by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
The words you use in your song are pretty much the only way you can communicate with your audience in the literal sense of that word. So how do you make sure that the lyrics are the best they can be?
If I were to make one point in this article, it’s this: lyrics do not need to be poetry. And in fact, words written in poetic fashion may make a song lame if the poem is in any way lacking.
What works in a song is speaking from the heart. To do anything other than that will simply slam the door in the face of your audience. If you can get your point across in poetic fashion, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. What the listener wants to hear is the emotion of the text, not the cleverness of the text.
Check out these words from Kelly Clarkson’s latest, My Life Would Suck Without You:
Guess this means you’re sorry
You’re standing at my door
Guess this means you take back
What you said before
Like how much you wanted
Anyone but me
Said you’d never come back
But here you are again
Cuz we belong together now
Forever united here somehow
You got a piece of me…
This is not scintillating, but people want to hear this because it’s real, not because it’s good.
There are some songwriters out there who really write great song texts – real poetry. Dylan, Cohen, Joni Mitchell… they are wonderful wordsmiths who really know how to craft a wonderful lyric. It’s their strength. But if your strength isn’t in writing lyrics, don’t try to pretend it is. It will be obvious to everyone listening that your talents are elsewhere.
So what do you do if poetry isn’t your thing? Three simple things:
1- Use everyday language;
2- Don’t clutter up your songs with too many words; and
3- Focus on the story, don’t just emote. In other words, don’t expect your listeners to get teary-eyed if you don’t tell them why you’re teary-eyed.