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A Short Troubleshooting List For Fixing Song Lyrics

If you look at lists of songwriters who have become known as being “the best” over time, you’ll probably notice that their ability to write a good lyric is one of their most important qualities.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

There is a lot you can say about what makes writing a good lyric challenging, but certainly the need to communicate an entire story (whether literally or figuratively) using relatively few words (when compared to novels, for example) would be most obvious.

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In any case, once you’ve written your lyric, it’s well worth the time to take a closer look at the words you’ve chosen to see if they have the ability to stand the test of time and still be regarded as a good lyric decades from now.

In that regard, here’s a short troubleshooting list you can use for assessing and fixing your song lyrics:

  1. Do the lyrics partner up well with the melodies they’re attached to? We know that in general, words that are higher in emotional value tend to get placed higher in the singer’s voice, for example. As you sing through your song, do you feel that the melody is properly enhancing and supporting the meaning of the words you’ve chosen?
  2. Do the lyrics of the chorus hook strengthen that hook? A hook is repetitive and tonally/rhythmically strong; it’s fun to sing. The lyrics can be an important part of what makes a hook really work well. Are the lyrics fun to sing? Do they sound natural and conversational?
  3. Is there anything unique or creative about your lyric? A good lyric should stand out as being something that sounds like you wrote it, not something that could have come from the mind of just anyone. So your own particular use of imagery and literary devices (metaphor, alliteration, etc.) are an important part of a good lyric.
  4. Do your chosen rhymes sound natural? Forced rhymes, where words are chosen more for their ability to rhyme than their ability to add to your song’s story, can kill a lyric’s effect. Word lists, where you write down as many words and word combinations as you can, can help you choose rhyming words that get the meaning of your song across without sounding corny or cliché.
  5. Is there an important sense of relevance with your song’s topic and the words you’ve chosen? A lyric can fade from audience interest quickly if the topics you’ve chosen are closely related to a bygone era. That, along with the kind of instrumentation and other music/production choices you make, can cause a song to sound dated and irrelevant a few short years into the future. Always ask yourself: are the things I’ve written about in this song relevant in a universal kind of way? Will they stand the test of time?

Spending time really digging into your lyric and being willing to make changes as you write is worth it. With every song, you’ve got the opportunity to say something relevant and creative to your present day audience, while also potentially staying important and vital to future generations of listeners.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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