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#177161 - 06/13/01 05:51 PM "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Jan 2001
Posts: 387
GJShades Offline
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GJShades  Offline
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Joined: Jan 2001
Posts: 387
Hi Everybody,
I have a question for anyone who wants to express their opinion.
When writing lyrics, I constantly struggle with maintaining a balance between "phrase originality", "good and consistant rhyming",
and establishing a "conversational tone".
So my question is...
How important is it to use "everyday" words and phrases in a lyric?

Now I know that the Stones might not have had big hits if they had said...

"Please remove yourself from my cloud"
"I'm unable to achieve any semblance of satisfaction"

But how do you get a good balance? And should you sacrifice a good rhyme because its not "conversational"? Or use a cliche-ish line because it is conversational?
I'd appreciate any opinions.

#177162 - 06/13/01 10:30 PM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 1,605
Ashleigh Wehmeyer Offline
Ashleigh Wehmeyer  Offline

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Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 1,605
Fort Hood, TX
Hey GJ,

Great question! That is the great dilemma. In so many ways, it's all been said before. I think the amount of leeway you have with conversational language depends a bit on your genre. I write country, and from what I've been told--"You must be conversational." This, of course, is all while being original! LOL. [Linked Image] I think you need to be conversational, but still throw in something unexpected or a twist on a cliche. One of the things that we talked about at one of our meetings and I highlighted in Sara Light and Danny Arena's tips, was your angle. There aren't a lot of new words, but you can come up with a fresh angle on a story and still use conversational language. For instance, you could tell a story of a boy growing up from the perspective of his old beat-up bike, or his teaddy bear. Using personification, this can open up the originality aspect of the song...it's not original words, but an original concept. This, of course, is easier said than done...anyone else????

Thanks for posting,

#177163 - 06/14/01 01:26 AM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Jan 2001
Posts: 11,806
Bobbie Gallup (D) Offline
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Bobbie Gallup (D)  Offline
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Posts: 11,806
Nashville, TN, USA
Howdy GJ,

This is an issue I really have to admit I struggle with. I love words. I grew up with a father who loved words and used to reward me whenever I used what he called a '50 cent word' correctly in conversation. It is still fun for me to search for "just the perfect word" that expresses precisely what I mean. The problem for me is that I primarily write country music, and I can't make my stuff sound poetic or full of those killer words. I have been listening to country radio, however, and more and more of those 50 cent words are cropping up. While you can still get away with "ain't, he don't" and other poor grammar in country music lyrics, I still grimace every time I do it myself. I think a lot of folks in country music resent being portrayed as ignorant and illiterate..so perhaps that is changing. That does not change the fact that songs DO have to sound as though someone was carrying on a conversation. I used to get called on that a lot, when I would put words that were too esoteric in my lyrics. I had to accept the fact that just because a word is in MY conversations does NOT mean it is considered conversational!! [Linked Image]

The challenge is, then to still be creative. I don't think you can ever run out of ways to do that in a song even with a love song. It is those unique twists and rhymes that get attention and when packaged with killer music...will set your songs apart from the rest. I tried that recently in a love song which started with a reference to a teddy bear and included a line of Spanish at the end of the chorus. Did it work? I don't know, but it got some good comments and who knows, it might even teach folks a new word in Spanish. It certainly was different. I don't think you have to sacrifice conversational to the cliche. It doesn't HAVE to be a choice between the two. I truly believe you CAN do both. Takes more work..but is achievable IMO.


They'll tell you success in the music biz is all about who you know...but the truth is...it's about who knows you.

Gallup 'n Dawg Music
#177164 - 06/14/01 04:47 AM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Apr 2001
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Mike Dunbar Offline
Mike Dunbar  Offline

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Posts: 8,574
Nashville Tennessee
I don't think lyrics need to be converstational as much as they need to be honest. If it sounds like you mean what you say, it works.

You've got to know your limitations. I don't know what your limitations are. I found out what mine were when I was twelve. I found out that there weren't too many limitations, if I did it my way. -Johnny Cash

It's only music.

Mike Dunbar Music

#177165 - 06/14/01 10:13 AM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 8,389
Corky Bernard (D) Offline
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Corky Bernard (D)  Offline
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Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 8,389
Nashville, Tn.
Mornin' Folks,

I don't know if any of ya'll have been following the story or not, but the lyrics that are causing the biggest stir right now
(CNN yesterday, NY Daily News...contract being negotiated with AOL/Time Warner) were written by a 13 year old girl in Nashville using chat-room speak and is titled,
"I M me." It is filled with BRBs and LOLs.
Her name of course, is Britaney (I think Leary is the last name).

I think that not only the genre of the song,
but the subject as well, determines the language of the song. The choice is more a matter of common sense that convoluted formula. A song about a concert violinist will have different descriptive terms than one about a gear-jammin', snuff-dippin', deer hunter from Eubela, Arkansas.


Wisdom does not always accompany age. Sometimes
age just shows up alone.
#177166 - 06/14/01 11:39 AM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 13,618
Graham Henderson (D) Offline
Graham Henderson (D)  Offline

Top 10 Poster

Joined: May 2001
Posts: 13,618
Esperance. West Australia
It all sums up to me the words have to fit the situation and/or people the story involves and be comfortable and acceptable to the target audiance.
That boils down to know your subject, and the forum.
Re the Stones post. Tey are sung as they would be said in my book.
The examples given are stilted and not conversational.
And sure it worked Bobbie. My knowledge of Spanish has doubled since that post.


#177167 - 06/15/01 02:57 AM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Jan 2001
Posts: 387
GJShades Offline
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GJShades  Offline
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Joined: Jan 2001
Posts: 387
Thanks for responding y'all. I always find it interesting and enlightening to hear other writers' opinions on technic topics.
Oh, and Graham, I'm sure you know that the examples I threw out there were intented to be stilted, stuffy, and formal; as tongue-in-cheek refabricated contrasts to the original Stones lines.

And Bobbie, I love words too. They rank among my favorite toys.

Thanks for taking the time,

[This message has been edited by GJShades (edited 06-15-2001).]

#177169 - 06/16/01 01:27 PM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 774
Ozone Pete Offline
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Ozone Pete  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 774
Unionville, CT, USA
I especially like Wirdaz' concept of the wording "promoting the right image".
That, to me, is the crux of the matter. I'll use whatever language gets that job done, and I simply refuse to "dumb down" a lyric for the sake of supposed commercial appeal. Now, I might if that were my means of making a living, but (obviously) it isn't, so my opinion in this area is likely to be moot.
The image is the thing; the color is the thing; the bite and interplay of the wording is the thing.
I suppose one might consider who you're having this "conversation" with, but if one must subtract from the supply of weapons, what exactly would be the point?
To justify myself (maybe impossible in this lifetime [Linked Image] ), other songwriters (of the do-the-song-for-the-song bent) actually like the way I put things together, so I'm [slightly] encouraged to give my biased opinion.
In conclusion, I happen to think that being "true" to each vision is nearly a sacred endeavor, and it pains me to see a good idea thrown to the dogs of mass appeal.

Sorry for the rant! (...I probably didn't even answer the specific question! I've got to be stopped before I rant again. [Linked Image] )


#177170 - 06/18/01 06:22 PM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: Feb 2001
Posts: 134
GMG Offline
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GMG  Offline
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Joined: Feb 2001
Posts: 134
Nashville, TN, USA

Some solid advice here already, but it's worth restating: write what you FEEL. Good to revise lyrics and look for weak spots when revision time comes; but when just starting to write a song, I say write whatever comes to mind, even if it is cliche. You can edit those out (or rework and twist them to your own will, as Ash suggested) later.

Ozone Pete has a point as well: don't talk down to your audience, and don't "dumb down" a song for that purpose. Use the words that feel real to you (and of course, don't put them in the same order as another song if you want to avoid court battles). 8=)

If you find you don't have anything fresh to say, or a fresh way to say it (again, the angle Ash mentioned), then maybe you should work on another song (or take a break). I'd also suggest a good rhyming dictionary, and some thought on words you like (but perhaps don't use often) and how they might be used in a song.

There's no "one right way" to songwriting, but I'd stick with the conversational as long as it feels right (honest, genuine) for the song.


Guy-Michael Grande
Route Five Records

#177171 - 06/25/01 07:29 AM Re: "Conversational" words/phrases in lyric writing?  
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 221
sparty5 Offline
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sparty5  Offline
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Joined: May 2001
Posts: 221
Tamuning, Guam USA
Definitely a great question! My opinion on the matter is that yes, you definitely need to find new angles on subjects, but no matter what, honesty and great prosity between lyric and the music beats all.

If you listen to Diane Warren's music, it's actually lyrically not THAT original (except for unbreak my heart). But her words match the mood of the music PERFECTLY. That's what's made her so successful (plus the fact that she's just a songwriting machine). Now, I'm sure she writes less conversational music (probably more thought provoking), but I'll bet you it's not cut anywhere. The marriage of the words to the music I think is the most important thing. It should sound like no other words could ever replace the lyrics in that song.


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