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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 06, 2017 @09:59 AM

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

by Natalie Wilson

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Writing the perfect song is a difficult task. What is “perfect”, anyway? What is it that the most popular songs all have in common? If you’re hoping to write the next big hit, you’ve come to the right place. The best songs in history have incorporated lyrics that uses clever rhyming schemes and syllabic patterns, a story-like progression, personal but relatable topics, and a catchy hook. Writing the next big hit can seem impossible, but there are a few tricks you can use to increase your chances of success.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when writing lyrics:

#1) Too Much Rhyming

While rhyming is one of the most common writing tools used to create popular songs, too much of it can sound childish. If you consider some of the best lyrics in history, rhyming is used subtly and doesn’t detract from the main message of a song. For example, take a look at these lyrics from ”Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey:

 

Some will win, some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

Oh the movie never ends,

It goes on and on and on and on

 

These lyrics rhyme the words “lose” and “blues” together, but refrain from rhyming any words together in the next two lines. The use of rhyming should be a strategic way to draw attention to certain words, rather than used simply for the sake of rhyming. The combination of the strategic rhyming scheme, catchy melody, and raw talent of the members of Journey has made “Don’t Stop Believin’” a classic few will forget.

#2) No Coherent Story

Just like an essay, novel, or poem, your song lyrics should tell some sort of story. As the song progresses, your ideas need to unfold in a way that will make sense to your listeners. If you’re struggling to write a song with a clear message, try answering the following questions:

 

  • What story do I want to tell?
  • How do I want my listeners to feel after listening to the song

 

Rather than singing about your recent trip to France and then jumping to an unrelated topic, such as your childhood friend, try sticking to the same idea throughout the song. This will allow the song to resonate with your listeners more easily.

 

#3) Writing Disingenuous Lyrics

So many songs on the radio feel like they’ve been created by a machine simply to generate an income. If you’re a true songwriter, you know that music is about so much more than that. While tuning into recent trends and incorporating them into your songs will most likely help you gain some extra popularity, being disingenuous with your lyrics will set you up for failure. We all know how hard it is too warm up to someone we feel is being untruthful or two-faced. Likewise, your listeners will have a hard time warming up to your song if they don’t feel the lyrics are a reflection of your true personality.

When you’re not a romantic, when you’re not political, and so on, do not try to sound like one. Disingenuous lyrics very easily and quickly will sound like that, and that’s a fantastic way to lose your audience. Regardless of your song’s theme or idea, your lyrics must in some way be connected with you if you want them to stand out and come across as genuine. If you don’t, your lyrics will lack conviction which will make them feel stale.

 

#4) Mismatched Syllables

The proper use of syllables is an important part of poetry and song lyrics. The number of syllables combined with the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables will set the tone and flow of your song. Take a look at the syllables used by Hozier below:

 

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 

The second and third lines in this song both use a total of twelve syllables each. The song wouldn’t have the same momentum if the pattern of twelve syllables was broken between lines two and three. In addition to the number of syllables, the last few words of these lines alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables in the same pattern. “Shrine of your lies” follows a stressed, unstressed, unstressed, stressed pattern, which you can see from the bolded words. Similarly, “sharpen your knife” follows the same rhythmic pattern. This creates coherence in the lyrics that wouldn’t be evident if you use different numbers and patterns of syllables in every line of your song.

#5) There’s No Hook

Every popular song needs a hook. Not only does a song need to have a hook, a good song needs to place that hook in a strategic spot. Just like a commercial you’d see on television, the hook should be at the beginning. Similar to how colorful ads are used to catch a viewer’s eye, catchy melodies are used to grab hold of our ears. Once you’ve established your melody, you’ll need to make sure the content of what you’re saying also acts as a hook. If you’re writing a love song and you use a cliche statement involving “your heart” and how hard it is to be “apart”, you won’t come across as the cutting-edge artist you’re hoping to be. Remember not to rush the development of your hook, as it will be what draws your listeners in more than anything else.

Enjoy these tips!

 

About Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson started a music blog to share her knowledge to enhance your skills as a musician . You’ll find a wide range of topics on my blog, including reviews, tutorials, and tips for musicians. Check out: https://musicaladvisors.com/

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, hook, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes, Coherent, Disingenuous Lyrics, Mismatched Syllables, Rhyming

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 24, 2017 @10:16 AM

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

by Anthony Ceseri

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A lot of times when writing, songwriters will get too focused on forcing their lyrics into their songs because they like the specific words they've chosen and how they've arranged them. But if you're not music-minded when you’re writing lyrics your song can sound wordy. Wordy lyrics can negatively affect your melody. For that reason, I want to address how you can write lyrics that can easily being sung in a melody. 

 

The Spoken Rhythm
The rhythm of a line happens as a result of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a phrase. I’ll indicate the unstressed syllables with “ba” and the stressed syllables with “BUM.” For example, the phrase “Lonely and waiting” has this rhythm: BUM ba ba BUM ba. Hear that? The syllables “Lone-“ and “Wait-“ are stressed in their respective words, while “-ly,” and “-ing” are unstressed in those same words. The word “and” is also unstressed. If you say the phrase out loud, you’ll hear it. The accented syllables are longer, louder and have a higher pitch. That’s what makes them stressed. The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in the phrase “Lonely and waiting” (or in any phrase) create its natural sonic shape.

If you need to figure out the stresses in a word with more than one syllable, you can usually hear them by sounding them out. For a word with two or more syllables, like “lonely” it’s usually best to listen for the accented syllable, and assume the remainder of the syllables are unaccented.

 

However, if you need help with this, you can always check a dictionary. It defines which syllables are stressed and which aren’t when you look up a word with more than one syllable. For example, when I look up the word “loving,” I’m presented with this pronunciation: luhv-ing. The stressed syllable is given in bold.

Single syllable words aren’t as easy. Some of them are stressed and some are not. Again, it’s best to listen to them within a phrase to determine which are accented and which aren’t, but if you get stuck you can reference this rule of thumb: Assume single syllable nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are stressed. In other words, words that carry meaning are accented. Other words are not. You won’t find the answer in a dictionary for single syllable words.

 

Writing in Rhythms
As you know, music has a rhythm to it. A lot of times the words and phrases we speak aren’t very rhythmic. But since you know that your music will have a rhythm, you can write your lyrics to a rhythm, even if you don’t have any music yet. If you take this approach, you’ll know that what you’re writing will more easily fit into a song.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I write two lines of lyric that say this:

 

Looking out into the sky
The night is so beautiful

 

If I write those lines out into their rhythmic patterns, I’d end up with this:

 

LOOK-ing OUT IN-to the SKY
This NIGHT is so BEAU-ti-ful

 

I highlighting the stressed syllables in bold. We could also take the words out and isolate the patterns:

 

BUM ba BUM BUM ba ba BUM
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

The first line doesn’t really have a consistent rhythm. It has a strong stress, then a weak stress, then two of each before ending on a strong stress. The second line is better and more organized rhythmically (by having two weak stresses between each strong stress), but it doesn’t match the first line. That’s not a requirement, but it tends to make things easier, depending on how your melody will go.

So things might get a little chaotic when we start to put these lines to music, because their rhythms are random. What if instead we started with a rhythmic pattern, and then matched our words to that pattern. Writing out your stresses first lends itself well to writing catchy melodic motifs.

The rhythm of the second line was pretty good, so let’s stick with that and use it twice. Let’s say we want our lyrics and melody to have this rhythm:

 

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

You can see that looks better already. Now we just have to find words that fit that pattern. We know the second line from our previous example worked, so we’ll keep that. Since we want to stay with the same lyrical idea, we can try a first line that’s something like this:

 

The sky is so magical

 

Which rhythmically works out to be:

The SKY is so MAG-i-cal,

or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

Now we have two lines with a good, consistent rhythm that match each other. So we shouldn’t have much of a problem fitting these words to music:

 

The sky is so magical
The night is so beautiful,     or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

You can hear the consistency in the rhythm of these lyrics, just by speaking them aloud. They have a good rhythm that’s the same from line to line, which will make them pretty easy to put them to a melody.

 

Last Note
This is an approach you can take whether you have a melody and you want to match your words to the music, or if you’re writing lyrics first, and you want them to be written rhythmically before you even develop your melodies. Either way, this approach will help you organize the stresses of your words to be more rhythmic, and lend themselves to being placed in music. It may be a little trickier to find the right lyrical phrases you’re looking for, but your melodies will drastically benefit from this approach.

 

About Anthony Ceseri

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Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi’s Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry.

For much more information on improving your lyric writing (especially if your audiences aren't consistently emotionally connecting to your songs), download our 2 free lyric writing cheat sheets here, while they’re still available: http://successforyoursongs.com/go/writing-lyrics/

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes