Some songwriters absolutely dread the process of writing lyrics, while others love the poetic element of creating music. Whatever your opinion of lyric writing, here are five potentially surprising ways that you can improve the impact of your lyrics to take your songs to the next level.
When songwriters think about the impact of lyrics, they likely consider the meaning first. And for good reason—the meaning behind the words you write is the reason you write words at all. Beyond the music, lyrics have the power to evoke emotions, images, stories, moods, memories and powerfully impactful messages. Truly great songs in popular music often transcend just danceable beats and memorable melodies to deliver a message that inspires us, informs us, or makes us think.
When writing your lyrics, start with the meaning first. Not every song needs to be a world-changing political statement designed to overthrow the status quo—but even simple love songs can benefit from extra attention to lyrical meaning. Remember that every word you sing is either enhancing or detracting from the meaning of your song. If something doesn’t’ fit your narrative, change it or leave it out. Your song will be better for it.
The voice is both a melodic and a rhythmic instrument, and if we as songwriters fail to harness the voice’s potential to add rhythm to our music than we’re missing out on half of what makes the human voice so great. We’re not talking about adding beatboxing to all of your songs. (Please don’t.) We’re saying that considering how your lyrics fall in rhythm with your instruments and music can help your lyrics do triple duty, providing melodic hooks, narrative meaning, and reinforcement of your song’s rhythm in a way that’s powerful and effective. If you don’t believe us, just ask your favorite rapper.
It should come as no surprise to lyricists and songwriters that certain words just sound better than others. Famous songwriters have even been known to write nonsensical lyrics just because they sounded musical in the contest of a song. With that in mind, you should always consider the way your words flow together. Is there a certain word or phrase that distracts the listener and pulls them out of the flow of the song? You might love the way a certain metaphor makes a lyrical impact, but that same lyric might be hurting your song overall if it’s not sonically pleasant to hear. This is where synonyms and replacement phrases can be effective. Look for better, more musical ways of saying what you want to say. Your songs and fans will thank you for it.
Want to know the most boring way to describe love? By calling it “love.” Pop music as we know it has now been going strong and evolving for over a century, and in that time there have been countless songs written about many of the same topics. So how do you stand out? Well, the first way is by making your music absolutely unforgettable. But you can also make yourself memorable with your lyrics. They don’t have to earth-shattering in their poetry, but by choosing unique words or ways of describing certain experiences and feelings, you can make yourself and your songs stand out in a powerful way. Don’t always settle on the first lyric you find that has the right amount of syllables and rhymes with the line that came before. There might be something more unique and memorable just over the horizon.
When your favorite artist comes out with a new song that you hear for the first time on the radio, how do you know it’s them? You might recognize their production style, or the way they like to structure their songs’ intros. But when their voice arrives, that’s when there’s no mistake. The voice is a huge part of identity for all people, not just performers, but the words themselves play a large role as well. That’s why you could probably read through some texts from your significant other and know that it’s them. They use certain words, certain metaphors, and the way they form sentences is distinctive. You can implant this distinctiveness in your lyric writing. Ask those close to you about what makes your writing (and speaking) distinctive, and strive to include that style in your writing. The most precious thing in the entertainment world is a distinctive approach, and if you can harness that in your writing—you’ve already won.
Now when you sit down to pen your next hit, consider these five elements of songwriting and how they can drive the choices you make in creating new lyrics.