Paul McCartney - White Album Sessions

The Difference Between Meaning and Message

If you wish that your songs had better lyrics, and you’re actively working on improving that aspect of your songwriting, that is definitely time well spent. Meaningful, powerful lyrics will likely be studied and admired long after practically any other element of songs.

In the writing of more poignant lyrics, it’s worth noting that meaning and meaningful are often regarded as two separate concepts. Meaning can be as mundane as defining when it comes to words and phrases. But when we talk about something being meaningful, we’re not generally talking about definitions; we’re usually talking about message, and that is (or should be) something far more powerful.


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.


Even bad lyrics can be defined. But finding the message within a lyric means focusing on a song’s purpose for existing in the first place. And we tend to rate a song based at least partly on how powerful the message is.

Different people can take different things away from the same song. And even songwriters themselves can be a bit hazy on what the actual message is. When Paul McCartney wrote “Blackbird”, he has variously described the lyrics as being a meditation about a blackbird while meditating in Rishikesh, India, but also as a commentary on race riots in 1960s America.

I’m not diminishing the necessity and power of a song’s message to say that ultimately, if different people take a different message away from a song, that’s usually OK. Having said that, songwriters might feel considerable frustration when a politician re-purposes a song for their political campaign — a kind of message that was never intended.

How to Inject Meaning Into a Song’s Lyric

The writing of meaningful lyrics requires considerable forethought. It’s very unlikely you’ll come up with something powerful if you rely totally on stream of consciousness writing.

To be sure that listeners can hear something meaningful in the lyrics to the song you’re writing, consider the following:

  1. Write an essay about your song’s topic. Get your thoughts straightened out, and be clear about what you think and feel on a particular topic.
  2. Consider opposing views. One of the best ways to sort out your own thoughts on something is to play devil’s advocate, and consider, if possible, a contrary position on your song’s topic.
  3. Write one sentence that sums up your viewpoint or position. This sentence could or should be the summation of what your song’s chorus or refrain is trying to say.
  4. Create word lists. This could be one big list, but if your song is a verse-chorus design, you might write one list for verse-style words (observational, less emotional), and another for chorus-style words (emotional, powerful).

As you work this way, be sure that your words are common and conversational in style. People will remember words that are the kind they’d use in conversation.

The more you practice this kind of lyric-writing, the better you’ll get at writing lyrics that have a strong message. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempts seem like they’re missing the mark. With practice and diligence, you’ll keep improving with each song you write.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks 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.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  1. Do you truly believe that Trump’s team of lawyers and publicity wouldn’t have checked all this out before doing it? So many people believe Trump just goes off on a tangent and does things. I just can’t believe with all the professionals and high powered advice that they don’t know what they’re doing? Just pompous elites being snooty.

    • What I “truly believe” on this is a bit off topic. It was a post about helping songwriters compose meaningful lyrics.

      Gary

      • I understand what you were trying to say about song meanings, but you should have chosen a different example. A politician using a song for his campaign is legit along as he has purchased a license to use it. I think your message here gets lost in the “blame Trump for everything”.

        • Yes, on reflection, I think you’re right. The example of the politician using someone else’s songs was the first example that popped into my mind as I was writing, and it’s taken things off-topic. Your statement “A politician using a song for his campaign is legit along as he has purchased a license” is, as far as I know, completely correct.

          Cheers,
          -Gary

  2. I’ve heard this before “when a politician repurposes a song for their political campaign a message that was never intended”, too bad. Regardless of an artist’s intention, once you put the song out there commercially and someone pays for the rights to use it, they can use it for anything. It’s a contract, you gave the song up for profit and the purchaser pays to use it, there are no restrictions on how it’s used. I hear liberals all the time bemoaning that President Trump used a song Tom Petty’s family and Mick Jagger didn’t want him to. Too bad!! He paid the money for the rights to use it. Keep your songs locked away if you don’t want the money.

    • Hi Donna:

      Thanks for your input on this. It’s certainly not my intention to make this post all about politicians and their use of copyrighted music. But as I understand the legal aspect of using songs, no one is permitted to use a song for which they haven’t purchased the rights. Sometimes (as far as I know) a concert or performance venue can have purchased through ASCAP or another rights organization the right to play a certain song in their venue. In that respect, I would suppose that a politician can play a song in that the venue. But I’m not a lawyer.

      Anyway, you may be right… It could be a case of music being used against the wishes of the copyright holder, but that use could be legally permissible.

      -Gary

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