How To Write Better Lyrics

Ryan Brodhead on Jun 23, 2011

No matter how good your music is, lyrics can make or break pretty much any song. And while stringing words together may not come naturally to everyone, it is possible—easy, even—to improve your writing. Here are a few tips that you may find helpful in your endeavor to write better, more engaging lyrics.

Free Flow
Even the best and most experienced of writers face writer’s block and crippling self-criticism during their creative processes. Free flow writing is a great pre-writing technique that can be useful in helping you to get over that kind of inhibition. Give yourself a set amount of time—15 or 30 minutes or longer if you prefer—and write about whatever comes to mind. Write without stopping to correct spelling or grammar or word choice or meaning. This well help you get your creative juices flowing, and can produce raw material for you to later shape into a solid song.

Tell A Story
The best and most powerful songs tell a story and stay on theme with their lyrics. As you are writing, make sure that your words continue to be relevant to the larger point. Like a novel or a film or a play, people want to derive meaning from your work, so your lyrics should be about something, even if it isn’t something serious. It doesn’t have to be linear or traditional, but your lyrics should have a beginning, middle, and end, offering the listener a sense of closure at the end of the song. Even the most light-hearted of lyrics should, in some way, circle back to the beginning of the song.

Study Literary Techniques
Many of the essential literary techniques used by the masters of poetry and prose are very much transferable to writing lyrics. You may not have thought about them since your high school English class, but studying these devices—like imagery, alliteration, and internal rhyme—and studying how your favorite songwriters use them for maximum effect is a good way to figure out how to incorporate literary techniques into your own lyrics.

Be Concise
You only have so many minutes to fill in a song, so every syllable, word, and phrase should serve a particular, irrefutable purpose. Whether it furthers your story or is a key component of your melody, no space should be wasted. If you can convey meaning in three pleasant-sounding words instead of six, opt for that. One way to make sure you are being concise is to work on your vocabulary—whether by reading more or using a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary, all of which can also help you reduce your use of clichés.

Re-writing is just as important as writing well. Remember that your words aren’t set in stone just because you’ve written them down. Tweak the micro things like syllables, melodies, and words, as well as the macro things like verse length and order until you’ve come as close to perfect as you can. Trying things a different way, even if you don’t end up sticking with it, can give you much-needed perspective on the song you’re working on. Even minor, seemingly insignificant changes can help elevate a song from good to great.

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