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Writing Lyrics

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Ezmar, Dec 13, 2012.

  1. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    So I'm a musician, and I hope to make a career writing and performing music. I feel like at 18 years old, and with a relatively high level of skill and talent (According to BOTH myself and others, I do have some modesty ;)), this is a pursuable goal. In any case, I'm very good with writing music, not perfect, but I'm sure I'll get better; even legendary songwriters like the Beatles did simple songs starting out. My real issue comes with writing lyrics. I can write lyrics -- Good ones, in fact, if the opinions of others are to be believed -- the problem being that it takes literally years for me to complete the lyrics to one song. Part of this is being busy with other life-duties and not having the luxury of dedicating every waking moment to songwriting, but a large part of it is just that the moments of inspiration where I think of something really good are just few and far between. Lyrics just sort of come to me in moments over a VERY long period of time. I've actually completed the lyrics to two songs in the last 4 years.

    So I guess my question, unanswerable as it may be, is thus: How can I improve my lyric-writing skills? I know Step One already: Write more lyrics. Is there anything else that could help me think of lyrics in a more timely fashion? It's fine at this point, where I don't yet have a group to play or record with, so it doesn't matter that it takes a while, but in the interest of making a lot of songs, I can't afford to take so long.

    An example of my one and only recorded song, I did this one in High School, had the music for a long while before I started the lyrics in 10th grade, finished them in 12th, minutes before I went into the vocal booth to record. A little background info here, for those interested: I didn't have a lot of time to go over the track to correct errors, and all the mixing and other studio wizardry was performed by my friend at the studio. It was through a short week-long school program about studio recording, and I didn't have a lot of time to spend with my track, as I was playing drums for pretty much all the other students' projects. So rather than a finished optimal studio recording, This is sort of more like a glorified Demo track. All of the tracks were recorded by myself, in separate takes, most of them with just one take, with little to no do-overs to cover mistakes. Started with just the Bass over a click, then guitars, then Keys, Drums, and finally Vocals. I guess this is a little removed from my original question of lyrics, but it's still relevant, since it's my first attempt at lyrics, really. You know how it is at this stage, you're desperate for feedback. :rolleyes:

    Slow Degrees
    (Yes, I know the chorus sounds like Ghost of a Chance off of Roll the Bones, but I swear I came up with the progression before ever hearing that album.)

    So that's my little digression/shameless self-plug. Is there anything that will/can help me come up with lyrics and/or ideas?


  2. echoSE7EN


    Jul 1, 2010
    Balto., MD
    Do you read for recreation? Are you an observant person when you're out and about? Do you listen to others in conversation or when they're telling a story? I find that the experiences I've had in my life account for about 60% of the lyrics I can write. The other 40% comes from external sources that have "been there, and done that" either before, or better than me. For example, I read a lot. Every night actually. If I come across a sentence in a book that I think is well written, I make a mental note of it, or jot it down. If I'm in a rut for material, I'll go back and look at that journal and think about the entries. For instance, the first line of Post Office by Bukowski is, "It began as a mistake." Okay, throw out the line Throw out the source material. But keep the idea intact. What in your life, or when in your life, in hindsight, started as a mistake?

    Perhaps you met a new friend at a coffee shop because you mistakenly took a right turn at a traffic light and got lost...maybe you met the love of your life. Perhaps you need to create this world in which you met someone because of the wrong turn... My point is you might need a catalyst to start the process, or add to an existing lyric. If you don't run soup to nuts in one hour, big deal. Write them in the journal...come back to them later. Rushed stuff usually isn't that great.

    I've attempted to organize my lyric journals into sections:
    Happy, sad, introspective, editorial/observation, love songs, etc

    Then I try to split stuff that has commonality within a theme:
    Time, Seasons, weather, light, dark, etc...

    If I'm chugging along with an idea and get stuck at the 70% point, I'll consult one of my journals. I'll look for a common idea or theme. Often times, there is a line, or passage that would fit well, or simply need a bit of massage to get to the end.

    Hope this helped.
  3. I have a thread called free custom lyrics. It is here in miscellaneus... On it, I ask for ideas and then make lyrics. I hope that it will be helpful to other musicians, but in truth, it sharpens my skills. Every time I do it I get better and it gets easier. You need to practice. You need to get a thesaurus and a dictionary until you build your vocabulary.

    Now, meter... lyrics are poetry that are designed to be sung.

    Twas brillig and the slithy toathes
    did gyre and gimble in the wabe
    all mimsy were the borrogroaves
    and the mome wraths outgabe


    those are the beats, the meter... then there is the rhyme scheme. first and third endwords rhyme. So do second and fourth.

    Now, you do your shat. You have a form.

    A kid asked me to write a poem
    of things that didn't matter much
    and from within my mental foam
    produces this as such

    You can move the rhyme scheme do first words instead of end words. You can do anything, but make a pattern and stick to it.
  4. Be well read and pay attention to what goes on around you. Inspiration can come from strange places, and even when you least expect it.

    Neil Peart is the main lyricist for Rush for a reason. When he first joined the band, Geddy and Alex said to each other basically "Look at the amount this guy reads, what he reads, and the words he uses. I'll bet he can write lyrics."

    I just think the more literate one is, and the more willing one is to gain new knowledge and ideas, the easier it becomes.

    On the other hand, depends on what kind of lyrics you want to write. Rush isn't really party/drinking/******* music in the same way AC/DC might be.
  5. Read poetry.

    Read books that analyze poetry.

    Read books.
  6. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    So far, as I had guessed, my main deficiency is that I'm not a heavy reader. I don't dislike it, it's just not something I find myself doing a lot of. I do get inspiration, but not terribly often.

    I guess I'll try to read more, although my two main hobbies are music and video games. I know there's a stigma associated with video games as being an idle amusement, but I actually have considered going into game development. (I take my hobbies VERY seriously. :p) between all that and my studies, I don't find myself with a whole lot of time for novels, although I'm sure that 90% of that is not having books handy.

    But I digress, all of your input has been very helpful. I'll try to keep my eyes and ears open. Another question, what do you all know about writing lyrics without music? I almost can't think of lyrics without singing them to SOMETHING in my head. Anyone else get that?
  7. When I read, I look for authors who write frugally and economically, yet say volumes, writers who won't use three words when two will do, who pick their words and phrases in a clever and efficient way, writers who make good use of devices like metaphor, simile, analogy, alliteration, rhyme, meter, tempo, perspective, etc.

    I write pop songs for the populous with little attention spans, little time, and little patience. I have to say a lot in a very short time. Every word, every syllable has to count. And when you achieve that kind of songwriting, it is quite an accomplishment.

    Good songwriting is hard work. If you're like most, you'll need to write 100 to find 10 truly good ones. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Stand on the shoulders of the great writers who came before you. Don't be derivative, but be inspired.

  8. Hey, even seeing or having something funny or noteworthy happen while playing a video game could inspire something, so maybe it's not so idle.
  9. I agree with others about reading. If you want my honest opinion though, you should look for a lyrist. The lyrics in the song you posted are very clichéd for a song that took two years to write. (I don't mean to offend you, just being honest. For the record, I'm a lousy song writer).

    I'm not saying you should stop trying, but in the mean time, try and hook up with someone who is good at writing lyrics. Otherwise you have all these songs sitting doing nothing, and that's a waste. It worked for Elton John.
  10. fmoore200


    Mar 22, 2011
    I don't know if you're planning on going to college, but if you do, check out poetry classes (analytical classes) and study the greats. Most great poetry isn't just freeform, itis highly structured.

    There are rules and formula to putting words together successfully.
  11. fmoore200


    Mar 22, 2011
    "all day long Mrs. Zim, who was plain, with big thyroid eyes and bluish, slack skin, screamed at her daughter.."

    John Updike from "Run, Rabbit".. The book was all prose and his description is so precise...
  12. You can get inspiration from anything... it is true. And for the record, I started reading before I was in kindergarten, learned from sesame street... I have also written novels and screenplays... its how I learned so many words.

    As for music, I gave you that. Find a verse that you like the sound of write it out, figure out the meter and rhyme scheme and you have music to start with, or flow. I admit I haven't written music for any of my stuff, but I haven't been a musician for as long as I've been a writer.

    Since you don't seem bent on reading, but you say that music is part of your life, start paying attention to lyrics. Listen for the meter and the rhyme schemes. You will start to see a pattern in different styles of music. Study that... and get a thesaurus, a dictionary, a rhyming dictionary... You will never be good at it until you have lots of words to work with.
  13. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    I am in college, second year computer science major. If I have time in my schedule, I'd love to take a creative writing course. Computer science is a busy major, though. Maybe I'll find something when I study abroad.

    Yeah, For that song, I just had some Ideas from time to time, and a general idea of what the song was about, and just came up with ways to put them into words. I'm very much a prose writer; when I write, I use my word choice carefully, to best get the meaning across, and I'm not so well versed in conveying emotion through poetry. So my first attempt was pretty cerebral. The one line I did like was the first one that came to me, "Sometimes we don't get an answer; sometimes the prayer isn't heard." It came along with the melody, and it fit so perfectly that I loved it right away. the rest don't really quite match up to the level of that one.

    And it really wasn't two years of trying to write lyrics, it's just that the lyrics to that song came at several points over the course of two years. There were massive stretches of that time when I wasn't really thinking about it at all. If I thought of something, it sort of meant what I wanted it to, and it sang and sounded well, that's what I used. They were a little cliché, but almost all writers start out with clichés, don't they? Clichés sound good when you sing them.

    How would I resolve an issue where I felt that the words didn't fit the music? I feel like I might get (unreasonably) possessive about my ideas, and if it didn't fit to me, I would be able to be comfortable with the lyrics at all. I mean, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. By no means do I hope to be the only lyricist in any outfit I start/join. My biggest problem will probably be the fact that I'm an EXTREME introvert, and I don't connect with other people very readily or easily. Makes meeting any potential collaborators very difficult.

    I think another problem is that I really don't have anything to write about. I don't have a whole lot that I can try to put into a song, if you know what I mean.
  14. You could try carrying around a notepad, and just jot down thoughts, phrases, something interesting somebody says; anything really. Or you could carry a small digital recorder and do the same thing. I'm a hopeless song-writer, but I write a lot of short stories, and I often keep a notebook with me, or record things into my phone. It gives me a lot of ideas.

  15. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    Kinda skimmed through the responses here, so I'm not sure if this was already said.

    Practice dicipline.

    Do as many of the other things recommended in this thread that you can, but write, and write, and write. Keep a pad and pen (I'm old school, any writing device will do) with you all the time and jot down any ideas you get. And then commit to a time every day to work on it.

    2 things make me prolific. Deadlines, and disciipline. When I'm not presented with any deadlines (something that's been happening for a while now), the only way I get anything done is when I commit to putting time in every day. No matter what. Even if it's just 15 minutes. And even if I come up with garbage. It won't all be garbage. The best writers I know write every day. Like anything else it gets better and easier the more you do it.
  16. michael_atw


    Feb 28, 2009
    Jamestown, NY
    Get in a whole pile of mediocre relationships with insane women. Boom.
  17. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products

    There ya go!
  18. Don't forget that succesful lyricists count as published authors, when you go looking for examples and reading material.

    You may not care for the music of artists like Lennon and McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, or Elton John (Bernie Taupin), but their lyrics are perfect examples of how to speak volumes in three minutes and they have legions of fans with whom their lyrics instantly resonate.

    Read and study the great pop lyricists. There is much method to their madness.
  19. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    I found this book to be a huge help, especially the topics on object writing, metaphor/simile creation, and rhyme types.

    Writing Better Lyrics