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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 https://music.stackexchange.com/a/22213/20814 some comments by Sondheim. Good one.

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I took a course on Coursera for songwriting and the emphasis was lyrics and fitting them to rhythms. Pat Pattison is an author with great advice for the lyric writing point of view. http://www.patpattison.com/

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    I checked it out, "Writing Better Lyrics" - thanks for that! he's clearly a top teacher and it nicely talks about the effect of mixing up lines with a different number of stressed syllables (4.4.4.4, 4.3.4.3, 4.4.4.3, etc...) Pretty interesting stuff! Let's you "see behind" some of the magic. – Fattie Jun 10 '15 at 8:29
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I think you'll find writing a song is like writing a poem. Like someone else has said, Coursera does have a course from Berklee on song writing. Also, if you don't want to take the course, if you look up "How to write a song" on Google, you will find some websites with good starting points. This is a website that came up that has some good tips. http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan99/articles/20tips.458.htm

  • You know, I fear it's much harder than writing a poem! Really I think, writing a poem is to writing a novel, as, writing a pop song is to writing a poem! You know the only thing I think it compares to in difficulty! .. coming up with let's say an advertising slogan or headline. I mean, ads are lame, and there's only ever been 2 or 3 really catchy amazingly memorable slogans. ("just do it!" "coke is it!" sort of thing). But it's the same level of difficulty involved. Songwriting is like poetry of poetry I feel, sort of poetry squared! tough. it could be you just have to have a born gift. – Fattie Jun 10 '15 at 8:36
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From my personal experience of song writing, I dont feel there is any "magical book" that can help you to think lyrically and you really don't need them or courses even, to help you write a decent song. Follow your feelings, really hone in on your personal atmosphere and see what you can put on paper.

Don't be too hung up on the subject or theme of the song. Just start with your core feelings written down, maybe the odd rhyme every so often. Then build on it. you can always use a book to get yourself into a certain frame of mind, If you intend to write a song with a specific meaning.

Don't get bogged down with it. It is your own personal expression. Try and condition yourself to find lyrical content from any situation or resource you can find. That would be the best way to practice IMO.

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I can't offer you suggestions to a book that will solve your problems, honestly I think any literature that teaches you how to be "creative" can only stipend your personal growth. What I can offer you though is what I've learned through exploration and experimentation in my own practice.

I have fairly expansive experience with song writing, and for a long time I struggled with writing lyrics. I only truly felt this way because I was comfortable enough with the musical side of things that I could improvise out a song and be content with it. However, the lyrics were a whole other matter entirely.

After a few years of experimentation, I've come to a process that lets me write lyrics efficiently that I can feel proud to have written.

Here's my process for writing lyrics:

  1. Have "music" pre-selected that you wish to write lyrics to

    I firmly believe that lyrics are much easier to write if the entire tune is already present while you write. This way you can avoid thinking about melody or rhyme scheme, and just know "I need to make a line that has 8 syllables." I also suggest experimenting with exactly how much of the music is already written when you start adding lyrics. In many cases, musical theater for example, the lyrics and music can be interchangeable in structuring the piece.

  2. Have an idea/concept that you want to write about

    Sometime later, once you already feel comfortable with writing lyrics, it can be fun to challenge yourself by writing lyrics that you feel the instrumental music sounds like to you. However, for now you should try to have some idea of what you're writing beforehand. If you're writing a song about heartbreak, the chorus is likely going to have at least something to do with love in it.

    Sometimes when I'm having a hard time coming up with words that I'm satisfied with, I write down a sentence that perfectly conveys what I want to communicate for each line of a given section. Sometimes this may seem silly, but it has helped me far too many times for me to discredit its merits. For example, "Line 1: I can't trust you the way I would have before. Line 2: I have lost love too many times." And this would translate into something like: "I cannot trust you, although my heart rings. The sweet kiss of heartache on my lips still stings."

  3. Use metaphors and descriptive words

    The same rules of creative grammar apply that do to all other written/verbal mediums. A sentence like, "She picked a strawberry," seems naked in comparison to, "Julia, blonde hair back in a ponytail, grasped the succulent strawberry noticing the deep red that matched her lipstick." Contrary to descriptive writing, lyrics to a song are often more like poetry in that "less is more." You want to pick out the words that have the strongest impact on a listener.

  4. Take influences

    Since vocal music has been dated back to Mesopotamian cultures as early as 3500 BC, its unrealistic to think that you can create a catchy tune so original that it doesn't take influences from the millions of artists throughout time. You should embrace the ideas of bands and artists that you personally enjoy and use similar concepts in your own music. Rather than copying note for note, this is more like paying homage to an artist by imitating the way that they write. If you listen for specific concepts or techniques in songs, you'll find striking similarities throughout all genres of music. An example of this is the "hook" that comes usually at the end of a chorus. This is usually some form of either powerful or witty line that has a lasting impression on the listener, and is put at the end of a chorus to leave them "hyped" for the next part of the song. Dubstep is known to take this concept to its most radical form by reducing vocals prior to the "hook", building up for extended periods of time further emphasizing this one line, and finally releasing the tension to continue into a "drop."

  5. Know when to take a break

    You're not always going to be able to write lyrics no matter how much effort you put into it. Some days, I could spend hours without writing 8 lines that I'm happy with. Other days, I'll sit at a piano and unintentionally write the words to an entire song in 5 minutes. If you can't find inspiration don't try to force it. Take a break and do something entirely different. Sometimes you'll come up with a metaphor or even a word that you think perfectly fits your song and you can go back and use to spring your writing forward.

I hope this helps you, goodluck!

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