener directly in the song. Finally, the first person “I looked up at you and you smiled down at me” puts the singer in the song with the listener.
As with literature, you should pick a narrative in each of your songs and stick with it. It’s confusing if you’re constantly changing perspectives within a song.
In our next chapter, we’ll learn about how you can use rhymes and rhyme schemes with your lyrics.