Lyric strategies

What methodologies do you use for your lyric writing? Maybe you don’t even think about it as a strategy, you just have a go at doing it where and when necessary, and whatever comes out is your lyrics, and you use those.

I’m wondering if there’s a better way. A more ‘on-demand’ way, with more efficient techniques and ploys and moves. A more professional approach, rather than leaving it up to the muse or the whimsy, rather than just waiting to be inspired – a professional artist or designer or photographer doesn’t just wait for the inspiration to strike, we use learned techniques to get on with it and get usable results when they’re needed, now.

What tricks would you add to this bag of?

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Comments

  • Take a walk and keep the tune in your head.

  • @ALB That’s IT!!!!

  • As has been repeated (by me) many times hereabouts: "Inspiration does exist but it must find you working." (Pablo)

  • I could go on and on about this subject. Not that I'm good at it, but it's the hardest thing I do in music.

    It's paradoxical to me— writing lyrics somehow seems so foreign to the music-making process, but when it is done well, it can add so much to the song.

  • For most of my stuff, the music comes first. Once I’ve got a working melody, I’ll do several passes of total gibberish with a word or phrase that slips in here and there. Then I listen back to hear things that sound like words/phrases. After a few days, actual lyrics start to take shape. It takes a lot of work, but I like that the songs are often written based on the sounds of vowels, dipthongs and consonants, which can be very rhythmic and percussive. For years, I thought I was so creative until I read a bunch of interviews with successful songwriters. Turns out that this a very common way of writing lyrics.

  • ALBALB
    edited February 21

    @Telstar5 said:
    @ALB That’s IT!!!!

    :)

  • As RTM lyricist, what happens is...

    ...an idea is presented to me, maybe along with part of the music, and I work from that. If the subject is unfamiliar, I research to get a feel for it and play about with rhyme and story telling.

    ...or, I’m the one with the ideas, and music gets built around that concept. The words acting as inspiration or setting the tone of the song.

  • @aaronpc said:
    It's paradoxical to me— writing lyrics somehow seems so foreign to the music-making process, but when it is done well, it can add so much to the song.

    >

    To my mind, there has always been two distinct strands of music making.

    1. That which is strictly music: from classical to modern that is intended to convey its theme using instruments as voices.

    2. Songs: Music and words in harmony. Two parts of the same story, each of which is lesser without the other.

  • I remember back in my early years
    I’d write a bunch of stanzas and groups of lines
    I’d get to the point without any tears
    But most of the words were just to make it rhyme.

  • edited February 21

    I think a more practical approach than “take a walk” would work better. ;)

    So yeah @u0421793 , here’s what to try. It may not work for you, or it may. So yeah, write some stuff down on paper that’s related to your song idea, take a pair of scissors to the paper to snip words and phrases and such, put the pieces in a hat (or whatever) to mix them up, pull 2-4 random pieces out of the hat to recombine. If it doesn’t work, pop the pieces back in the hat and pull out 2-4 others. 99 times out of 100, inspiration will eventually strike when a combination “flips the switch”, and the lyrics just come flowing out like a stream of water out of a faucet.

    Matter of fact, I think one of my beloved songwriting heroes Kurt Cobain used this method, and as you already know, his songs are f-cking stellar! I think Lennon did this too, but his songs are a mixed bag ranging from “just good” to “deep and thought-provoking”.

    Also be sure to use simile and metaphor only when it’s clever and not cliche. Too many “my love for you is the size of the universe” lyrics that take an otherwise okay song and flush it down the crapper. If your song has even the vaguest sense of a story to it, answer the questions “Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?” even if only a couple of answers end up in the song. “Show” the story rather than simply telling it. Evoke the five senses to create imagery in the prose. Lean more on action verbs and less on “to be/is/was”.

    Then, yeah, answer the questions, snip up the phrases and answers, mix it in a hat or bowl or something, and start looking for combinations which “flip the switch”.

  • Oh yeah, that reminds me:

  • @jwmmakerofmusic said:
    I think a more practical approach than “take a walk” would work better. ;)

    So yeah @u0421793 , here’s what to try. It may not work for you, or it may. So yeah, write some stuff down on paper that’s related to your song idea, take a pair of scissors to the paper to snip words and phrases and such, put the pieces in a hat (or whatever) to mix them up, pull 2-4 random pieces out of the hat to recombine. If it doesn’t work, pop the pieces back in the hat and pull out 2-4 others. 99 times out of 100, inspiration will eventually strike when a combination “flips the switch”, and the lyrics just come flowing out like a stream of water out of a faucet.

    Matter of fact, I think one of my beloved songwriting heroes Kurt Cobain used this method, and as you already know, his songs are f-cking stellar! I think Lennon did this too, but his songs are a mixed bag ranging from “just good” to “deep and thought-provoking”.

    Also be sure to use simile and metaphor only when it’s clever and not cliche. Too many “my love for you is the size of the universe” lyrics that take an otherwise okay song and flush it down the crapper. If your song has even the vaguest sense of a story to it, answer the questions “Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?” even if only a couple of answers end up in the song. “Show” the story rather than simply telling it. Evoke the five senses to create imagery in the prose. Lean more on action verbs and less on “to be/is/was”.

    Then, yeah, answer the questions, snip up the phrases and answers, mix it in a hat or bowl or something, and start looking for combinations which “flip the switch”.

    Bowie was a big proponent of the “cut-up” process, too. I like the idea of treating it in the same way journalism does to a story – who, what, where, why, when, how? And the involvement of the senses. Good advice, thanks.

  • The more 'on-demand' way has me concerned here. Are we talking about marketing or art? If we are talking marketing, the 'on-demand' way would be the one which sells the most at the moment I guess. If we are talking art on the other hand, the best way to do it is by doing things people have not done before. An artist is a discoverer of new ways and new ideas, an experimentator of ideas and feelings. And thus, strategy isn't relevant unless it is one which has never been created before.

  • @Norbert said:
    The more 'on-demand' way has me concerned here. Are we talking about marketing or art? If we are talking marketing, the 'on-demand' way would be the one which sells the most at the moment I guess. If we are talking art on the other hand, the best way to do it is by doing things people have not done before. An artist is a discoverer of new ways and new ideas, an experimentator of ideas and feelings. And thus, strategy isn't relevant unless it is one which has never been created before.

    Well, ‘on demand’ could translate as ‘professional’. If you were a painter of pictures, you could either do it as and when the muse occurs, and not produce a picture when you’re not in the mood, because it won’t be good. If you had commissions coming in and you put food on the table from these commissions, you’d have to be ‘in the mood’ all the bloody time, or you’d end up broke! Same with photography – when I was a professional photographer, I’d point out to people who admired my photography and thought they could never be that good that the difference between a pro and an amateur is that an amateur might keep a roll of film in their camera all year and take an occasional snap. I’d shoot through about three or four rolls of film to pick one or maybe two shots of a situation or event of a topic I was shooting. I throw away all the crap shots first, then from the good ones, select out the best, then hand over the selection to my editor who picks the one to publish in the article. An amateur just takes the one!

    Any creative process is pretty much a candidate for becoming a factory conveyor belt process if you can get it repeatable and reliable enough. Good at making cakes, or just doing the icing of the cake, or just doing the words in the icing of the cake? You could be doing it all day professionally, over and over and over. You’d get super-efficient, and your failure rate would drop dramatically – even on your “off days”. You’d adopt a strategy to make it so. That’s what I mean as ‘on-demand’. Repeatable and professional.

  • edited February 21

    I completely disagree with your statement. An artist doesn't care if his art will bring food on the table. This is not what art is meant for. Anyone thinking this way is fooling oneself about the true nature of artistic creation.

    Artist have the unique ability to bring from the world of ideas and feelings tangible items bound in reality. Whether it is sold or not afterwards has nothing to do with art. It's just a matter of using what you create as a way to live. But it is not the finality of it.

    The last lyrics I wrote were for my niece who died in a car accident. I couldn't care less about the fact it could be sold or not. This was not the purpose of it. And art should never be.

    An artist is a professional as long as the means and the purpose of his creations convey a strong meaning for his fellow humans in reality; not because it can be sold by the thousands. Rambrandt died poor and his paintings are masterpieces.

  • @u0421793 said:
    the “cut-up” process

    There's an app for that, of course:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpalette/id995679850?mt=8

  • Good find!

    One little tip that I use - if you get a couple of lines that sound forced or stilted, just try reversing the order. It’s surprising how often it makes them sound better, or even clever.

  • edited February 21

    pSo yeah, write some stuff down on paper that’s related to your song idea, take a pair of scissors to the paper to snip words and phrases and such, put the pieces in a hat (or whatever) to mix them up, pull 2-4 random pieces out of the hat to recombine.
    >
    >

    Bowie famously championed this method, as others have already pointed out.

    But then, his greatest works were more to do with direct, focussed imagination. What would Ziggy be, if it didn’t tell such a compelling otherworldly story.

  • @richardyot said:

    @u0421793 said:
    the “cut-up” process

    There's an app for that, of course:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpalette/id995679850?mt=8

    >

    Got to give that a try. ;) I don’t need it, and may not ever use it in a song, but it sounds like fun.

  • @Norbert said:
    The last lyrics I wrote were for my niece who died in a car accident. I couldn't care less about the fact it could be sold or not. This was not the purpose of it. And art should never be.

    An artist is a professional as long as the means and the purpose of his creations convey a strong meaning for his fellow humans in reality; not because it can be sold by the thousands. Rambrandt died poor and his paintings are masterpieces.

    >

    Very well said, sir. Agree completely.

    ‘Life’s Hand Grenade’ , one of RTP’s songs on the first album, is a true story about about tragic loss evolving into the love of a lifetime.

    The song succeeds artistically, and expresses something of value. It is nice that others have heard this and related to it, but it’s purpose was never to be commercial. Some things are much more important than money.

  • @richardyot said:

    @u0421793 said:
    the “cut-up” process

    There's an app for that, of course:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpalette/id995679850?mt=8

    This thread and this app are urging me to actually have a go at some lyrics.....

  • @jwmmakerofmusic said:
    I think a more practical approach than “take a walk” would work better. ;)

    >

    I was quite serious, though my comment may have seemed a bit curt, possibly dismissive. Just taking a walk while keeping a tune inside your head is plenty practical - it works for me. Having a bit of paper to write down the ideas certainly helps as well.

  • @ALB said:

    @jwmmakerofmusic said:
    I think a more practical approach than “take a walk” would work better. ;)

    >

    I was quite serious, though my comment may have seemed a bit curt, possibly dismissive. Just taking a walk while keeping a tune inside your head is plenty practical - it works for me. Having a bit of paper to write down the ideas certainly helps as well.

    Seems you are not alone in that thought.

    https://www.canva.com/learn/taking-long-walks/

  • edited February 21

    @richardyot said:

    @u0421793 said:
    the “cut-up” process

    There's an app for that, of course:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpalette/id995679850?mt=8

    Damn! Just had a play-around with it, and undoubtedly this will make my life easier!

    Also, I never knew Bowie used the “cut up” method! :astonished: His “Ziggy Stardust” album was what inspired my use of the “Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?” storytelling technique for all these years to be quite honest. So, it seems I’ve been a part of the “higher echelons” this whole while. :smirk: Shame I’ve not the fame that goes along with it...

    @ALB said:

    @jwmmakerofmusic said:
    I think a more practical approach than “take a walk” would work better. ;)

    >

    I was quite serious, though my comment may have seemed a bit curt, possibly dismissive. Just taking a walk while keeping a tune inside your head is plenty practical - it works for me. Having a bit of paper to write down the ideas certainly helps as well.

    Fair enough mate. I often take a walk to jog my thinktank, but walking to stimulate thought via dopamine applies to so much more than simply lyric writing. ;) I didn’t think you were curt but rather pointing out what I would assume is common knowledge.

  • @AndyPlankton said:

    @richardyot said:

    @u0421793 said:
    the “cut-up” process

    There's an app for that, of course:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpalette/id995679850?mt=8

    This thread and this app are urging me to actually have a go at some lyrics.....

    Last time we spoke (was it really only an hour ago :)) you mentioned council estates and the fly-tipping of furniture. Had a walk on a beach with the dog, came back and thought there’s no time like the present. Let’s go Andy:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/cpyw7pok5s9sph0/Sofa’s in the garden.wav?dl=0

  • @jwmmakerofmusic said:
    Fair enough mate. I often take a walk to jog my thinktank, but walking to stimulate thought via dopamine applies to so much more than simply lyric writing. ;) I didn’t think you were curt but rather pointing out what I would assume is common knowledge.

    If someone asks an obvious question, then an obvious answer must be expected. It's also a useful answer, unless you can't walk. My apologies to the OP if he can't get around on his own.

  • @Bluepunk said:

    @AndyPlankton said:

    @richardyot said:

    @u0421793 said:
    the “cut-up” process

    There's an app for that, of course:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wordpalette/id995679850?mt=8

    This thread and this app are urging me to actually have a go at some lyrics.....

    Last time we spoke (was it really only an hour ago :)) you mentioned council estates and the fly-tipping of furniture. Had a walk on a beach with the dog, came back and thought there’s no time like the present. Let’s go Andy:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/cpyw7pok5s9sph0/Sofa’s in the garden.wav?dl=0

    Wow that was quick.....when I get home for work, gonna make a brew, look out of the window (with my view of the estate) and see what comes out :)

  • edited February 21

    @u0421793

    Dude, check this out.

    https://www.coursera.org/learn/songwriting-lyrics/lecture/67ZPR/boxes-your-development-engine

    https://www.coursera.org/learn/songwriting-lyrics/home/info

    I found this free course via googling lyric writing methods. The “box development” video shows another solid strategy for lyric writing. Pat’s video “six best friends” is all about what I said regarding “Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?” I wonder if the “cut up” method is mentioned in this course, but we should take it to see what other tricks he’s got up his sleeve.

    @ALB said:

    @jwmmakerofmusic said:
    Fair enough mate. I often take a walk to jog my thinktank, but walking to stimulate thought via dopamine applies to so much more than simply lyric writing. ;) I didn’t think you were curt but rather pointing out what I would assume is common knowledge.

    If someone asks an obvious question, then an obvious answer must be expected.

    Right, and it’s obvious that the OP asked for a few solid, practical strategies...

    A more professional approach, rather than leaving it up to the muse or the whimsy, rather than just waiting to be inspired – a professional artist or designer or photographer doesn’t just wait for the inspiration to strike, we use learned techniques to get on with it and get usable results when they’re needed, now.

    Taking a walk stimulates thought, but it still leaves many things up to whimsy/the muse.

  • The problem I find when contemplating lyrics is my brain automatically associates many words with songs already made and then with the music from that song - before I know it, I’ve covered another bands song without even realising it!

    Creation is easy. Creating something original at my age is the hard part!

  • Another thing worth considering is the use of vivid imagery. I've posted this one before, lifted from George Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language, but it's always really stuck in my mind as a great example of the use of vivid imagery, from Ecclesiastes:

    I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

    Vivid images and metaphors make songs a lot more interesting and alive.

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