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There are two important stages in the development of song lyrics. The first stage, which you might think of as the “conception stage“, is when you get your thoughts down on paper. The second stage, which you might call the “development stage“, is when those words, phrases and ideas get honed and sculpted into something closer to what you want to present to the world. That honing takes time. Some of the world’s best lyricists will say that most of the time, they needed many weeks, months or even years to develop a good lyric for a song.
The initial getting-it-on-paper stage may take little time, but it can take a much longer time to reconsider the way you’ve said things. The development stage allows you to more carefully consider your use of poetic devices such as alliteration, metaphor, rhyming scheme, and so on. And though it can take a while, the time spent is worth it.
A good lyric will give your song staying power, and makes it immediately meaningful (or not) to listeners. Profundity in music comes more from a well-chosen word or phrase than anything else.
Check out the following five tips for improving your ability to write a good song lyric:
- Remember that your lyric is your primary communication device. Song meaning comes mostly from the words uttered by the singer. So read your lyric often, and be sure you’re conveying what you intend to convey.
- Read your lyric to the rhythm of your song, without pitches. Be sure that the words sound natural, with most, if not all, of the pulses happening easily. Misplaced accents in words are a big reason for lyrics sounding corny or forced.
- Read your text with spontaneously-invented rhythms. This may seem like a strange exercise, especially because most of the made-up rhythms won’t work. But placing accents in odd places can change the meaning of a line, and you may discover something useable.
- Don’t assume that your first attempt to word something is the best one. Look for different ways to say the same thing. And try to do this without thinking specifically about your song, but rather merely as literature.
- Time can be your friend: put your lyric away, and take it out again a week later. Sometimes, the moment you look at it again can be a revelation, and you’ll be surprised how quickly and easily you can modify a lyric if you simply give yourself time away from it.
There’s lots more to be said for developing good lyrics, of course. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced. Try some of the lyrical activities here. Like anything, the more you work at it, the better you get.
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