The melody and the chord structure comes pretty quickly, lyrics are the bitch.
Writing lyrics is one of the most challenging things you can do with words. Here are four titles that can help you become a master in no time.
Sheila Davis: Successful Lyric Writing: A Step-by-step Course and Workbook
(Writer’s Digest, 1988)
Sheila Davis has a masterful understanding of how lyrics work, and in Successful Lyric Writing she offers a comprehensive look at how lyrics work that never gets too theoretical or academic. She includes helpful and relevant exercises (with space for you to try them) in this book, which is a bit easier on the brain than her formidable and sometimes hard-to-find The Craft of Lyric Writing. Highly recommended for smart, analytical writers who love to get down and dirty in the craft of making words zing.
Jason Blume: Six Steps to Songwriting Success
(Writer’s Digest, 2009)
Jason Blume’s book is probably the best guide out there to writing successful commercial chart music. He goes into plenty of detail about how lyrics and structure work, especially in pop music, and there are also chapters about writing melodies, producing demos and building a career in commercial music.
Pat Pattison: Writing Better Lyrics: The Essential Guide to Powerful Songwriting
(Knopf, 2011) Pat Pattison is a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His Writing Better Lyrics has been a staple for songwriters for over twenty years. It contains tons of great ideas about imagery, structure and writing lyrics with impact. It’s sometimes quite heavy on theory and details, in a way that most songwriters – at least the ones I know – don’t use in real life, but it’s definitely worth a read for anyone serious about improving their lyric writing skills.
Stephen Sondheim: Finishing The Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981)
Steven Sondheim is one of the most admired songwriters of our time. Most of his work is in the theatre – which might not be your cup of tea – but if you’re interested in diving deep into the craft of lyric writing, Finishing the Hat is absolutely worth your time. The vast majority of his lyrics come with annotations explaining not just what’s on the page, but how he got there – and occasionally what he now wishes he’d done differently.