Essay On Songwriting

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Writing a short story on your song’s topic is a great intermediate step for writing a good lyric.


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One common complaint of songwriters, especially those new to the activity, is coming up with something to write about. Many songs deal with the emotion of love, but that’s just an upper-level category that doesn’t really suggest anything interesting in and of itself.

Good lyrics need a better focus than to simply say that you’re going to write about love. There needs to be something of a story, something more interesting happening to the characters of the song. Even if the song isn’t so much a story as it is a situation, there needs to be a captivating focus to the song’s topic and lyrics.

Many songwriters create word lists as a way of digging down into a topic, and it’s a method I’ve suggested. By creating word lists, you start to see ideas that may not have been previously apparent. Word lists don’t just offer you a better source of words and phrases to use, they can allow you to hone your topic, and find an interesting angle to write about that you hadn’t thought of before.

Once you’ve created your word lists, you might try something else before creating your lyric: writing a short, descriptive essay.

This only needs to be a couple of paragraphs long, certainly no longer than a couple of pages. The word lists will give you a fairly clear idea of what your song topic is going to be, but the writing of an essay will allow the ideas to take solid form.

Let’s say that you’ve decided your song is going to be about your grandfather who has recently passed away. Your word lists may reveal something more specific: that time that your grandfather took you fishing for the first time, creating a lifelong memory and a love of the outdoors.

Now, before you start creating your lyric, try writing a short story about that time. Don’t worry about writing something worth publishing – it’s more important to simply get your thoughts down on paper.

“I’ll never forget the excitement I felt when Granddad took me fishing. He arrived at the door early that morning, wearing that funny hat with the hooks in the band. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Ready to catch some fish?” I nodded and ran to grab my fishing gear…”

An essay helps focus your thoughts, and helps you create the story. It can even give you lines that will make its way into the lyric. In your essay, describes sights and sounds – anything and everything that helps you focus on your topic.

Once you’ve created a story, read it a few times, then set it aside to begin creating your lyric. Go back to your story when you get stuck for words or ideas, or if you find yourself in need of a shot of inspiration.

By creating a short essay in this way, you help design a story without the pressure (yet) to create a lyric. It helps you focus and in a sense, puts flesh on the skeleton of ideas that you came up with in your word lists. It can serve as an important and useful step in the creation of a good song lyric.


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Posted in lyrics and tagged essay, inspiration, lyrics, music, short story, songs, songwriter, songwriting.

Musical friends, I'm a competent writer of all forms of prose, dialouge, screenplays, and so on. But I have a secret desire ... I've always wanted to be able to write songs, that is to say song lyrics - catchy pop songs! :)

Now for example, people sometimes ask, are there any good books or advice on writing screenplays. In fact yes, there are a couple of well-known books along the lines "how to write a screenplay!", or how to write a novel, and indeed some of these are quite good and offer excellent insights. Sure, you can't read one of those and suddenly make millions in Bollywood, but they exist, they have useful ideas.

I'm basically wondering if there are any famous or otherwise books, essays, writers on the topic of "how the hell to write song lyrics"? What do you think?

I appreciate that most people on this site are genuinely musical - for you songwriting means writing a whole song, the lyrics and the music, and you can sing. I can play a couple instruments somewhat competently (which as you know is nothing, I'm not musical - I work with real musicians all the time and its a whole other thing!), and I can't sing a note. So I'm asking more about essentially writing lyrics as such.

(It's quite depressing for someone like me that, let's say, Bernie Taupin, who is "not a singer", but is a famous amazing lyricist .. is indeed quite a competent singer! Maybe, it's basically impossible to "make up lyrics" unless you basically sing; I don't know - maybe there are simply no examples of lyricists, who, were really non-singers?)

I've really thought about pop song lyrics deeply for a long, long time. I've got to the point of realising it's all about time (not rhyme or other issues) and simplicity as an art, extreme simplicity. But, uh, that's all I worked out :) so musical friends, fill me in, are there any magic books on this topic that have come to us through the years? Cheers

NB, I later found on the site this fantastic reference to some comments by Sondheim. Good one.



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