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5 Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics

 

5 Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics

For most bands, the songwriting is the key factor in their success. And while we certainly don’t want to underplay the importance of writing unique music, it is the lyrics that often make the difference between remarkable and unremarkable songs.

So what makes a great, remarkable lyric? Below are a list of five common mistakes that you should avoid when writing lyrics, as doing so will strengthen the overall quality of your songs:

1. Attempting to present too many ideas

Good lyrics often tell a story or explore a theme. It is this focus on one idea that makes the overall song have a cohesive feel from verse to verse. A mistake that many make is to attempt to present multiple ideas within one song, which more often than not will make each separate idea feel isolated from the rest of the song.

2. Missing a clear hook

Your goal is to have your listener remember the song far after it has finished as that is what will turn them into a fan and keep them coming back time and time again. An obvious hook line is crucial to the success of a song, as it is what will make it remarkable.

With few exceptions, any classic song example that we could give, songs that have stood the test of time, have an obvious hook line in it. Here’s one:

3. Lyrics lack being grounded

There is nothing wrong with metaphoric and/ or philosophical ideas, but without a grounded underlying idea or theme that listeners can connect with, the ideas will fail. Frame of reference is key. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a great example; while it was most certainly philosophical and metaphoric, it’s themes were also deeply rooted in the struggles of England at that time.

4. Writing in awkward, backward phrasing

A mistake that many make when trying to seem ‘interesting’ or ‘artistic’ is the write in an awkward, backward style, breaking up a phrase in a way that doesn’t make sense, but only serves to be ‘different’.

Lyrics are always at their best when written in a way that makes sense to the listener. Be it a conversational style or otherwise, lyrics that a straight forward will make it far easier to connect with the listener.

5. Lyrics are not genuine

If you’re not political, if you’re not a romantic, etc., don’t try to be. A disingenuous lyric will come off as such very quickly and is a great way to lose your listener. No matter what your idea or theme is in your song, your lyrics need to connect with you in order for them to take a life of their own. Otherwise the lack of conviction behind them will make the lyrics feel stale.


Which lyrical mistakes have you made?


The best way to learn from these mistakes is to outline which have been made most often in the form of a comment below, so that together we can discuss the best solutions for each.

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84 thoughts on “5 Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics

  1. I would add:

    6. Boring song title

    It’s going to be difficult if not impossible to turn “I Miss You” etc into something ear-catching.

    1. Great point Brian! Song titles are critical. Unfortunately, the cliche of ‘don’t just a book by it’s cover’ has never been more present than it is now – with unlimited access to music now being the universal standard with services like Spotify, people are now more judgmental than ever – if the title stinks, there is no way the song will be checked out…

      1. Well I am not so sure about that how about “toothbrush”

    2. I get torn between using the most obvious title and choosing an interesting one

      1. 1. Be practical in the Main Title. 2. If you want a Creative, “interesting” Title (that one might not have guessed), put it in parentheses. 🙂 As a listener, there’s almost nothing worse than hearing a song you want, but not being able to find it—because of an impractical title. 🙂

        1. Yes, with the age of the Internet, I think it’s really imperative not to be too obscure with your song titles, at least in the beginning when you’re just trying to get discovered by fans out there in listenerland. If someone hears your song but doesn’t know the title offhand, when they get home they’re most likely to search for the song according to the lyrics that most stuck out to them. If the song is written, and more importantly sung correctly, then the lyrics the listener remembers are more likely to be the ones you named the song after.

          1. RandomGuy is 100% correct. I just want to add that most of the time, “the lyrics that most stuck out to them” will mean the 4th part of the chorus. Sometimes it will be the 1st part of the chorus too/instead, but it’s usually the 4th part of the chorus.

      2. u can use it as a back up lyric instead of song tilte write a catch phraze use that as title put it in beggin and end
        leave rest of song same

      3. if ure torn betwwe titles reread song write new 1 ull like it better iit could be as easy as ganging same words @

    3. I shook my head when I first saw the song title “N**gaz in Paris.” But Kanye and Jay turned it into a memorable song.

    4. u can use it as a back up lyric instead of song tilte write a catch phraze use that as title put it in beggin and end
      leave rest of song same

    5. hmmmm … Miss You … seemed to work pretty well for the Stones

      1. Also for Blink 182 haha

      2. suhhhhhh

    6. Completely agree there is at least 5 mainstream songs named let it go

    7. blink-182

    8. Apart from Blink 182 who had probably their most famous mainstream hit ‘I miss you’ but other than that… Very true

      1. they are also payola.

    9. too many songs in the web they mostly crappy. Firstly I would listen to the music groove. That’s what attracts. Not title. I see some really nice titled songs only to be disappointed. Listen to once. Shut the radio if I hear it again. I see a not so good title but the song reflects a person or it’s live with great beat and unique structure. I listen to that repeatedly.

    10. @Blink182

    11. Blink 182 dude!! They made “I Miss You” into a HIT song!!!

    12. (ehem The Rolling Stones)

    13. blink 182. I miss you. very catchy song.

    14. Making me think of, I believe, Dr. Hook’s “One”.

    15. My heart’s on fire

    16. Blink 182 though

  2. I have rule that is if I wouldn’t say it in a conversation then I don’t write it in a song.

    1. Awesome! Great rule Helen. I think all too often people try to get TOO poetic with their lyrics. Not that I don’t appreciate poetry or the romanticism it can infuse into a song, but if it becomes to cumbersome it will just hurt the overall quality of the song.

      1. That’s a good way to avoid bad poetry, because most people are bad poets. But there’s nothing wrong with having abstract but brilliant poetic lyrics if you’re a brilliant poet. 

      2. On poetry, I think, “David Gates”.

  3. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes but….I think the hook needs to be fused with the emotion presented by the music. That’s what raises the hair on the back of the listener’s neck….

    Mick

    1. yes 4 intsance i just stared on song last night the catprase is downhome handout title few more people like ,me

    2. I need help I wanna write a memorable sin and to be a singer but nothing come to mind. Here us what I have so far ” my soul is trapped, there is no space my mind is full of fear I’ve shed my tears these wounds won’t heal this pain is real you bring me back to life my spirit is alive your my immortal your not full gone you will go on my immortal” please help!!!!

  4. All common sense. Lyrics should roll off the tongue easily, invoke images and make a good read. (Jagger and Taupin come to mind.) Having said that there are still some lame-ass lyrics aou there that grab ya. Buckbaran.com

  5. This is a good article that will help some struggling songwriters, but anyone with some musical knowledge can think of countless exceptions to each of these “mistakes.” 

  6. I think this article is strictly referring to western style pop music and misses out on a key component.  While lyrics are indeed powerful, I think it’s the human voice that can carry those lyrics beyond any of the words.  I say this because some of the most powerful music i have listened to is not English speaking.  Some are in Spanish, some are in French, Even nonsensical babble such as The Sigur Ros who don’t actually say anything, yet it hasn’t stopped people from “feeling” them.

    Almost all of world music i can’t understand what they’re saying.

    1. That’s true, my all time favorite song is in korean (What Should I Do, by Jisun), and i don’t speak korean… I don’t even need to understand, I just love it.

    2. so true 4 istance godsmak voodoo any1 else sings song and its not same lol

    3. I totally agree. While some people rely on the lyrics to be unique I believe true uniqueness comes from the voice. Kurt Cobain, for example, has a truly unique voice that I find captivating. He expresses his emotions through sounding emotional. Ex: screaming to express anger, or whinning (sad sounding) to express pain and sorrow. While he does have some clever lyrics, his voice was by far his gift of uniqueness.

    4. Um, Sigur Ros doesn’t sing in “nonsensical babble”, Julio Montero. Actually, Jónsi Birgisson (the singer) sings mainly in Icelandic, but sometimes uses a combination of Icelandic and Vonlenska. So, no, he doesn’t sing in “nonsensical babble”, and neither do any other singers who choose to use a different language. English is definitely not the only language singers can choose to use. Just saying.
      -DefenderOfAlt-R

      1. Can u teach me how to be a good songwriter??

        1. Check out the first in a series of posts from songwriter, Billy Seidman for more songwriting tips! http://blog.songtrust.com/uncategorized/song-craft-for-professional-songwriters-pt-1/

    5. If you can’t understand what they’re saying, it’s SCAT singing.
      Inna-gadda-da-vida- baby!

  7. I’m a songwriter/lyricist and I need a publisher, I write r@b, hiphop, jazz, and country lyrics. I need someone to tell me where I can get my songs published.  I want the world to hear my songs from the best singers in the world!! I need a publisher, Please people, check me out on YouTube under Rick Patterson – ( I gotta blame myself) r@b, hiphop!!

  8. I’m too struggling to write song lyrics, as I’m still a beginner in writing lyrics, even though I’ve been writing poetry for years. The first and second mistake always happen on me :(. Thanks for the great tips and hopefully I will improve as I write more.

    1. if you have a good rythum use that 2 write and stay in u rythum even if u cant play it go verr rythum in ure head over and over and then write song

  9. learn music notation its very important . i think notation are almost everything and always present one idea and a very catchy chorus beacause those are the most important points in writing …. A=verse B=chorus C=bridge the simpliest form of writing is AABA or ABA best song representing the ides entirely are Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr”, Macklemore’s “Same Love”, Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are a Changin'”, Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces”, or Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”.

  10. I write songs, I have written 2000+ songs on pages and notebooks, My only mistake is that How to get sponsors to make my music album. I have got new Ideas to mark up in my music album, I have done video Editing course also, I love to sing my songs, But my songs will never be for free for others at this time., I can challenge to win Grammy awards for my lyrics, Out of 2000+ I can challenge with my 50+ songs are the very best of my own,
    and those no one can compete it, I can make record in the Genius Bool of records, for some reason from my songs, I cant say it by now, will prove it only after my 5th or after 7th album.
    I have my thoughts that I will make it only after getting sponsors the Big one, OR my songs will be in Vein, washed off as unknown.
    I contacted few by email but selfish did not answer, i say sorry for them and Good Bye.
    if any one calls me its My Ego, what on my mind, is and will my heart rules my thoughts.
    selfish pages are Off my Mind, searching to go with the new.

    just now i saw that http://www.songwritingopportunities.com/ even there is demand of fees from song writers at beginning, I am not interested on this. What to say sorry to this. I give it also a bye.

    1. How do you write Grammy award winning lyrics with such broken English?

    2. Dear Shailesh,

      I am the guitarist and my friend is the drummer. And we write the music. By music I mean the whole music and the melody for singing. But very big problem for us has always been and is to write LYRICS. It’s even harder for us because we want to sing in English but we’re Russian and writing really good lyrics for us is a huge problem. If you could agree to try to cooperate it would be great. kirill.kovzel(at)gmail.com

    3. You make songs people like. If people like them, they’ll want to hear them. If they want to hear them, they’ll pack places you play. if you pack places, people will come and see you. If you make money with your music, someone else will also want to make money with your music. That will be agents, sponsors, labels, companies, and car manufacturers. Simple.

  11. heres a test people i have [ yea some call us saint some thoght we were gone thats right we aintstill goin strong all the others just hate and all the wanna bs cant and we”d be a lot better off if change didnt lead us to the sea
    with a few more people like me ] this is some of a song i wrote last night coorect it rewrite it add on too it but keep the theme the same

  12. Your lesson is very interesting just want to know best way to compose songs
    Thanks

    1. Glad you found it interesting! There is no one or best way to compose songs, you just have to go with what you feel. Look through our blog if you’d like more tips. Happy writing!

  13. I’ve just started writing. I find the easiest way to name a song is by the chorus. Nearly all my favorite songs’ titles are in the chorus.

  14. Thanks for shains this.. I am song lover and now i want to try to write lyrics

  15. Hi, I read your comments and found some insightful. But you didn’t mention when words just “flow into your mind” and you have to rush to write them down or type or record them. What is that? A gift or just your mind writing poetry. It happens to me in one room in my home. Only that room. If I need lyrics to add to a song I’m writing, I go into that room and words always come to me. The theme of the song may be different but the words are always there. I don’t have to despair.

    Welcome your thoughts, Penny Love

    1. John Fogerty sat in the same room and stared at a blank wall. If you have found your special place. Use it. For some it’s a garden. It comes from inside.however just because you may think you know about a theme or idea doesn’t make it real to the listener. Sometimes you may need to do a little research. As you read about the subject, more words, themes and ideas will form in your mind and inspire you. Your words will resonate more because they are truth. Keep writing because the world wants to hear what you want to say.

  16. Nicely written tips. Anybody can learn by practicing your tips. However, if anybody want professional mentoring in order to write hindi lyrics writing from Ibrahim Ashk – a legendary Bollywood lyrics writer – fill form now http://bit.ly/205rccO or call at +91-7869501685

  17. The worst offence to number five is writing ingenuine sexual lyrics. Political lyrics may make you sound like a sheep, romantic stuff may sound awkward and artsy stuff may make you seem pretentious, but ingenuine sexual lyrics make you seem outright perverted. For example, Geoff Tate.

    1. Bob Dylan’s “I want you”,
      Cream’s “White Room”.
      James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues”.

      People love ingenuine sexual lyrics.

  18. I agree with almost all the comments here. Great to read what others are doing. I can only say people, if you ain’t getting it with a theme or idea. Start again! Put it aside, come back to it later. We evolve as poets, the more we record and produce. Berny Taupin was not a great song writer when he started with Elton. I dare say there were other things they may have had in common which kept them together in the early days. But look how that evolved. Also don’t bog yourself down into one genre. Have a go at rap or even a world song. I wrote an old time country song once that was turned into a great blues song by my producer and vocalist. Just have a go.

  19. Using software can help obviously, to find rhyming words faster.

  20. I wrote down a lyric but don’t know how good it is. I will need a hand on it.

  21. When it comes to writing songs I find myself trying too hard to use extensive vocabulary, just keep it simple and speak the truth!

  22. […] Songtrust, a blog about music, song publishing, and the works, has an article titled “5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Lyrics”, written by the author Jon Ostrow. It lists tips and tricks on how to write the best lyrics, or at least not terrible ones. […]

  23. Hi, guys. I am the guitarist and my friend is the drummer. And we write the music. By music I mean the whole music and the melody for singing. But very big problem for us has always been and is to write LYRICS. It’s even harder for us because we want to sing in English but we’re Russian and writing really good lyrics for us is a huge problem. Could somebody give me a piece of advice where we may find a lyrics writer. Thank you in advance for your help. kirill.kovzel(at)gmail.com

  24. Green fades through, the hills of white.
    Snow’s melting, spring delight.
    I’m pleased. Charmed by spells
    of a warm breeze.

    Rivers churn, to break the ice.
    A palette of blue reflects the sky.
    Selected by you, am I?
    To love you year by year

    Don’t know where to go with this…

  25. […] the most common songwriting method out there. If you’re trying to dive in straight away and write out lyrics but it’s not working, try taking a different approach. Go into your DAW and open up a new MIDI […]

  26. While all of this is completely true, I think it’s important to recognize that what most fans, myself included, enjoy and what will turn a listener to fan is your melody composer. Including an example is a song i’m almost finished w but I released the beat along with the hook or chorus included. I’ve always been a music lover and never have I ever became a fan of someone who just didn’t cut it on the melodic build of any song. https://youtu.be/mVYO56qBVGc . From rap to country and r&b or pop, Melody to me, is what will keep me coming back 20 xs after first hearing it. Melody is the foundation and helped me create my lyrics on countless songs. I personally have always felt, if you can win em w the melody you will have them period! Great article!!

  27. I’m working on a chorus, at the moment all I have is

    Something Something in the moooorning

  28. Ok, so I want to make a metal song, but my mind is forgetful and I forget the lyrics by the time I get a peice of paper. What do I do?

  29. Hello everyone, my name is William and I am only knew to here. Some of your post are interesting and quite helpful. In response to some of them however. I feel that one’s song must be able to move an audience both lyrically as well as musically. I have always said and will continue to say that if you we do not feel it in the music or the words or both then no one else will feel it either. At that point it would be either scrap it or rewrite it time. I also promote the idea of writing commercially influenced from a natural flow rather than something forced and restrictive in personal passion.
    I have personally been writing now for 28 years and not been too concerned with quantity, but rather quality. I have often heard it said that a songwriter will write 100 bad songs to find 1 good song. My personal philosophy on this is why not write 100 good to find that 1 extraordinary song? Also while elegant long winded ballads can be simply beautiful to a listeners ears, nothing moves a crowd like a song with a great groove.

  30. Obvious points with Junior High explanations. How about at least going into more details and giving some examples.

  31. best way to avoid mistakes when writing a song lyric is, avoiding of repeating the same words, feelings, emotion, alliteration, simile, personification, etc

  32. Great article, I totally agree with all these points. Especially, I think it’s important to write about something the listener can relate to, to become emotional about. Btw, I wrote an article about general songwriting tips and would really appreciate your feedback, if you have the time: http://blog.sofasession.com/how-to-write-a-song-in-10-easy-steps-beginners/

  33. Do what you love and don’t give up. Maybe you’ll learn to love other forms of writing or art. Sorry just writing a general comment. Good article and tips.

  34. I work right now with coversongs I change the lyrics in if I feel that I can’t stand for the lyrics. I like to be artistical and free, like words could even be a act, a play. But at the same time I feel that I will have to stand for it and that the audiens will however thinks it me speaking no matter what. So then I have to change lyrics to fit as much as possible my feelings. Here comes a new dilemma. When I do it sometimes click and I am happy but some other times I get like a pathetic feeling. Here comes also the line between positiv and negativ. Sometimes when I hear a song I think that the message is an importent one that reveals problems that needs to be thought about in the sosity, but when I try to sing and make my own verson of it, I have to go in to sinerity to be truthful. Then the lyrics can end up being with more hope wild I at the same time tryes to anyways light the issu. Because there was something to the song that capture my attention in the first place. Something of truth that clang in me. But it wasn’t qiut when I gonna be perfectionist and preform my type of verson. Often it could be that the most dark in the lyrics are soften up. But then the result can end up feeling pathetic when I turn angryness and hopelessness into hope but vage explinations of the issu. And I don’t want a song to end up feeling pathetic because that is really not what I’m looking for in poetry. Everybody wants to feel selfconfident in the lyrics and a yes feeling about deliver the lyrics. I should feel like a, yes I finally find the right words and feeling proud. And are iger to get it out. Instead of half shy about it. And hoping that people would understand what I ment about it. Even thought I felt that my words around it wasn’t at the maximum. And that I hope they would sence whats under right. Isn’t lyrics what everybody find as a tool to finally say what they couldn’t find the right words to. And still remain proud and confident with it. But lyrics that says something importent but are way too sad to represent, like for example if it says that the hope is complitly lost. What about the “the secret” the law about attraction and the positive law. So how avoid caming out pathetic with it? What makes a song pathetic? What is it that makes that feelings in some lyrics and in others not? Even if the message are quit the same? How to be more concious about it?

  35. Write your song, and maybe record it. Then put it away for a month.
    Take it out, and read it, or listen to it. See if it sounds as good as when you wrote it.

  36. Such a wonderful Blog!

  37. I agree. I am a Brit, yet one of the most moving peices of music ever, (IMO) is that Ladysmith Black Mambazo song Inkanyese Nezazi (the star and the wiseman), off the Baked Beans advert for those older folk here. Lyrics dont really have too much importance to the emotiveness or emotion in the song itself. I mean hell, alot of Michael Jacksons lyrics, especially the later stuff, was like, Whats he saying? but they were cracking songs nonetheless.

  38. Very Cool and Interesting 🙂

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