Five Lyric-Writing Tips For New Songwriters

Great lyrics have the power to mold a shapeless piece of music into a profound statement, but a few poorly-written lines could potentially ruin an otherwise great song. Well aware of this fact, many would-be songsmiths opt to sit out of the songwriting process altogether out of fear of writing bad lyrics or of not having anything meaningful to say at all. But like every other aspect of songwriting, lyric-writing is a skill that’s developed over time, trial and error and lots of difficult work. We’ve assembled five helpful tips to help strengthen your lyric-writing game.

1. Start writing as much as you can

This tip seems obvious, but it has to be said. There’s a misconception out there that great songwriters do their work purely through inspirational means, but that’s just not true. When you first learned how to play your main instrument, you probably spent a considerable amount of time stumbling around practicing until you began to really figure things out and develop as a musician. Why would the lyric-writing process be any different?

Get in the habit of writing as frequently as possible, and don’t just stick to lyrics. Keep a journal, write short stories, jot down phrases or statements you find interesting throughout the day. If you’re in the habit of writing frequently, when those moments of inspiration decide to grace your presence, you’ll be ready.

2. Your feelings are icky. Get used to it.

Now for a less obvious tip. If you want to write any sort of honest, meaningful lyrics, get ready to confront some dark truths within yourself. Wow, that got deep quick, didn’t it? Lyrics are nothing more than your own thoughts and feelings reflected back at you. Many musicians don’t write lyrics because they’re secretly afraid of how they feel and what they think.

If you’re new to lyric-writing, you should expect, and even welcome, the bits of unpleasantness you’ll come across while scouring the depths of your mind. When you befriend the truths, feelings, memories, and thoughts that scare or mystify you, you can begin to transform them into meaningful narratives.

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3. Define what you love and loathe about lyrics in other people’s songs

Taking some time to think about what makes a song’s lyrics meaningful or embarrassing can help set you on a path toward writing great lyrics. Most people can recognize bad lyrics in a song, but few people really consider what exactly makes lyrics cheesy, vapid, laughable or just plain unmemorable.

If you fawn over Leonard Cohen’s lyrics but get nauseas when you hear Kid Rock’s, start to think about why. The exercise of pinpointing what makes lyrics good or bad can get you in the right headspace for writing your own.

4. Cut out the cliches

Cliches are not your friend when it comes to lyric-writing. Lyrics like, “I’m broken,” or anything that rhymes vein with pain should be avoided at all costs. Why? Because even if the songs you’re writing aren’t emotional, they should be meaningful to you. Cliches are like serving junk food for Thanksgiving Dinner. Your listeners deserve delicious ethically raised roast turkey and all the trimmings, not a greasy bag of chips.

5. Not everything has to rhyme

Newer songwriters sometimes go out of their way to make the lyrics they write rhyme, and this can be detrimental to a song’s lyrics. Forcing rhymes where they don’t need to be might cause a lyricist to choose weak phrases over stronger ones resulting in no real benefit to the song.

The lyrical phrasing in a song should always supersede things like rhyming, but there’s ways of singing and placing words in a certain way that mimic rhyming. Developing these skills takes time and lots of missteps and false starts, but you’ll improve and solidify your own style over time.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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How to Avoid Burnout as a Musician

As I write this, I’m currently facing my own version of burnout. It’s Friday afternoon and it’s been an especially long week of fielding emails, putting out fires, managing mini-crises, and trying to find time to actually build my business and look to the future. Did I mention also working in three miles of walking my dog each day, yoga, trying to eat right, and really, really, wanting to catch up on Bates Motel if I could just find the time to sit down, relax, and get my mind to stop racing?

We live in a society that is all about the now, while working in an industry that romanticizes long hours, sleepless nights, and a work schedule that never quits. We are constantly told that we need to be on call 24/7, and that there is always someone else ready to take our spot, so we’d better answer that email, take that gig, make that call, and play that show – and we’d better do it all right now. Because if we dare hesitate, there is someone right around the corner who will gladly snatch the opportunity from us.

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7 Ways to Extend the Life of Your Single

If you’re just starting out with under 1,000 followers, dropping a 15-track debut album probably isn’t the right tool to get you the big break you’re looking for. Rather, putting out a single that gets added to a big Spotify playlist or climbs the Hype Machine charts is what will earn you that early buzz.

Nowadays, most up-and-comers release four or five singles first, and then put them out together as an EP. After a few EPs, they’ll ideally have enough buzz to drop a proper album.

The first week of a single release will seem like your biggest rush, but a lot of artists think you just drop a single, scream from a megaphone about it for a week, and then hope people keep listening. Sadly, that’s a recipe for a drop, then flop.

Artists who know how to sustain momentum can actually see their single do bigger numbers in the following weeks if they have the right strategy. Here are seven surefire ways to extend the life of your single.

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How to Make Your Band Website Less Boring

In our fast-paced, competitive industry, there’s no room for a boring website. (Or worse—no website at all!) With the advent of social media, it can be easy to forget just how important having this central hub really is—a place to store your music, videos, bio, press photos, and tour dates, all in one neat little package for your fans and potential industry partners.

But neglect your website and you neglect your career. So here are some tips on how to make your band website less boring. 

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Copywriting Tips for Musicians

According to the late, great Nora Ephron, “Everything is copy.” As a writer, I love that; as a sometimes copywriter, I know it’s true. The phrase, which is also the title of a documentary about Ephron’s life, means that anything and everything in life is up for grabs to be written about. But I prefer to interpret it as everything that’s written needs to be as effective as copy.

How is copy different from writing?

Great question. Technically, there’s no difference; the two words are often interchangeable. The only time copy is drastically different is in copywriting.

You may be familiar with that term through that advertising course you took in college or from Peggy Olsen’s role at Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. Basically, copywriting is writing for business, promotional, or journalistic purposes. Copywriting can be creative, but it needs to get the point across clearly to a chosen demographic.

As writer and marketer Ray Edwards put it, “Great copy addresses a problem, makes a promise, offers proof, and ends with a proposal.”

Copywriting as a musician

You may think that, as a musician, copywriting has no place occupying space in your brain, but if you ever want to sell anything (albums, tickets, T-shirts, you name it), you need to bone up on your copywriting skills. Without words that are compelling enough to drive your audience to action, you may as well not even bother posting your wares at all.

Check out these copywriting tips to help you get started.

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How to Get Your Vocal Effects Just Right

If there’s one thing that’s for certain about today’s musical climate, it’s that electronic production has an ever-present role in sound design and it’s here to stay.

Effects are a great way to add personality to vocals, as well as highlight the singer’s strengths (and sometimes mask their weaknesses). But there is such a thing as overdoing it, and it happens a lot with novice mixing engineers and producers who get too excited about effects without really understanding how or when to use them. So, we’ve put together a guide on how to get your vocal effects just right — regardless of the style of music you’re making.

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How to Use Direct-Response Marketing to Get People to Buy Your Music

At this point in your career, you probably already know that you can’t constantly push your music and expect a powerful, positive response. You have to have a finely tuned mix of messages and content to keep your fans engaged. But there comes a time in every musician’s life/album release/merch launch/etc. when you need to create a strategy for promoting your wares.

Enter direct-response marketing. Basically, it does what its name claims: it provides a direct response to a specific command or prompt. This can be especially useful if you’re testing out a new sound, style, or even something as simple as a logo. In fact, you probably already use direct-response marketing without realizing it by asking your fans, “What do you think?”

But it’s time to take that to the next level and figure out how to use direct-response marketing to refine your messaging, particularly in the place where you’re probably doing the bulk of your advertising: social media.

How is direct-response marketing different from all other marketing?

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Producer Secrets: What Is Sidechaining (And Why Is It So Popular)?

If you’re a producer, chances are you either use sidechain compression or have heard of it. For those who are unfamiliar, sidechaining means using the output of one track, such as a kick drum, to alter the compression on another track, such as a bassline. In simple terms, it’s a way to set up your mix so that when one sound comes in, another one quiets down.

Imagine you’re watching a movie and there’s a scene without dialogue, and the music is playing loudly. As soon as the characters start to talk, the music quiets down. You can make that happen with your mix in real time by using sidechain compression.

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