How to Write Song Lyrics And Succeed
Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, Drake, even Bob Dylan all have one thing in common – they are all master lyricists. Meaning that they’ve all been extremely successful in penning songs favored by their loyal fans.
The words written into a song, or rather the lyrics of the song, have the power to compel it to success or result in a total flop. It is through the lyrics of a song that a listener is able to find relatability. Oftentimes, when a listener relates to a song, they find themselves humming along with the tune, or singing the words in their head, they feel like the song is about them in some shape or form. The best songs leave listeners wanting more, and provides them with some sort of message or lesson.
Whether you are trying to write a protest song strong enough to rival Buffalo Springfield’s infamous Stop Children What’s That Sound, or a song about heartbreak and love like Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield, or maybe you just want to write the next big hit on the radio, like Imagine Dragon’s Thunder, you need to put a lot of attention into one very important thing – the lyrics of the song!
Learning how to write meaningful and relatable lyrics will help you to develop a song that people actually want to listen to.
Continue reading to learn more!
Tips for Writing Good and Memorable Lyrics
The very first step to writing a song, before you ever even put the pen to the paper, is to choose your subject matter. What will your song be about? Rather than focusing specifically on the ‘topic’, instead try to determine what you want your song to ‘mean’. What do you want listeners to get out of it? Songs can be about absolutely anything, take Arlo Guthrie’s song Motorcycle (The Significance of the Pickle), for example. At its very root, the song is quite literally about a man not wanting a pickle, but rather wanting to ride on his motorcycle. However, the true meaning of the song is freedom. Having been a young man in the 60’s, the promise of freedom and being a free-spirit was something the resonated with him, and something that his listeners were able to relate to.
When choosing your subject matter, you should also select a topic that is meaningful to you.
- Brainstorm ideas or topics that are important or relevant to you. Consider the events that are occurring in your life, you might choose to expand on those ideas to include your culture, your beliefs, your country, etc.
- Recall specific moments or times where you really struggled with something. For example, if you are writing about heartbreak, or overcoming addiction, think about how you felt, how the people around you were affected, think about how that moment changed your life and what you had to do to move past it.
- Consider the lessons you’ve learned and how things might have been different.
After you’ve concluded your brainstorming session, the next step is to ‘freewrite’. Freewriting is simply the process of allowing all of the ideas your think up to make their way from your brain to the paper. After you’ve gotten a good idea of what you what your song to be about, start a timer for five minutes. With your subject in mind, allow yourself to write freely for the entire five minutes. Do not lift the pen off of the paper or stop writing until the timer sounds.
- Don’t think too much about what you need to write. Just write whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not.
- Now is not the time to worry about mistakes, or spelling, or any sort of revision. You objective is simply to generate as many ideas as possible.
- Continue writing until the time goes off. Even if you find yourself writing a bunch of garbled words or crazy ideas – just write.
Once the timer sounds, you will likely notice a page of random words sitting in front of you. Now is your chance to review what you’ve written and narrow it down to the most appropriate words.
Pay attention to what you’ve written, which of the words are the most emotions, the most real, the most relevant to your topic?
- Select the best 10 words from your list.
- If you happen to have more than 10 really great words, that is fine. It isn’t necessary to use every single one of them. If you don’t have at least 10, try the exercise again.
Now that you’ve managed to narrow down your list, the next objective is to find thematic connections between your top words.
Consider the associations that you might have with each word, and where in your life those associations stem from.
- As you recognize each association, you will begin to lend emotions to the words. At this point it is just a list of random words, but soon each word will become meaningful and you will build implicit and explicit associations to connect them to.
- Try writing a few words, a phrase or maybe even a complete sentence about each of the words you’ve selected. These words won’t necessarily become your lyrics, but they will help you in the development process.
As you are writing sentences, try to come up with short phrases. Try to build upon each of your word associations to create paragraphs. There is no need for perfect lyrics at this point. You don’t need to worry about things like rhyming or logic. After writing a few phrases, you might find that you can turn part of them into a verse, or even a central line in your main chorus.
- Don’t worry about thinking about the entire song just yet. Allow partial ideas to build from your list, and continue to think about the subject as you work to expand the verbiage.
At this point, you should be ready to begin to write your chorus. Before you begin, review your list of phrases. Consider the ones with the strongest impact and select those that relate directly to you theme.
- Typically, the chorus will start with a single line and expand out from there. Your chorus does not need to rhyme, however, it should be catchy and capable of engaging with anyone who happens to listen to it.
- Try to expand upon the phrases that you believe will be the most representative of the subject or theme in your song.
Like other pieces of writing, a song can have several points of view. As the writer, it is your job to decide what point of view will deliver the best results. You might want to test out multiple points of view in order to determine which is best suited for your specific story.
- First person singular view points (I, me, my) are the most popular points of view because they effectively convey personal experience and are the most relatable – especially to anyone who happens to be singing along.
The chorus should be built around a specific emotion. Many of the best song choruses are shorter and express true emotion at the root of the song. There are no rules stating that your chorus needs to be complex. The trick is to write it so that your audience is able to resonate with it emotionally.
- While writing your chorus, continue to keep it focused on a single emotional idea. If your chorus is too far reaching, or tackles too much, it will be hard to listeners to grasp.
Don’t be afraid to play with the lyrics structure of the chorus a little bit. Most often, a chorus will be between four and six lines. Some will rhyme, but they don’t have to. It might also contain a refrain (a line that repeats itself throughout the chorus)/ There are no concrete rules for how to structure your chorus, it is all about finding what works the best for you.
- A common format followed for chorus lines is AABA, meaning that the first, second and fourth lines of a four line chorus will either rhyme or have repeated lines.
What difference does lyrics make
Next you will review everything you have written up to this point. Does it make sense?
If you are happy with your chorus, you can now start to write the verses. To do this, you will need to determine the ‘action’. Or rather, fill in the blanks for the story between your subject and the reaction. One of the most crucial elements of any great song is the action that navigates the song.
- Remember, show don’t tell. Use imagery and details to paint a picture for your audience.
- If you are having a hard time coming up with the words for your verses, review your chorus and think about the main subject of your song. Your song should tell a story.
You need to be as descriptive and entertaining as possible. Your song needs to not only grab the attention of your audience, it also needs to hold their attention.
After you’ve finished composing lyrics for your song, read it over once or twice and edit any parts that you feel don’t speak to the subject matter or your intended message or meaning.
Writing song lyrics formats
Essentially, there is no hard and fast rules for how you have to format your song lyrics. That being said, if you intend to present your song to a publisher, it should be neatly organized and presentable. This doesn’t mean that it needs to have the corresponding musical notes, or accompany music. That will all come later.
Here is a handy online template that you can use and replace with your own information to keep your lyrics neat and looking professional.
How to start and make your own song?
Now that you’ve learned everything that goes into writing song lyrics and creating a song, you might decide that you are confident enough to try your hand at writing your own song.
Here are a few common mistakes that you should be aware of so that the song you write doesn’t end up on the worst songs of the year list.
- Rhyming way too much: Yes, many of the popular songs use rhyming as a tool. However, if your song rhymes too much it will sound more like a children’s song.
- Having no point, or no storyline: Your song needs to tell some sort of story. As it progresses, your ideas need to unfold in a manner that makes sense to anyone listening to it. Think about the story you intend to tell and what you want your audience to take away from it.
- Writing disingenuous music lyrics: Trynot to write a song that sounds like it was generated by a robot. Be unique, be you. Let your story comes through in your lyrics.
- Syllables that don’t match up: The proper use of syllables is paramount to any great song. The number of syllables used need to follow a logical pattern.
- Your song has no hook: You need to engage with your audience, your story has to resonate with them and it must be relatable. If your subject matter is boring – your song risks not having a leg to stand on.
Some Examples To Draw Inspiration From
Independent songwriters are born every day. In fact, some of the most famous names in music got their start simply by putting their ideas on paper and turning those ideas into great songs.
Here are a few examples of songwriters, some that you may have heard of and some that you might not yet have.