Making sure your opening line is strong is a great first step in reviewing your lyric. Experienced lyricist Cliff Goldmacher also reminds you to make sure your verse imagery is concrete so that your listener is immediately engaged in your story. Also, keep in mind that your chorus has to be the summary of your song's message. This songwriting training video also suggests making sure your lyrics not only read well but are singable.
- Once your song is done, one of the things that you're going to want to do is, after the fact, and I should stress, after the fact, go back and look at your lyric and think about some things that you can do to edit it. The very first thing that I always recommend is that you make sure that your opening line is strong. This is your first and best chance to engage your listener in your story and you really have to make sure that that line delivers.
Strong opening lines, to me, explain the where, what, and who of your story and will ultimately lead to the why. That's kind of a clever way of saying that opening line really sets the table. We've listened to in the previous set of examples the song Feel, and one of the things that I was very conscious of when I started to write that lyrics was that opening line had to set the scene quickly and in a way that people would remember.
For me, I wanted to create a bunch of sort of strong, powerful imagery. Just to repeat that first line, "I'm like a bag of rags and gasoline waiting for a spark." One of the things that I think about a lot as a song writer is whether or not my verse imagery is concrete. Strong verse imagery is what we like to refer to as the furniture in your song.
It puts the listener into your story immediately. There's a great old used expression in song writing, which is, "Show 'em, don't tell 'em." What that means is instead of saying, "I feel like I'm under a lot of pressure "and something's going to happen," which is a fine way to say it, by saying, "I'm like a bag of rags and gasoline waiting for a spark," it kind of shows people how volatile the situation is without saying, "Oh, by the way, "this situation is volatile." The imagery is really powerful in that regard and as a rule, imagery is generally reserved for the verses.
It's the verses that kind of tell the story and the choruses that kind of sum things up. We'll talk more about the choruses later. That verse imagery is hugely important in terms of setting the tone of the song and getting your listener into your story. Another thing that you need to think about is are your lyrics singable. It is not enough in a song just to tell a good story. Your lyrics have to be easy to sing and they have to sound good being sung.
There's a big difference between writing a lyric and writing a poem. A poem exists on a page and is meant to be read. That doesn't mean that people don't read their poetry out loud, but strictly speaking, poetry is a written art form. Lyrics are a sung art form. It's not just about what you're saying, it's about how it sounds when you're saying it. Lyrics that are awkward and not conversational, where as we like to say the emphasis is on the wrong syllable, will pull the listeners ear in kind of a bad way.
That's a really dangerous thing to do. One of the things that I talk about a lot when I talk to lyricists is the first rule of lyrics writing is to do no harm. What I mean by that is other than our mothers, almost nobody, when they listen to a song of ours for the first time, listens to the lyric. They're listening to the groove and the feel. They'll start to pick up on the melody, but nobody listens to the lyrics specifically because most people when they listen to music are doing a half a dozen other things at the same time.
When you're writing a lyric, if it doesn't sound natural and conversational, if it's in any way sort of awkward or weird sounding, you'll distract a listener before they even know that they're being distracted. What that generally translates to is a listener without necessarily being able to tell you why. They won't feel comfortable. They won't enjoy the song. Again, my decision in writing that opening line was to make something that sounded as interesting as the story it was telling.
I used internal rhyme for that and release. For example, I'm like a bag of rags. That just kind of sounds interesting while it's being sung, and gasoline. Three of those sort of short A sounds to create this kind of choppy, edgy, feeling lyric, that before you even know what the lyrics is about, kind of does it's own job of creating that message for you. Then waiting for a spark. It just kind of lets go there.
Again, not only should your lyrics be good in terms of telling a story, they should sound good and do that job as well. The next thing that I like to think about is I need to make sure that my hook is effective. The hook of your song is your main message and it's the identifier for your song. It really, really has to do its job. It's got to grab the listener and more importantly, it has to be memorable.
Often times, a hook is also a song title. It's that important. Usually, the hook is in your chorus. The next thing that I like to think about is is the chorus working. A chorus' main objective is to summarize the message or the point of the song. You have to absolutely make sure that your chorus is doing this. One of the things that I think people don't think enough about is that very last line of the chorus.
The last line of the chorus has to be strong and it has to speak to the overall message of the song because that's the last thing that a listener will hear before you go back into another verse. Generally speaking, it's the last thing the listener's going to hear at the end of the song. That last line of the chorus is really, in my opinion, the best place to put your lyrical hook. You might put it earlier in the chorus as well, but definitely think about that last line as a place to land with sort of a satisfying thud.
It really is the place, the chorus that is, where you're tying your song's message to the end of a baseball bat and you're beating your listener up with it. I'm exaggerating a little, but really only a little. Now, if you've thought about all of those things, one final thing to think about, and this is where you have to back up and take the 2000 foot view of your song, does the overall idea of your song work. In other words, be very, very careful not to lose the forest for the trees when it comes to writing a song.
A lot of times, if we work on a song for a really long time, we get so mitered in the details that we forget about the big picture and we forget to make sure that the big picture sort of all stays together. One of the things that I like to think about in that regard is making sure that every line in your song furthers the story and supports the main message. Make sure when you go back and look at your lyrics after that that's exactly what's happening so that every bit of those versus and even your bridge supports the main message of the song, which of course is going to be in your chorus.
- Writing the lyrics
- Writing the melody
- Writing chord progressions
- Creating a rough demo recording
- Motivational techniques and daily practice routines
- Moving your songwriting career forward