Probably the most important characteristic of a good song lyric, no matter the genre, is the casual nature of the words you use. For that reason, most song lyrics won’t read like highbrow poetry, but rather like the transcription of a casual conversation.
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The lyrics of “Shape of You” (Ed Sheeran et al) give us a good example, though almost any successful song in the pop genre will serve as a good model:
The club isn’t the best place to find a lover
So the bar is where I go (mmmm)
Me and my friends at the table doing shots
Drinking fast and then we talk slow
Conversational language — the kind that works best in most songs — has these typical qualities:
- The words are common, the type most would use in an offhand style of conversation.
- The storyline is personal, usually referring to matters of the heart (love, friendship, trust, etc.)
- The sections of lyrics (verse, chorus, etc.) typically move back and forth between observation/descriptions of situations, to emotional responses to those situations, then back again.
It’s really important to get this observation/emotional response fluctuation correct, because it allows the audience to feel something after they’ve heard the singer describe a situation. If you write a lyric that emotes all the time, it’s hard to make a lyric like that not sound whiny.
But perhaps more than that, it’s the casual nature of the words you choose that will connect with audiences. A good rule of thumb is to look at each individual line of your lyric and ask yourself, “Could this line have come from a conversation I had with a friend?”
If the answer is “Not likely”, then you need to try some rewording until you’ve managed to achieve that easy, casual nature that song lyrics need.
Then once you’ve found a wording that fits the bill, you need to follow it up with another question: “Am I singing about something that would hold someone’s interest in a conversation?” In other words, is the lyric relevant to the listener?
If you’ve managed to do those two things, you’ve done what any good lyric can and should do.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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