If you really want to improve your songwriting, the best thing you can be doing is to listen to other great songs, both from within your genre and from other genres. That’s where the best lessons can be found.
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The tricky part about learning your craft from other songs is that no two songs are the same, so you really have to listen to a lot of music, and then get a sense of the principles in play that resulted in that good music.
When it comes to lyrics, every song is different, so it really requires some thinking to find common ground between them all. How do you know that you’ve written a good one?
I think there are no less than five important characteristics of good lyrics, and for most songs, these qualities should be evident:
- The lyric (particularly in the chorus) should speak to the listener on an emotional level, no matter what it’s about. Some topics and lyrics are innately emotional (songs about some aspect of love, for example.) But no matter what you’re writing about, you need to use words that create emotions in the heart of the listener.
- The words need to sound conversational. If it sounds like a written document, you’ll miss an opportunity to make a connection.
- The words need to be supported by the other musical elements within the song, particularly the melody and chords. These three components — lyrics, chords and melody — are probably the three most important partners within any song.
- The emotional level of the words needs to fluctuate up and down. Down for the verse, up for the chorus. That up-and-down level of emotion has the greatest chance of drawing the listener in, and keeping them coming back for more.
- The lyric needs to describe a universal condition. While it may be difficult or impossible to write something that every human can relate to, you need to try to pull in the largest group possible. And it really isn’t that tricky. You just have to be mindful of the fact that good lyrics generate emotions, more so than they describe them.
Remember that good lyrics don’t have to read as good poetry. Some songs are known for the power of the words that convey the meaning, but doesn’t need to do it with literary-level poetry.
What’s more important than that is just the simple, basic ability to have an emotional impact on the listener.
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