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”

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”

Rewrite Your Song Melody and Make It a Monster

How to Rewrite a Song MelodyLet’s say you’ve just spent the afternoon writing a song and you feel you’ve got a good start on a first draft. The concept is strong, the structure feels right. Of course the lyric still needs work but you’re planning to go back and rewrite it.

But what about the melody? Will you go back and rewrite that, too? Or will you stick with the first idea that came to you?

Many times, a songwriter who wouldn’t dream of settling for a rough draft of a lyric, uses the first melody that comes along. Often these melodies are the result of old habits; they may sound dated and familiar. The writer might not even know that a melody can be rewritten, strengthened, and polished just like a lyric. To give your song the best chance for success, make sure your melody works hard to attract listeners and put your emotional message across!

=> Melody makes your song structure easy to follow
Listeners don’t like songs that seem to wander aimlessly. They like to know where they are and they like the feeling of structure that a good melody provides. To do that, create plenty of contrast between sections – verse, chorus, and bridge. Then the listener will know when they’re moving from one section to the next. Successful songs use some combination of these three techniques for adding contrast to a melody:

Songs That Help Us Remember

Remembering the past is one of the things that binds us together. Several times a year we take a moment, an hour, or a day to recall significant events. They may be personal or part of the shared history of a nation.  Some are joyous, some impossibly sad.

How much help could a song be?
After the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, as we watched scenes of devastation, loss of life, and the strength of these people faced with such immense challenges, I suggested that songwriters express their feelings about what they were seeing through their art.  I wrote this on my Facebook page and was quickly criticized by someone who felt that this was self-indulgent, even useless. I wasn’t suggesting that writing a song should take the place of hard work or much needed donations. I was thinking of the long haul… I was thinking about remembrance, about never forgetting.

Today is a day of remembrance. We take time to think about the human cost and the courage of those who lost their lives in New York on September 11. Now, over a decade after those events, one of the things that brings those memories back for me with the most intensity is a song written by my friend Bridget St. John. The song is called “The Hole In Your Heart” and its expressive beauty never fails to recall the emotions of that day and the ones that followed. Bridget wrote it to express her own feelings but it speaks for many.  Continue reading “Songs That Help Us Remember”