My Personal Philosophy For Writing Lyrics And Songs

Compilation of what I think and do when I write. Some of it was already said in other lessons, but I'm not copying it... it's coincidence.

Ultimate Guitar
Alrighty. Songwriting/lyric writing. It's tough at times, and takes a lot of natural talent to do well. So I kinda wanna help with this compilation of what I do. 1. Most Lyrics These Days Suck Do not worry about writing amazing lyrics as you start. Unless you're playing acoustic songs with just a guitar in the background, the music will generally be more important, so don't really stress out about it. Most individuals here play some offshoot of rock or metal, so the guitar is going to be more prominent than the voice. Look at the Beatles. They were original, but if you look at their lyrics, they are fairly bad, but they still are perhaps the most influential band in the evolution of modern rock. Same thing with Metallica. So just chill out, listen to some Queens of the Stone Age, and realize that your lyrics aren't that bad, and just write. You can fix them as you evolve as a writer. 2.1 Try Singing Over Songs This is kind of a duh, but regardless, I found it helps a lot. I'm not saying freestyle rap over Eminem or something, but if you're driving along listening to a song you really like, just ignore the vocalist and make up your own words. Chances are, what you write at first will be clich but it will get your mind working faster to devise rhymes and form coherent lyrical ideas. As you go along you'll go faster, and this will also help massively with developing your ability to make up vocal melodies. 2.2 Try Singing Along To Songs Also a duh, but by doing this you find certain word combinations you like, and can also work on hitting harmony parts if you're not doing lead vocals or just want to shake it up. 3. Don't Be Afraid To Borrow Concepts Everything you have ever thought has been thought before, and thus if you like something, it's been done. So don't worry about being overly careful with avoiding any conceptual quotation. For example, although I didn't realize it as I wrote the song, I alluded to two song titles in one of my bands songs, simply because they fit the theme. That being said, don't borrow too much. I read lyrics once in which the writer had borrowed two whole lines from Manson and didn't realize it. If you really like a pair of lines or more, make sure you got it from inside, or paraphrase it somehow. 4. Write What You Know/change Themes When You Write This has been very difficult for me personally, so I feel like a hypocrite, but nonetheless, I will say it. I am very introspective and principled and thus when I write, I feel the need to put those principles and philosophies into effect. This is something every songwriter should do, so they can truly relate to a song. However, one has to be careful not to always write about the same thing. Rage Against the Machine is a perfect example of a band that does this. Their lyrics are very predominantly anti-establishment, and although they're good and fun to listen to at times, they become a bit dull at times. Spread out what you try to say, but don't sell out and not say what it is you want to say. It's a difficult balance to find that takes a lot of thought. 5. Try To Avoid Writing Music To Lyrics It is easier to write lyrics to music than vice versa for one simple reason: the voice is easier to jam with by feel. So have the instruments in your group make something up, and then make lyrics to that. It is easier to match the sentence length and structure and melodies to music if you actually have it. Vice versa, you might be forced into a situation where you simply can't sing the way you want, or will have trouble changing the lyrics later. Given the way my band writes songs, I've found the best way is to just relax and write a few lyrics that have different feels (heavy, emotional, driving, etc) and keep them handy, then when you guys are writing a song, try them out until one fit's to it, and make small adjustments to the music to perfect the fit. 6. Vocalist: Pick Up Another Instrument If you're just a vocalist, learn another instrument, something your band doesn't really need. I know the tambourine thing is a joke, but you can really add to a song by adding say, a violin, or a keyboard while you're not singing. 7. Allow People To Play Alone This applies mostly to guitarists, but also any vocalist who likes Avenged Sevenfold or similar bands. Shut up for once. Allow the drums to do something, or the bass. I realized how important this was just yesterday when we were writing a new song, and we had decided to cut out the guitar for two measures and just have the drums doing a beat, and literally 8 times in a row the guitarist kept playing. Chill out and let the rest of the band do something. There is more stuff that is just purely personal taste and can't really be adapted if you don't agree, so I'm not going to bother with it.

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    listen to some Queens of the Stone Age, and realize that your lyrics arent that bad, and just write. Er Mate, are you sure, QOTSA are Quality, have you even read the lyrics?
    Interesting... I always like to hear how others do the writing process.
    this was really helpful. I had to add that for example Ramones didn't make intelligent lyrics but their lyrics were very funny
    Thank you so much for sharing this information. I just started a band, and I've never been really good at songwriting, so this will really be helpful to me.
    Prisoner5 wrote: freak_sho, ill get on that when i have some free time. 520, you happened to pick the two best Metallica songs in my opinion and the possible exceptions to the rule, haha.
    nah, they have other well written songs, the Unforgiven for example
    oh, and in support of #5, since people had a problem with it, thats what Corey Taylor of Slipknot does, so...yea..I win
    freak_sho, ill get on that when i have some free time. 520, you happened to pick the two best Metallica songs in my opinion and the possible exceptions to the rule, haha.
    great article! it really helped a lot! Im not sure if you work with them at all, but if you could come up with a short lesson on writing good metaphors to evoke imagery that would be great. Im always frustrated with the fact that these songwriters like sam bean of iron and wine can come up with such amazing, deep and thought-provoking metaphors in their songs and i always wonder how they come up with them.
    Haha Metallica's lyrics are not bad.. James is a genious, just look at Fade to black or (Welcome Home) Sanitarium.. or any other song for that matter my opinion though..
    Of course. I like their music, but taken outside of the song, the lyrics arent that great...the best examply "Sometimes the same is different, but mostly, it's the same"
    Haha, i had forgotten abut punk (and Ramones specifically)...yea...their lyrics can I put this tactfully...lacking in intelligent and skillfully assembled lyrics...
    Thank you for your insight on this process, as any true help counts.
    hahah good one.. but i disagree with a7x thing.. they let their bassist play a bridge.. in few of their b-side songs.. yea a band called this is not a game of whot the **** are you is a good example.. their guitar played the same way their vocalist sings.. one last dance is the title of the sng..
    Thanks all for your comments and ratings. luke-kelly-777: Im not saying never do that, I am simply stating that this is what I found easier and generally better. I wrote 3 sets of lyrics and we tried to write music to them for 3 months and were completely unable to find something that worked well. And seriously, look at popular rock bands for the sucky lyrics: "Love is a four letter word and never spoken here." "His head was found in a driving wheel, but his body never was found." "We grow into the number six hundred sixty six" "Generals gather in their masses, just like witches at black masses." "Sometimes the same is different, but mostly it's the same" I can go on and on. We don't listen to what is said, we listen to what is heard, if that makes any sense.
    2.1 is very hard to do without feeling stupid, especially if you know the song well. 2.2 is helpful. I'm the vocalist in my band, and when I'm singing along with a song on my iPod I quite often sing the backing vocals instead of the lead. 5: I've been writing songs since I was 13, and after a few times of writing lyrics and not being able to come up with the right chords to fit the tune, I switched to chords before lyrics, which has suited me perfectly. Unless, of course, you stick to a simple 4/4 and meld the lyrics to the song later. Another thing I've found helpful is to write down random chords and then modify them (eg make it a sharp/flat/7th/minor) so they sound good. It keeps you away from generic sequences, although you're right, almost everything has been done before. Kudos, very helpful! (luke-kelly-777 must have been having a very bad day)
    Hey mate. I'm an acoustic guitarist/vocalist and you've basically just organised the process I took when I started writing my own stuff... so kudos! I get what you mean about writing music to lyrics, it can be more awkward, but sometimes it does still work out so don't think you have to throw away the golden lyrics you've come up with if you've stuffed the order up. A lot of lyrics do suck these days. But hey if you're interested, check out some Josh Pyke or Ben Gibbard, might even out the score a little bit
    overall i'm not happy with your lesson. I would refuse to rate it but it is unacceptable for it to keep its 9.2 rating as it is misleading to people. I find myself in a position where I must save other peoples time from this clap trap nonsense. I bid you good day. EXPECT YOUR RATING TO GO DOWN.
    ok another problem, lyrics before music isn't wrong or impropper. I do both and get along fine, I ask the singer what kinda feel and tone there going for after reading the song and we end up with a song we all enjoy rather than a song that the singer is secretly dissatisfied with the music. I shall yet again, continue reading.
    i had to post a comment saying i disagree with your statment of 'most lyrics these days suck' but i'll keep reading.
    Excellent article. I'm with on writing the music and then writing lyrics to fit the music. Tons of people think otherwise but that's just my opinion. Great job!