What Are You Really Writing About?

Bright ideaYou’re Inspired! You woke up in the middle of the night with a killer first verse running through your head. You actually sat up in bed and said: “Man, that’s killer!” You managed to write it down before you forgot it. Maybe you even got up and plunked a few chords on the piano. Suddenly you felt like Sting writing “Every Breath You Take.” You even recorded your inspiration onto the Voice Memo on your Smartphone before going back to sleep.

Now, in the cold light of morning, you listen back to it. Amazingly, it still sounds good!

So now, you need a chorus. Nothing pops into your head right away, so you go to the notebook where you keep lyric ideas. (Good for you for keeping a notebook!) There’s a line you’ve wanted to use for months and this looks like a good opportunity. Bingo! You’ve got the first line of your chorus. You can’t really think of a second line, so you just repeat the first one a few times.

But wait a minute. Repeating a lyric phrase, even if you change the chords and melody underneath, can feel static. There’s not enough development to keep the song moving forward and listeners involved. And you can’t think of anything at all to say in your second verse. These are signs that there’s trouble up ahead.

As you continue to work on your song…

  • Nothing seems to fit with your first verse.
  • Everything you write sounds forced and unnatural.
  • You can’t get back to the inspired feeling you had.
  • Your lyric “voice” has changed. It sounds like someone else is writing the song.

After struggling with a chorus and second verse, writing and rewriting hour after hour, you begin to get tired of this song. You don’t like it anymore. You put it away and it becomes one of the Unfinished Ones. But it was off to such a great start. What happened?

Writing from inspiration

Inspiration is a wonderful thing and it always has a big role to play in the writing process. It gives us those gems that add color and life to a lyric, special insights that create depth, unique melody twists that surprise us at just the right time. Inspiration is playful, exciting, and refreshing.

The problem with inspiration is that it is neither linear nor selective. It gives you everything all at once! It might even be giving you ideas for a different song. Inspiration is either ON or OFF. And once it’s ON, like dreams, it will work on anything that’s happening in your subconscious. Continue reading “What Are You Really Writing About?”

Turn a Poem Into a Song Lyric

PoetPoetry is often defined as putting the greatest amount of meaning into the fewest possible words. This holds true for song lyrics, too. So if you’re a poet, you’ve got a great start on songwriting. But there are a few differences, too.

Long ago, all poems were sung to music but now we tend to write them down and read them on the page. People read them at their own pace, taking all the time they need to understand and react to each line. But songs roll by at the music’s pace. Listeners need to understand enough on the fly to be drawn into the lyric and stay involved. So, poets, try these ideas when writing song lyrics or turning a poem into a lyric…

1. Give listeners enough time to absorb each image or poetic device. Try spreading out your images and metaphors over several lines rather than piling on several at once. Make each image or idea the focus of at least one line. If your lines are short, then spend two or more lines on it. Add more information to give listeners deeper insight into your idea and allow them to fully take it in before moving on.  Continue reading “Turn a Poem Into a Song Lyric”

Song Starter – Write a List Song

I love the theme song for The Big Bang Theory, written and performed by Bare Naked Ladies. It’s a “list song.” These songs are literally a list of images, ideas, facts, or related phrases. It has a catchy melody and is usually delivered at an energetic (but comfortable) pace.

List songs like this one have a long history in musical theater, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Disney animated feature films. You can still hear a form of the list song on Country hit radio. “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean is a good example and, if you’re a Country fan, I’m sure you can think of more.)

You’ll also hear this style in children’s songs, comedy/novelty songs, theme songs, and commercials. A great example of a list song in a commercial: Delta Faucet’s “Hands” ad.  Continue reading “Song Starter – Write a List Song”

To Rhyme Or Not to Rhyme

I got an email from someone who felt that I might be slighting the importance of serious rhyming in songwriting. I had suggested that when working up the raw material or first draft of a song, songwriters don’t need to focus on rhyming. If a rhyme happens to come along, hang on to it, but keep your focus on communicating emotion.  The reason I wrote this is because I often see lyrics that have sacrificed meaning or depth for a rhyme. Continue reading “To Rhyme Or Not to Rhyme”