Everyone’s lyric writing process is different. Some people write to a track, some write lyrics and melody together, others do a mixture of things. Whatever your process is, there is always room for improvement, unless of course, you’re Stevie Wonder. Here are a few tips to help you, no matter what your lyric writing process may be.
Be an avid reader.
I love to read. A great author can tell a story so vividly that you can imagine the events described in the book as if you are there. You can almost feel, smell, taste, see, and hear what’s going on in a good book. The same can be said of a great lyric. Great lyrics combined with the right melody and arrangement can make a bad day disappear and transport the listener to another place and time. Ok, so maybe you don’t like to read, listen to an audio book or podcast. Explore the world around you. Go to the beach, park, museum, track meet, something. Give the creative writer on the inside of you something to pull from.
Study other lyricists.
On a similar note, study the lyrics of other lyricists. Pay attention to how they manipulate words to paint a picture. If you can’t already tell, I am a Stevie Wonder fan. He is an amazing songwriter. Look at several of his songs and study them. They are classics that don’t seem to have an expiration date.
Have a clear concept.
If you are anything like me, you may not always have a concept before you start writing a lyric. I can be anywhere, doing anything and a lyric or part of a song will come to me. At that moment, it is important for me to record or write it down somewhere. I might even finish the song then and there, but more often than not, I come back to finish it. When I revisit the lyric and/or melody, I begin to come up with a backstory or concept if it’s not already clear. This gives me an anchor for the story of the song and helps me stay focused on the message I want to convey.
For example, there are so many songs written about love. However, love is a broad concept. A love song can be written about your child, pet, significant other, experience, etc. You get the picture. If you decide to write a love song, be clear about the kind of love you are writing about and the people or events surrounding the story. Clarity in lyric writing makes for a more enjoyable listening experience.
When my family and I visited Berklee College of Music for my oldest, they explained a class where the songwriters had to write, produce and release an EP every week. The expectation is that with practice, each week the songs will get better. Not every song will be a hit, but the practice of writing will help you develop the skill and creativity it takes to make a hit.
Don’t be afraid to collaborate.
As much as I love Stevie Wonder, he did not write all those hits by himself. As a matter of fact, most songwriters collaborate with others to come up the songs we all love. If you look at the writing credits of most of the songs of your favorite artists, you will see at least one other name, if not more. The saying that, “Two heads are better than one,” may not work in every situation, but in songwriting, it does. A collaborator brings different experiences to the relationship that can help enhance the song or lyric, in this instance. Your good lyric can end up being a great lyric with the help of a collaborator.
As you can see, I did not give you any concrete rules for great lyric writing. Everyone has a different process, but one thing is certain, in order to become a better writer, you have to write.