MIck Jagger / Keith Richards

Songwriting: Separating the Writing of Lyrics From the Writing of Music

The power and strength of your lyrics is an important part of how future audiences will rate you as a songwriter. It’s true that some fantastic songs have had pretty mundane lyrics. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”, written by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker, and made most famous by Joan Jett’s 1982 recording, is in the Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, but there’s nothing much astounding about those lyrics.

He said, “Can I take you home
Where we can be alone?”
And next we were moving on, he was with me, yeah me…

But people are more likely to judge your songwriting by considering more than one or two songs, and so my advice is always to have something in the works that shows some lyrical prowess. It makes it more likely that you’ll rate highly over time as a songwriter.


Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessIf you’re trying to make your lyrics a much more important part of your songs, you need to read “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”, and right now, it’s FREE.


So Should You Start With the Lyric?

Just because you want to write great lyrics does not necessarily mean that you must start with lyrics. But I will say that starting with lyrics is one good way to ensure that you’re focusing on that very important element of your songs.

But there are important reasons that you might develop a process where you concentrate on the music, even without knowing what your song’s topic is going to be, let alone the lyrics:

  • You can concentrate on the groove of the song.
  • You can pick up the mood of the music, and let that guide you when deciding what lyrics you’re eventually going to add.

There is no end of discussion around the meaning of “Brown Sugar” (Jagger/Richards), for example. But what really makes the song work, according to Keith Richards, is it’s “good groove”.

If you’re hoping to develop a song where your lyrics are the feature you want people to notice, don’t let that sway you from working on the music first. Once you hear your own song, you’ll probably find that you’re getting great ideas for the lyric just from the mood you’re hearing.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks and RiffsSongwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how it’s done.

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