I've been wanting to edit Ande's Lyric Writing Tips since I first read it years ago. Today, I done done it.
Ande's Lyric Writing Tips
By Ande Rasmussen www.SongWriterBlog.com
01) You don't need to be able to sing, read music, or even write music to write Songs. You need to believe that you can write Songs. If you want to write Songs, start writing. Your first Songs aren't likely to be very good. Be patient. Stick with it. You will improve. Every Song is a learning experience.
02) No Rules
There are no rules; There are only tools, guidelines. You'll find exceptions to everything below, but it's generally good to use the tools, unless you have a really good reason not to. It's important to understand each guideline.
03) A Song contains three things:
a. A Lyric: the words to the Song.
b. Vocal Melody: the notes to which you sing the Lyric, notes, stresses, and pauses and
c. Arrangement, the music: the instrument sounds that accompany and support the Lyric and Melody.
04) Study the Songs you love.
Listen to them and write out the Lyrics by hand (play the Song over and over.)
Learn to perform the Songs you love.
Write Songs that are similar to the ones you love.
Read Songwriting books. Go to Songwriting conferences. Join Songwriting organizations and participate. Attend meetings. Volunteer. Participate on online communities.
Study some Songs you don't love! See if you can figure out why.
05) Song Idea Radar
Have your Song Idea Radar on at all times. Always be looking for and listening for great Song ideas. When you find one, capture it. Write it down or record it. Capture as many as you can. Then develop them further.
06) When a Song idea arrives, let it flow. Capture it. Write down or record everything that arrives. Just get it out. Donít edit in that moment. You can always go back later and edit. If you are co-writing and your co-writer is flowing, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of the way. When you have a strong idea you will think of many Lines to go with it. Your task is to edit them down to the strongest most effective Lines that fit the theme or storyline, and sound the best.
07) Songwriting Journal
Start a Songwriting journal and write down your ideas. Keep pen and paper handy where you can't bring your journal. When you have enough of a Song going transfer it to your computer
Consider co-writing. You're likely to write better Songs faster. Plus youíll have another person who cares about the Song and might share expenses. If you co-write with an artist or producer you increase the chances of the Song getting performed, 'cut' (recorded) and 'released' to market. Co-writing is kind of like dating. Write with many people and you'll find a few favorites. Get the first one out of the way. Keep trying. Your best Song might be the 5th, 9th, or 25th Song you've written or co-written. Learn how you co-write best.
09) Keep a list of all the Songs you've written,
the date you started,
who you wrote each one with,
the current status of the song.
The moment you put a Song in 'fixed form' United States Copyright Law 'endows' you with the 'right' to 'copy' your Intellectual Property for fun or profit. You can formally Register your copyright claim at www.copyright.gov
. Formal Registration with the Register of Copryights, U. S. Library of Congress, is the ONLY way to bring suit in Federal Court, where Federal Law is heard, if someone 'infringes' on your right to copy.
10) Move People
Well written Songs emotionally move listeners.
Well written Lyrics emotionally move the readers.
Songs need to be universal. This means many people can relate to the Songís story or situation.
We write Songs for our listeners. You, as the Songwriter, are the first listener.
11) Music is about theme, variation on theme, departure from theme, then return to the theme.
Song sections contrast. Lyricists do this by:
a.) only using title words in the chorus
b.) using different Line lengths, rhyme sounds and rhyme patterns in different sections
12) The Building Blocks of Songs.
Song Structures or Forms.
Lyrics have building blocks and structures.
The building blocks are:
Title, Introductory Movement, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Coda. A Song may have a Pre-Chorus, generally a 'lift' of pitch and emotion signaling the coming of the Chorus. The best ones are integral to the Verse or opening of the Chorus, not a standalone Stanza of their own, comprised of multiple Lines.
The title is name of the Song. It's what the Song is all about, the most repeated phrase in the Chorus, the main idea of the Storyline.
A Verse provides the story and details about the Song and leads to the title. It does 'Exposition', exposing the Storyline.
The Chorus summarizes the Storyline of the Song and hammers home the title. The title, THE Hook, should repeat at least three times, and more if practical.
Bridges are a section between the last 2 givings of the Chorus, usually just 2 Lines adding more details or a twist. It 'bridges' the listener's attention span, renewing interest with its Melody, different from the Melody they've heard in the Verse, the Chorus, the Repeat of the Verse and Chorus, to avoid monotony with a third Repeat. A Song must have 'Enough' Repetition to supply Structure, and 'Enough' Change to keep it interesting. How much is 'Enough' is the Songwriter's judgment call. You should sense the experience the same way you expect others to sense it. They will make their judgment call about 'Enough' Introductory Movment, 'Enough' exposition in the Verse to justify getting to the point, the summary function of the Chorus, and THE Hook, that title Line and main idea.
The Pre-chorus, sometimes called 'channel', 'lift' or 'climb' is a section in some Songs, not all, between the Verse I and the Chorus, and Verse II and the 2nd giving of the Chorus.
A Bridge is a device, often resorted to when the Songwriter has said everything they think they need to say in the Storyline as 'exposed' in the two Verses and Chorus so far, to 'bridge' the Repetition, and renew listener interest, and then welcome back the familiar Chorus to end the Song. A Bridge is also a resort to move on when a Song is afflicted with the Third Verse Curse, when writers simply can't think of a Third Verse that makes sense in the Storyline, and leads logically back to a final giving of the Chorus to end. Songs with Verses that are 'examples' of an idea instead of story-telling with obvious sequential Storylines often find that third 'example' is uninteresting, if they find it at all, or takes the Song afield from the theme more than builds on it.
The simplest Song Structure or form is:
Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus or V C V C
Many Songs have a Bridge. Their form is V C V C B C
Songs may contain a discernible 'lift' or 'climb' in Melody, pitch, emotional urgency, a Pre-Chorus, the section 'between' the Verse and Chorus, introducing the Chorus, giving expectation that the Chorus is about to arrive.
This Structure might be indicated as V Cl Ch V Cl Ch. Or V PC Ch V PC Ch.
There are other Song forms like
Verse Verse Bridge Verse, and
Verse Verse Bridge Verse Bridge Verse.
Some Songs start with the Chorus.
The Structure or form you choose depends on which one best serves your Song idea.
13) Genuine Idea
Is the idea worthy of becoming a Song?
Does it 'strike a chord'? Does it have 'Hook Factor', making you, the first 'reader' or 'listener' want to know more about the story it implies?
Is it universal? Will millions want to hear it and sing it over and over?
14) Keep It Conversational
Write a Lyric the way you would say it. Listen to how people talk. A Song is a 'communication', 'sent', and, to fully qualify, must be 'received'. If you send it but they don't receive it, your communication failed. Lyrics are conversational. Don't reverse word order for the sake of landing on a Rhyme-word. Some call it Yoda-Speak, after the "Star Wars" Character's reverse syntax dialogue. Only use words you use in your natural, normal conversation. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Harlan Howard said, "Write Songs so people who are half listening can half understand."
Every Song has a title. Titles are the Song's brand. The title is the most repeated phrase in the Chorus. It's the phrase that (you hope) sticks in people's heads. Find a word or phrase that DEMANDS ATTENTION. The title usually summarizes the main ideas of the Song.
If a Chorus has eight Lines: here are 5 examples of where titles are often placed. Note the number of times the Title, THE Hook, is delivered, per giving of the Chorus.
1) x (1 'giving' of the Title)
5) x (2 'givings' of the Tile, per giving of the Chorus. Two Choruses, four 'hits' on THE Hook. Enough?)
Will your title Line be emphasized and remembered, or forgotten after all the other Lines? You want it to be 'memorable'. The Title can be re-emphasized by Repetition in the Coda, the final Musical Movement of the Song.
1) x (1)
3) x (2)
8) x (3 hits on THE Hook)
That last Line position, left ringing in their ears as the last thing they hear when the Chorus ends is a 'strategic' position.
8) x (2 hits on THE Hook, one to open the Chorus, one to end.)
Some Choruses donít have 8 Lines.
Some Songs don't have a Stanza-Type Chorus. They just have a Repeated Hook Line, a single Line ending each Verse, a Refrain-Type Chorus, a Melodic Refrain, and the summary words of the title, THE Hook idea.
16) Prove the title.
The purpose of the verse is to lead the listener to the chorus, every line in the verse should be connected to and point to the title. Verses should build up to the chorus.
Use imagery. Don't tell me; show me with images. Write with all of your senses, things you see, feel, hear, taste, smell and touch. Reading them, hearing them, your listeners' senses may 'receive' your 'communication' about them, be 'hooked' into your Storyline by them.
Specifics are special.
18) Opening Lines
The opening Line of the Lyric should GRAB the listener's attention. As the first listener, it should have grabbed yours. When playing and singing we can be 'hooked' by that emotive experience, not necessarily by the word meanings in that first Line. Again, your judgment call comes into play.
Start with a bang! Drop the cat in the punch bowl! Splash!http://www.peoplestories.org/tips.asp
Establish 'who, what, when, where, in the first few Lines. Start in the middle of the action. A first Line often introduces the Singer-Character, the person telling the story, a First-Person narrative, someone 'in' the Song, in the Storyline, or a Third-Person narrator, telling the story but not in it. It's that pronoun, 'I', or maybe implied by the way he 'converses' with another character, perhaps a Love-Interest Character, with the pronoun 'you'. Exposition of who is who and the eventual exposition of 'why' the Singer-Character is telling the story are the plot line.
19) Avoid cliches. They are the kiss of death.
Attempt to create expressions that people have never heard before but when they hear it they understand it. Sometimes a cliche is what you need to use to best convey the emotion. A variation on a cliche might work, different 'Enough' to NOT be the cliche, clear Enough to communicate what you want your Singer-Character to say..
20) Transition into the Chorus
The last Line in each Verse should seamlessly transition the listener into the Chorus. It should be a logical furtherance of the ideas previously given in the Storyline, the Chorus an obvious summing up of those ideas in the gist of the story, the point of the Song, the punchline of the joke.
21) Be Concise
Each Lyric Line in a Song needs to be concise.
Each syllable has to be sung. Whatís the simplest, clearest way to write each Line? Cut the fat; leave the meat.
22) Some words don't sing well.
Don't use them.
Avoid adverbs. Find the verb. Action verbs give the Singer-Character and other Characters in the storyline actions to perform.
One- and two-syllable words are the backbone of Lyrics.
Verse I and Verse II should have the same Rhyme-Scheme
Syllable stresses should match. Syllable/Note counts should be close, if not exact.
When you compare each Line of Verses I and II, they should have close to the same number of Syllables/Notes and you should be able to sing the same Melody on each Line. ie, when you compare Verse I Line 1 with Verse II Line 1, the Melody should Repeat, closely, if not identically. A singer can make small variations work, but larger variations, six Syllables/Notes to sing in VI L1, versus ten Syllables/Notes in VII L1, may be more difficult to match. The listener might notice and you might lose their attention, as they come 'un-Hooked'.
24) Avoid puns and being overly clever
A Song should generate a real emotion in the listener rather than make the reader or listener say, "My! My! My! You are so clever." It's fun to write funny Songs but novelty songs can be tough to place.
25) Nothing New
There's nothing new under the sun. Strive to have something new and special about your Lyric.
26) Bits and Pieces
Songs rarely arrive fully baked. They usually arrive in bits and pieces. It's up to you to put the Lyric together. Writing Lyrics can be like solving puzzles. Give the puzzle time to come to you, to conceive just what the Singer-Character's story is.
27) Great songs are Rewritten.
You can keep tweaking the Song you're writing. At some point have the courage to say, 'This Song is done!', but remember, just because you say it's done doesn't mean that it is. Great Songs are often Re-written, and sometimes, Co-Rewritten
28) Make the singer Look good.
Lyrics need to make the singer look good, but not too good. Singers assume the persona of the Singer-Character. If the 'character' of the Singer-Character is not 'good', he/she's not a nice person, it's hard for a singer to find themselves wanting to 'assume THAT persona', and hard for an audience to 'like' that persona. Give singers Songs with Singer-Characters and Storylines they can like.
29) Point Of View (POV)
Think about which POV would best expresses the Songís situation and emotion:
a. I / We / Me / Us
c. He / She / They
Rewrite from the opposite sex's POV, so anybody can sing it.
30) Write What You Know
Write with authority. Don't contrive. Write about things you've experienced. But you can also write fictions, stories of people you've heard of, historical figures, characters in movies, characters you create to tell stories you can imagine. Don't limit yourself. Explore. Songwriters have been writing Songs for thousands of year and have not exhausted the possibilities.
You donít have to use Perfect Rhymes, like 'rock' and 'block'.
You can Rhyme the vowel sound without worrying about the end consonants.
Imperfect Rhymes or Near-Rhymes sound similar to each other like swim and win, and can work.
Imperfect Rhymes give writers a larger word palette to 'paint' your story with.
Use online Rhyme dictionaries like RhymeZone.
Simply running through the alphabet searching for a Rhyme and recognizing one with logical potential relevance in your Storyline can work.
32) When you find a Song idea youíre considering writing:
Google the title to see if itís ever been written before. Put quotation marks around the phrase. But don't let that stop you.
You can also do a title searches on ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Just because there already is a Song with the title you're thinking about writing doesn't mean you should stop. Go ahead and write you Song.
33) Donít steal Song ideas from people you know and those who know you. The Songwriting community is small. Word will get out. Guard your reputation. Be prepared, pleasant, real and fun. Be the kind of person people want to write with again and again. Likability and personality play an important role in your success at building your Songwriting team.
You have to become your own toughest critic. Every Line of Lyric and every Note of Melody must shine. One of the best things to do is to write a Lyric, then set it aside for a few days, weeks or months, so you can approach it later from a fresh perspective. Build a team of excellent writers who will offer tough critiques of your work. Though we crave compliments, we need to write stronger Songs. Consider getting professional critiques. It is not sensible to critique Songs in one genre with the criteria of another, like critiquing a pop song using country Lyric writing guidelines. It's all someone's opinion. Songwriters tend to be tougher on Songs than fans and listeners. We're 'into' it. It matters to us, whereas fans may be less critical, less observant, less 'involved'.
35) Melody is King
A well written Lyric can inspire a great Melody, but a great Melody is what makes a great Song. There are many wonderful Songs where you can barely make out the Lyrics. Marc Alan Barnette wrote: "A weak Lyric can be rescued by a strong Melody. It never goes the other way around." Simplicity is critical. Make your Chorus jump out! Make them clear, simple, catchy and singable.
36) Songwriting can be a Pandoraís box. If you start you might not be able to stop. It's a wonderful problem to have.
37) That's all for now but Iíll probably write more later
I hope this helps you write better Songs. Let me know if it does. So now I challenge you to write a Lyric.
Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 09/06/20 01:15 PM.