Eight More Ways to Write Better Lyrics

Eight More Ways to Write Better Lyrics

In last week’s article I laid out five (well, eight) fundamentals that’ll help you write better lyrics in your next song. All of these principles were about the woods not the trees, because – controversial as this might sound on an internet listicle – most of the important principles of songwriting are about the woods not the trees. That is, yes, it’s generally a good idea not to split an infinitive where you can. But it’s an even better idea to write lyrics that are simple, conversational and specific, and show off a bit of your personality. The difference is, one of these skills takes about ten seconds to master (and give you an endorphin boost), and the other five might take you ten months (if you’re lucky). I know, I know. You came here for simple, instantly actionable advice that can change your life overnight. I know, I know. I should quit killing your vibe and just write ‘Ten INSTANT SHORTCUTS to writing a HIT SONG – RIGHT NOW!!!’ The trouble is, that’s not how this works. Anything worth having doesn’t happen overnight. So while I’d be fun to distract you with some simplistic dos and don’ts, that’s not really my style. Instead I’m going help you focus on developing a few key skills that are going to help you for the rest of your life as a songwriter. Cool, huh? That in mind, if you haven’t read last week’s article I recommend you do that before continuing. And if you have, nice work, and let’s keep going with a handful of more detailed principles – somewhere between...
Five (Well, Eight) Ways to Write Better Lyrics

Five (Well, Eight) Ways to Write Better Lyrics

If you’ve ever wondered how you can write better lyrics, I’ll give you the honest answer: practice more. Seriously. Lyric writing is pretty much the most difficult thing you can do with words. You have to say exactly the things you mean, using only a few words, all while making sure it rhymes, scans and works rhythmically the way you want it to. So before we look at five specific things you can think about to write better lyrics, here are the three big things you absolutely must be doing for any of those ideas to be useful to you.   How to Write Better Lyrics: Write. A lot. Like I said: practice. Then practice some more. Set aside ten, twenty, eighty minutes a day to sit down with a yellow pad or blank screen and get some words down. Start training your brain to think, live and breathe lyrics. Just like training in the gym or learning a new language, with writing lyrics you have to put in the hours if you want to make progress. And what should you write? Whatever you feel like. Honestly. It doesn’t matter. You might hate what you’ve written. (And if you don’t now, you will in a few years.) But that’s fine. That’s how it works. Keep practicing and you’ll be writing better lyrics in no time.     How to Write Better Lyrics: Listen to Different Lyrics. A Lot. Lyric writing, like all kinds of writing, is done with a heady mix of instinct and logic. The way you fine tune your instincts is to get to know a lot of...
How to Finish a Song

How to Finish a Song

The trouble with finishing a song is that songwriting is hard. Possible, manageable, achievable. But hard. It’s hard because songwriting, like any kind of creativity, means making something that doesn’t exist yet. And the trouble with making something that doesn’t exist yet is that – because it doesn’t exist – you don’t know how to make it. In a nutshell, that’s how creativity works. And that’s why creativity is hard. There’s no formula. There’s no rulebook. There’s no IKEA-style instructions. You just have to figure it out. One of the most common questions I get asked both through the site and as a songwriting coach is ‘How do I finish a song?’ And the honest answer is, you keep going. You finish a song by coming up with ideas until the song’s finished. I know that’s not a sexy answer. I know that’s not an exciting answer. I know that’s not an answer I can explain in a three-step WikiHow article with nice pictures.     If you’re confused about your song’s structure, I suggest you stick to a simple Verse-Chorus structure – like Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus or Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. If you’re not sure what to put into your song’s verses, have a think about your song’s story and try brainstorming details about that story – no lyrics yet, just words and phrases! – that might inspire a full lyric. If you’ve written your first verse but are stuck on your second, think about a shift in time or place or topic you could use to frame your second verse. What other focus could help inspire you to write something new? If you’re struggling to...
Be Restless

Be Restless

Be restless. Dream big. Want more. Go new places. Meet new people. Try new things. Never settle. Life is too short not to. Now don’t get me wrong. Dreams are earned. Dreams are fought for. They’re not wishes granted by some motherfucking genie in a bottle. The bigger your dreams, the harder you have to graft to make them come true. The more you have to struggle. The more you have to sacrifice. But will it be worth it? You betcha. At eighty, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do way more than the things you did. So be stupid. Be unthinking. Be fearless. And be ready to fuck up. Because you will. Nobody ever did anything worthwhile without making mistakes, or burning a few bridges, or looking like a completely crazy person once in a while. Which would you rather: Fuck up a hundred times, learn a hundred new lessons then use those lessons to create something amazing? Or fuck up never and create nothing? Because you have to choose. It’s one or the other. You can’t make zero mistakes and something amazing. So embrace it: in a life well spent, things are going to go wrong. You’ll be told ‘no’. You’ll be told ‘fuck no’. You’ll be told ‘fuck you’. None of these are reasons to settle. None of these are reasons to stop exploring. None of these are reasons to stop trying new things. Life only stops if you decide to stop living it. Be restless. Never settle.   Photo by Bryan Minear on...
How to Come up with 100 New Song Ideas

How to Come up with 100 New Song Ideas

Here’s an important truth about coming up with new song ideas: you should write about what interests and inspires you, not what some internet listicle tells you to. So if you were expecting a 100-item list, I’m sorry to deflate your dirigible. Instead, I’m going to show you how to come up with your own (much smarter) list of your own (much more interesting) song ideas. I call it the ‘Give it a twist’ technique. Let’s take a look. So as you might know, songs tell stories. And the hallmark of a good song is that you can summarize its story, or central message, or central idea, in a single sentence. Try it: It’s a song about a single mother who’s forced into sex work to support her kid while she dreams of a better life for him. (Rockabye) It’s a song about a girl who’s lonely at night and wants to dance with somebody to fix that. (I Wanna Dance with Somebody) It’s a song about a guy whose significant other left yesterday, and now he wants to rewind the clock because he was so much happier then. (Yesterday) And how, you might ask, do you turn these old song ideas into new song ideas? The way you turn any old idea into a new idea: give it a twist. Write a song about a recently single mother who’s scared to go into sex work but thinks she’ll have to to support her kid. Write a song about a guy who’s lonely at night and wants to dance with somebody to fix that. Write a song about a...

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