What Do Words Really Mean?

What do words mean? Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? We use words every day, all day long, and other people understand us, right? So, words mean what we think they mean. You can look in any dictionary to see what they mean.

But that’s not all there is to it. Words mean so much more than the dictionary definition. There are shades of meaning. There are emotional meanings. There are associations that every hearer will have based on their own experience. And it’s these additional meanings that songwriters and poets use to communicate things that are hard to say.

I want to know what you mean

Listeners are not mind readers. If you tell me your favorite color is blue, I don’t know what shade of blue you’re thinking of. Maybe you love royal blue but hate turquoise blue. You know what color you’re visualizing when you say “blue” but I don’t. So, what does the word “blue” really mean, then? I’ll understand you better if you tell me more about what shade of blue is in your mind.  Continue reading “What Do Words Really Mean?”

Great Song Lyrics: Using Clichés

Have you ever noticed how some people can describe a simple, everyday event and make it sound hilarious or tragic or just plain interesting, while another person can tell the same story and have you snoring with boredom in an instant?

If the language you use to tell a story is vivid and fresh even a familiar experience or idea can come to life, but if you’re talking in overused, predictable phrases – in other words, if you’re using clichés – the most exciting story can become dull. It’s all in the words you choose.

People often speak in clichés.
Time flies!A cliché is a phrase that’s been used so often it has become a universal way of expressing an idea: “Time flies!” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “He’s full of hot air.” “You can count on me.” It’s often the first phrase that comes to mind and you can be pretty sure that everyone knows what you mean.

For example, here’s a description of a workday that’s filled with clichés.

  • I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Nothing seemed to go right. I took the bus to work; it was so crowded people were packed like sardines. I was late getting to the office and the boss was hopping mad. The day seemed to drag on and on. I thought six o’clock would never come!

While this paragraph gives you an idea of what the speaker’s day was like, it doesn’t make you feel the boredom and frustration. Familiar phrases such as “packed like sardines,” “hopping mad” and “seemed to drag on and on” have been used so many times they’ve lost their emotional impact. Listeners no longer picture the images or notice the comparisons.

Give your clichés new life. 
1. Use a fresh or unexpected comparison: Comparisons are a great way to add energy to a description. There was a time when “packed like sardines” was vivid, fresh, and funny. Listeners really pictured it when they heard it and it made them react. Eventually, so many people liked it and used it that the idea became stale and listeners stopped reacting. Continue reading “Great Song Lyrics: Using Clichés”

Writing Rap and Hip-Hop Songs

I’ve been asked by a few songwriters for advice on how to create good Hip-Hop and Rap songs. Because this is a little outside of my usual style, I asked a couple of successful Rap producers and label owners to help me out.

HIP-HOP SONG FORM
Hip-Hop relies on a 16-bar verse form followed by a chorus/hook section. Often there are three verse sections with each one followed by a chorus or hook section. Sometimes the third verse is replaced with a bridge, a section with different chords or a change up  in the rap style or content. The hook/chorus provides an anchor for the listener while the verses tell the story, paint a picture, or express the personality of the rapper.

I’ve noticed that some very successful rap songs open with the hook – the catchiest part of the song –  to grab the listener’s attention right at the start.   Use these repeated hook sections to make a statement that sums up the heart of your song. These are the lines your listeners will remember so make them emotional, honest, and unique.

Crossover Urban hits like Keyshia Cole and Missy Elliott’s “Let It Go” or Kanye West and T-Pains’s “Good Life” have big melodic choruses that break up the rap verses. You can use these songs to help you frame a solid song structure in this style. Just make your rap is the same length as theirs and drop your hook where they do.

Producers’ advice: Whether you sing or rap your chorus hook, use plenty of contrast. Try jumping to a high note to start a melodic hook and smoothing or stretching out the delivery. For a rap hook, change up the pace or rhythm pattern – slow it down or shorten/lengthen your phrases. Start on an unexpected beat or emphasize an unusual beat. Your goal is to change up the rhythm of the words or melody enough to catch the listener’s attention. Continue reading “Writing Rap and Hip-Hop Songs”

Robin’s Interview in Beat Magazine

Q: What makes a great song great?
A: For me, a great song is one that moves listeners emotionally. One that makes them understand something more deeply or see something in a new way. In some ways, a great song actually changes the listener.

Q: What’s your personal ingredient list for what you consider a good song?
A: A good song is one that expresses what the songwriter feels. If, every time you play your song, you say, “Yes, that’s what I felt. That’s what I wanted to say.” Then it’s a good song. A great song is one that communicates your message to listeners and makes them feel what you felt when you wrote it.  Continue reading “Robin’s Interview in Beat Magazine”