Songwriting with guitar

Song Lyrics: Having Two Favourite Processes

Do you find that you constantly get stuck at the lyric-stage of songwriting? When everything you write sounds wrong, it can leave you with practically no new direction to try.

Compare that problem to a similar problem with writing melodies. If your melodies aren’t working, more improvisation should get you finally moving in the right direction.

Hooks and RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

But I’ve always found that words, when they sound lame, make me want to tear the whole thing up and start again. And again. And again…

Simply starting over won’t necessarily work with lyrics, if you try to stick with your normal process. I think everyone needs at least two different approaches to try: a “Plan B”, so to speak, when your favourite go-to isn’t working for you.

Here are some different ways to get bits of lyric happening. At least one of them is likely to be a process you use already. But I would suggest that it’s time to polish up a second approach, just to have it on hand.

Word Lists

Create lists of words to refer to, words that pertain to your song’s topic. There are any number of ways to do this, but I think it’s a good idea to create two lists for your song: one with verse-like words (observational), and one with chorus-like words (emotional).

Once you’ve got these lists, start pairing up phrases. Use those words as your basic vocabulary. If you’re not already using this process, you’re missing out on one of the most useful approaches to writing lyrics.

Write a Short Story

Sometimes, an inability to write lyrics stems from the fact that you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re writing about.

In those cases, the best thing you can do is to write a short story outlining the details that you hope appear in your song. As you write, don’t worry about turning your story into lyrics; that will come later.

Once you’ve got a clear story written down, you may find that switching to creating word lists becomes much easier, and a more fruitful process. The story gives a point of focus that will make writing lyrics a lot easier.

Write an “Op-Ed”

Similar to writing a short story, this works well if your song expresses an opinion more than tells a story. Writing an opinion piece serves the same function as writing a story: it helps you find the words, and allows you to formulate your thoughts before trying to put them into lyric form.

Rewording “Bad” Lyrics

Like a bad chord progression, a bad lyric may sound worse than it really is. Sometimes all it takes is to reword one bad line.

If you’re trying this particular process as a way of fixing a bad lyric, here’s what you can do: go line-by-line through your lyric, and find alternate ways to say the same thing. Or try it this way if you’re using it as a starting point: Write phrases that pertain to your topic, and make a list of as many different ways as you can to say the same thing.

You sometimes will find, by using this process, that fixing one line makes many other lines suddenly seem much better.

There are many other ideas to try, but the point is this: Lyrics become a bit easier if you feel that you have more than one trick up your sleeve. Getting stuck in one process simply means switching to a different one.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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