Writing Better Lyrics

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  • @seemanski  Jan 29

    Out of everything I try and improve upon I can never seem to get the motivation into how to write better lyrics. Figuring out how to twist knobs on VST plugins and learn different instruments just seems more appealing to me. I was wondering if anyone has any tips and tricks into how to make lyrics less pants.

    I think there were some websites and tools (apart from the inbuilt fawm tools) banded around last year. I remember trying them and getting distracted by new VST plugins.

  • @wobbiewobbit  Jan 29

    think of phrases that are inherently "you", word it as naturally as you can and yet at the same time make every word count as much as you can. have fun with the playfulness of language.

    good luck 😀

  • @wobbiewobbit  Jan 29

    here is an example of what i mean by making words count. i remember this lyric sharpening... (entering a sweet shop)
    then the aroma hit me as i opened up the door.
    Whoosh! the aroma hit me as i burst in through the door

    that kinda thing... load it up, keep it real

  • @seemanski  Jan 29

    Oh God, inherently me. It's going to get very nerdy 😝 Great advice, thanks.

  • @wobbiewobbit  Jan 29

    finding a really apt partial rhyme is better than a cheesy perfect rhyme (unless you are trying to be cheesy of course)

  • @metalfoot  Jan 29

    Also, a great way to learn to write better is to read loads of lyrics by great songwriters and study a lot of poetry. Helps you understand how language works.

  • @dasbinky  Jan 29

    When you're starting out, I think the key to anything in the writing space is to copy things you love. Like "today, I am writing my own version of The Downward Spiral, and I will copy the structures and form while saying the same thing in my own words". One of the easiest ways to learn is through imitation. Your own interpretation won't really sound much like whatever you're aiming for, and if you do it enough you eventually start developing a style that's both your own and influenced by the things you love.

  • @johncrossman  Jan 29

    Also this recent thread went in a good lyric writing direction, lots of good stuff... https://fawm.org/forums/topic/11070/

  • @kathym  Jan 29

    Avoid rhymes that are soooooo overdone that people hate them. Every time I see/hear someone rhyme thinkin' and drinkin', walk and talk, and their ilk, it really diminishes my interest in a song.
    Read things back and check the prosody and meter.
    Add some contrast to the length or notes/syllables between the verses and the chorus and adjust the words accordingly.

  • @seemanski  Jan 29

    @dasbinky, I like that idea. I've bought books in the past but never really ended up taking it in. I guess it's a bit like trying to learn an instrument but only playing songs that your music teacher likes and not you. I also happen to be a fan of NiN so you caught my attention with that little name drop 😀.

  • @seemanski  Jan 29

    Thanks @johncrossman, bookmarking that.

  • @ayehahmur  Jan 29

    I'm currently reading/listening to Jeff Tweedy's "How To Write One Song". A lot it at the beginning is about getting over the mental block of believing that you can write a song in the first place, but later on there are some interesting exercises around putting words together in the most effective way. Not a long book and very much worth a read/listen.

  • @seemanski  Jan 29

    I just stumbled across this in the other thread that @stevenwesleyguiles shared, that is great and suites my programmers brain perfectly. Thanks for sharing that 😀


  • @johncrossman  Jan 29

    And +1 to @metalfoot. Read widely and often. Poetry and certain authors' audiobooks (Neil Gaiman reading Neil Gaiman!) are good for my lyric thoughts.

    I hesitate to say this on fawm where the goal is to write quickly, but... Get the pants lyrics down and then pop back to them a short while later and turn some word-knobs and dials and replace mundane words with specific, detailed, contrasting or unexpected words. I know, easier said than done, but.

  • @sbs2018  Jan 29

    I started off writing lyrics, took Pat Pattison’s class, earned a certificate, read his books, joined NSAI, etc but then I needed to focus on creating the music to go with those lyrics and along the way, fell in love with music production. Trying to get my mind back into writing lyrics, but, so far, it’s stubbornly resisting.

  • @seemanski  Jan 29

    @ayehahmur, I love Wilco so that was an instant buy from me 😀

  • @radioovermoscow Jan 29

    Write drunk, edit sober.

  • @ayehahmur  Jan 29

    @seemanski Yay!

  • @lastnightilie Jan 29

    It's funny how people can be so different. Playing around with production is like the least fun thing in the world to me, but I'm still trying to force myself to learn it because I'm poor, and hoping to become more self-sufficient so I can release music without paying thousands of dollars to producers every time.

    Lyrics come easiest to me, but I write a lot. I journal, free write, tend to write a list of words/phrases and write down what I want the song to be about & how i want it to go in a paragraph before writing the lines. That can help a lot if you plan it out in advance. But if you have trouble coming up with ideas to begin with, then yeah random title/word cloud/whatever generators can be helpful.

  • @sailingmagpie  Jan 29

    @lastnightilie If you're not into production, just record it rough & ready and call it lo-fi!

  • @lastnightilie Jan 30

    @sailingmagpie Thanks - I already do that and will continue to share my work the best I can no matter what! My motto is that it's definitely better to share something imperfect than nothing at all. But I'm also quite ambitious and ultimately want my stuff to be produced as professionally as possible. Also if I'm honest I mostly just hate it because I feel like I'm bad at it, haha, but anything can be improved with practice!

  • @standup  Jan 30

    I’m reading the Tweedy book too. Really good, short, I’m trying to savor it while also finishing it by Sunday. But because of that book I’ve started filling pages with writing, listening, thinking. All stuff I’ve done before! But “How to Write One Song” has been inspirational for sure.

  • @jorh  Jan 30

    Check out Pat Patison’s lyric tips


    There’s so much useful stuff here on developing ideas, matching stress pattern, even creating your own metaphors 😀

  • @sailingmagpie  Jan 30

    @lastnightilie Absolutely. The only way to learn more is by doing it more!

  • @guatecoop  Jan 30

    Wow @jorh , you are right about Pat Patison. I don’t even write lyrics, but it makes me want to do the exercises to learn for next year!

    @ayehahmur and @standup , I just ordered Jeff Tweety’s book based on what you guys said. It will be here Sunday!!

  • @yam655  Jan 30

    It's always an iterative process. This means it's totally fine if it is trash at first. This is normal and not to be feared.

    Start singing. First aim for rhythm and melody. Words are better than just sounds, but _something_ needs to keep coming out of your mouth. Keep the tempo. Don't stop.

    A rhythm and a melody that feels good coming out your mouth is going to be fun to play with, which makes it more comfortable when you need to repeat it to tweak the words. It gives you the opportunity to feel confident in the melody even before you're confident in the words.

    With a melody and rhythm, you fundamentally have a structure of a song, you just need to tweak the words and press them in to position.

    Pick something in the nonsense you were singing and mold it in to the structure. It has an idea. It has a form. The only thing missing is being fleshed out, so flesh it out.

    If you can't think of good lyrics for a song, sing the worst lyrics you can possibly think of. You need a bar to measure your improvement. A song with lyrics and melody that is truly horrible -- but complete and done -- sets a bar, just a low bar.

    Only after you're comfortable with your ability to make crappy songs should you aim for making better songs. It means you'll stop worrying about whether the song is bad or not. That worry cripples creativity and prevents anything from happening.

    Also, a surprising number of times, when people lean in to making the worst thing imaginable, they actually punch through the other side and make something really surprisingly nice. It turns out, you can't play with people's expectations unless they can form expectations first.

  • @andygetch  Jan 30

    Maybe this Dave Grohl video will help https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV9-n-2x8ww

  • @celineellis  Jan 30

    Your post title is actually the name of pat pattisons best selling book ‘write better lyrics’ it is really well worth a look and spending some time with.

    But also some great advice from others in this thread for sure.

  • @ayehahmur  Jan 30

    @guatecoop Hope you enjoy it and you find it helpful. It's certainly getting me into the mood for FAWM.

  • @timfatchen  Jan 30

    Lyrics: I read a lot of poetry, especially lyric poets. I look at the amazing lyric ability of WS Gilbert and Oscar Hammerstein II, the one writing lyrics for setting, the other writing lyrics FROM setting, and the both doing amazing things with the English language. Whe I write, I really really have a need, urge, desire whatever to actually SAY something. That is, I don't think "hmm. I will now write a love song" (I'm useless at love song lyrics). There's got to be something prompting me otherwise the lyric is...lifeless. Doesn't matter whether I'm being serious or scurrilous. And often it's a storyline. Right now I'm writing here to _avoid_ writing lyrics before the event. And there's always FAWMku for precision and economy in words, and FAWMerick for getting precision in meter and rhyme! Seriously; they're both good technical exercises in lyric writing.

  • @seemanski  Jan 30

    @celineellis, that is probably because I bought the book, got about 15% of the way, lost interest and either started playing computer games or twiddling with knobs on some vst plugin.

  • @seemanski  Jan 30

    There is some really good advice here, thanks 😁

  • @stevenwesleyguiles  Jan 30

    @seemanski Thanks! Glad it helped. Sometimes my brain is analytical and sometimes it's random.

  • @jwhanberry  Jan 30

    Skirmish. Just let it flow real quick. Later on, edit, edit, edit. It takes a bunch of times through to get it close to right. Sometimes I change a word when I'm doing the vocal.

  • @loveonamixtape  Jan 30

    It's so personal, and everyone has different methods (no to mention strengths! Plenty of amazing music out there that isn't super "lyrics-driven"), but, for what it's worth adding another person's personal opinion to the conversation, I agree with the folks who mention reading a lot, and also paying attention to lyrics you really like and admire. I'd also add that not just poetry has been inspirational to me, in terms of reading. Reading great books, especially literature, I find really inspiring, as well; in part for more examples of beautiful language, but also for different subjects and themes and perspectives to write about or from.

  • @yam655  Jan 30

    [Edit. Oops. Wrong thread.]

  • @celineellis  Jan 30

    @seemanski hahaha not just a coincidence then! It’s a great book but it is fairly advanced reading. His website has good tips as well.

  • @sheamiejay  Jan 30

    @ayehahmur Reading "Write One Song" as well. Love the conversational style. Tweedy makes you feel like you are good friends chatting about songwriting. I'm reading it sparingly to savour it.

  • @ayehahmur  Jan 30

    @sheamiejay Conversational is a great way to describe it! I'm glad you're enjoying it. In the audible version he does some interesting things. There's a chapter where he talks about capturing the song-worthy moments from a conversation with his wife, and he just gets his wife to recap the conversation with him to illustrate the example. And, yes, it feels really friendly because of that.

  • @vuduluv Jan 31

    started a thread at link below. just thought i'd share here as well...


  • @vuduluv Jan 31

    ^^^^ meant to say "started a similar thread"

  • @vuduluv Jan 31

    great advice i got from Pamela Phillips Oland's "The Art of Writing Great Lyrics" is to have a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary at your side (or open in some tabs on your web browser) when writing lyrics. immensely helpful for all sorts of creative writing projects actually.

  • @blueone  Jan 31

    Lyrics are the thing I struggle with the most. In recent years I’ve taken to maintaining a massive ‘lyric ideas’ note on my phone, and I put everything on it that I think sounds cool - single words, phrases, entire lines, or even whole verses, etc. It then serves as a sort of starting point for almost everything I write - a library of things I think sound cool. 😅

    I find the biggest contributor to it is from reading books - taking inspiration from concepts, or phrases used.

  • @sailingmagpie  Jan 31

    I used to struggle a lot with writing lyrics. I think this is because I was taking a very linear approach to writing ie I'd agonise over the first line of the verse, followed by the second etc. Absolutely nothing wrong with working this way if you want, I just found it so laborious!

    My workflow now is:
    - Decide on an overarching theme for the lyrics. This doesn't have to be some Bowie-esque super concept! Sometimes it's a story i want to tell, or a scene from a film/book, or even just a word like "trapped" or "hunger."

    - Next I spend some time writing out words or phrases that are relevant to the topic. I then sing these over my chosen melody line, chords etc and I'm well on my way.

    - Once you've got a framework, its much easier to edit and move lines around. Keep an eye on the number of syllables you have in each line and, if a line doesn't fit the melody, just change the melody for that line. It makes the song more interesting anyway!

    Following this method really frees up my time, which I can use to spend agonising over a snare sound or the amount of reverb on my backing vocals or some other pointless procrastination!

  • @jmadison  Jan 31

    Thanks everyone for the tips. Getting lyrics down is definitely hard for me. I don't have any methods or techniques, really. And, I've only actually tried writing during fawm. I'm sure thinking and reading about the lyric writing process would be a great exercise for me.

    @yam655 I really appreciate the ideas you put forth here. I'm usually really good at keeping my mouth shut while playing my instrument, but your suggestion to keep -something- coming out of my mouth is really good.

  • @lyricslinger  Jan 31

    I think one of the biggest challenges with lyric writing is getting the initial idea. There's that dreadful starting stage where you're staring at a blank screen or page and any lines you write just aren't working.

    Two techniques that I think can help with that are the Cut Up technique, favoured by the likes of David Bowie and Kurt Cobain, and Pat Pattinson's Object Writing technique.

    I wrote a blog post that talks about those techniques (and more), and which includes a link to the transcript of an interview that Bowie did where he talked about his approach to lyric writing.

  • @jwhanberry  Jan 31

    I use it all the time.

  • @ineloquentsd  Jan 31

    The biggest thing that helps me is maintaining an ongoing notebook called an “Image Book.” I slap everything in there - a random musing, a snippet of song that comes to me, an image or sensation I want to capture, outlines or ideas for stories... anything and everything. Then, when it’s time to get writing, I scan through the image book and can iterate what I find there until I have a working song. IIRC, it’s somewhat similar to the Object Writing method, but a bit less structured.

  • @tseaver  Jan 31

    @lyricslinger Cool article! I particularly like the Terry Pratchett quote: for my money, he is the Jonathan Swift for our times.

  • @yam655  Jan 31

    @jmadison I hope it helps. I've not taken classes (or even read books) but that's the process I used when I was starting out. I've heard The Beatles sometimes used similar techniques.

    My current process evolved directly from that one.

    It is easier to improve songwriting when you have a technique that reliably creates songs of _any_ quality. It's not a question of bad versus good. It's a question of nothing versus something.

    It's like haiku and limericks. They have rigid structures and that helps folks know when they work. The melody of a song is the structure. If you can't reliably make melodies, then it is hard to find words that fit.

  • @frenchcricket Jan 31

    Close read other songs in minute detail, and you'll get it. By which I mean, take apart each decision the writer made, e.g. why did they use this particular word, chord change, or motif? What effect does that have? What effect does it have if I change it to a different one? It's painstaking stuff but I swear you'll learn so much.

    For a good book on close reading as a creative practice including many illustrations of the above, albeit on works of fiction (the same principles in many respects) I really recommend Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.

  • @ajna1960  Jan 31

    @seemanski As you can probably guess I could write forever on this subject...
    But to keep it short just remember, there is Art and there is Craft.
    The Art is you letting your creative muse just run onto the page, not worrying about rhymes and such at this point.
    The Craft is when you go back after a short bit of time and start crafting them into the lyric form that you want and need, improving everything you want to at this point (and in my case many times over for a period of time).

  • @ajna1960  Jan 31

    And for excellent help I recommend anything on lyrics by Robin Frederick 😀

  • @haim  Feb 6

    I would highly recommend reading a book about lyrics writing. There is a book called exactly like your title, it's by Pat Pattison and it's a great book for beginners or for more advanced writers. If you don't feel like it's the right book for you there are plenty on the market. If you are willing to read an article, you might as well try a whole book, this will help you tremendously.

    And I see @sbs2018 commented that she took a class of Pat, interesting. But you see the point, try to research about good teachers and not about good articles, it might get you to where you wanna go.

    I'm a songwriters mentor so feel free to check my Instagram for free inspiring content, my videos might encourage you to push yourself a bit harder.

    I hope this is helpful, if not feel free to send me a message and i'll try to help.

  • @chrismyth02 Feb 6

    Sometimes I just extemporaneously sing over instrumental tracks I’m working on in my car... usually it ends up being nonsense words that help me find the vocal melody and rhythm I want... occasionally I come upon a phrase or line that really works for the song, and build the rest of the lyrics around that.

  • @colgoo Feb 6

    Ask yourself: what is the story? Songs are stories. Some stories don’t need words. Others require precise words. Still others need catchy rhymes. Not all songs require rhyming poetry. But in a song, EVERY word counts. Even “throwaway” words like “the”, “one”, “and”, “but”, “yet”....

    What makes for a good story? Timing, rhythm, pitch, mood, and unexpected twists and turns. Don’t give away your punchlines in the opening stanza.....set it up for the chorus. Also, remember that humor needs to punch up, not down.

    Show, don’t tell...bring the listener in with all the sensory words you can muster. Is the color purple or is it a glossy eggplant/aubergine or soft lilac? Paint out the visuals. On one of my collaborations, I got the lyricist to agree to extending the metaphor to expand the story. So, what started with, “I protected you like gold, banked on you to heal” which was already fabulous writing...turned into:

    Like a dragon’s hoard of gold,
    I held you tight till your love waxed cold
    I trapped you in—banked on you to heal
    Gave you jeweled blades to wield,
    Naive to heists and power steals.

    What started out as a complaint against the ex, turned into a recognition of both parties having unhealthy attachment styles. This helped the hook, “throwing bombs behind enemy lines”, because the narrator needed to show exactly how they had been an enemy to their freedom seeking, emotionally unavailable partner.

    You’re going to insert yourself....respect your own boundaries in how vulnerable you are going to get. But stories require personality. Good lyrics will require bravery on your part. Emotions are part of storytelling. Learn to manage and regulate your emotions for optimal effect.

  • @frenchcricket Feb 7

    What 4 years of formal poetry tuition has taught me (and something that is easy to neglect) is that environment is key—specifically how I encounter it phenomenologically (using the senses). It's the way that I manage the age old 'show-don't-tell' problem, which is exacerbated in the condensed form of 3 minute pop songs. Of course, bits of contextual 'telling' always creep in, and that's fine. I just am very over 'here's my list of grievances'-type blues songs.

    I appreciate that this is a bit of an esoteric method, but I make no apologies for that!

  • @nerdjealous  Feb 7

    I like lending from rap lyrics sometimes. They use things like alliteration, multis, puns etc. I dont do this enough!

    A good tip I say is to keep in mind common tropes of writing - either change it up and use different sayings or phrases, or put a completely new slant on the thing. You can even do none of these and write for tropes sake!!

    I love sometimes reading lyrics to songs I've never heard the vocals to, it can give me an idea in my head of how I think it would sound, then I can write based on that 'idea'.

    I'll read over what others have put here cause I like this kinda thing!!

  • @frenchcricket Feb 7

    @nerdjealous I agree with what you are saying about common tropes. Subtly defamiliarising the familiar is what pop music has been about for decades (aside from the occasional radical who will completely change the rules of the game).

  • @nerdjealous  Feb 7

    @lastnightilie I was like this when I was purely an acoustic guitar and vocalist. I decided to eventually bite the bullet, get a DAW, then not care about the right way to do things.. I just tried different effects and instruments and didn't care if it sounded too tinny or compressed. But, this probably works with my approach which is Cr*p art, which means the actual doing is more important than the end result.

    Within a year or so I've now found things I like to do in DAW that I wouldn't have even thought possible, thanks to taking a care free playful approach to begin with 😁

    Also, hi!! 😁

    EDIT: apologies for slightly off topic!

  • @lastnightilie Feb 7

    @nerdjealous Hi haha. Yeah I understand the benefits of that approach/attitude, like just doing it for fun and playing around, I do that with songwriting sometimes (though I do prefer to write high quality stuff I can be really proud of). But I just don't find production fun to either listen for, or work on. To me, when I listen to music it's 100% about the song and the production means very little to me, so that's probably why I don't get excited about doing it myself. I do have a DAW btw and use it as a means to an end, just don't really enjoy playing around with it. I do work at it though because ultimately I want my music to sound awesome, even if that means doing tasks I don't enjoy.

  • @scottlake Feb 8

    I dare you not to learn one good technique from Pat Pattinson.

    Start with ‘the boxes’.

  • @nerdjealous  Feb 16

    @lastnightilie yeah it's not essential for music making and it's cool to strip to bear bones and work on the song craft itself - I'm going back to that approach most likely in my own songs.

    As for lyric writing tips, maybe there are 'devices' you can apply, such as a device name that escapes me, but is basically vocalist saying 'stop' and the music stops for a brief moment, or saying 'higher' and the melody or chords go higher. A few of these are used in the song Hallelujah (the one used on Shrek). This is a good way to think of lyrics musically as well.

    This could make you think differently about lyrics writing and give it an extra dimension to think of!

  • @saltyjohn Feb 18

    A lyric idea often starts with a single killer line around which you can base a story and a song. It may become a line in the chorus, the title or be somewhere in the verse - or you might discard the original line altogether if you find something better as the juices start flowing.

    But to find the killer line is the problem; here's one way: Go to Amazon books, type in romance and scroll through the titles. I've found such pearls as:
    It started with a secret
    I need you to hate me
    The key to the ivory tower
    One hundred heartbeats.
    Hot London Nights

    Try it! There's hundreds of great lines to be found in book titles.

  • @jeffjerrywalker2 Feb 18

    If you come up with a title line and use it as your chorus then brainstorm 5-10 related words and write down the rhymes for each.

    Then write a four line verse related to the title. Then make sure to write a second verse before you stop, no matter what. Or you’ll never finish it later. Try different time frames for different verses. Start in the past. Next verse, the future or present. Once you have a rough, first draft, a lot of the heavy lifting is done. Throw in sensory descriptions?—like a sunburnt shoe, spring allergies, etc. Every line doesn’t have to be Shelley. It just has to be not awful.

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