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You just can’t over-estimate the importance of a good lyric. If we ever think that a song is corny, or bad, or just plain missing the mark, more often than not we’re talking about a bad lyric. It’s important that songs convey meaning and attitude in just the right way. Being too literal can sometimes come across as unimaginative, but being too wordy and esoteric can sound pretentious and conceited, maybe even a little condescending. So getting the lyric to work well can sometimes be a challenge.
It’s a lot of fun to use analogies, metaphors, and other poetic devices in the crafting of a song lyric. These kinds of lyrical “games” allow the lyricist to write about something without making the topic at all obvious. You sound like you’re writing about a tree, when in fact you’re writing about your love affair.
So first of all, why would you want to do this? If you really want to write about your love affair, doesn’t it make sense to just get with it? Why hide your meaning or attempt to lead your listeners astray?
Being less than obvious with the meaning of your lyric is a great way to stimulate the listeners’ creative mind. In some songs, you may make it clearer toward the end what you were really talking about, and it creates a mini “aha!” moment, and makes it more likely that the listeners will return to the song. Listeners like “aha!” moments that work well.
In other songs, it may never be clear what the song was about, but over time, sometimes over years, the true meaning emerges. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” would be a good example of this, or perhaps “Hotel California.”
This kind of lyrical play gives a feeling of complexity to a lyric. A complexity of meaning.
I’m bringing this up because there are several ways to make a lyric complex, and for my money, the only way that works well is the use of the poetic devices mentioned above, devices that still allow for simple sentence structure, and words in common usage.
Lyrics that use words that aren’t in the mainstream of public usage make a lyric feel phony, and more importantly, will tend to lack emotional impact.
As an obvious and hopefully humourous example, you’ll want to hear “Every time I see your face…” rather than “At sundry times, when I gaze upon your visage…”
Complex word choices make it difficult for a song to rise above sounding like you’re singing your tax return.
So complexity in a lyric should never mean that you use words that are not in common every day use. Choose instead to use poetic devices such as metaphor, alliteration, simile, analogy, and other lyrical tools. The advantage is that your song will still work and still attract listeners, even if they think your song is just about a little girl named Lucy, up in the sky, wearing diamonds!
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” is one of a set of 6 songwriting e-books that will show you how to write great songs, harmonize your melodies, and give you hundreds of chord progressions in the process.
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