Lyric Writing For Crap Lyric Writers

You have all the skills! You make Slash look like a shallow chump in a propeller beanie! Why can't you reach the big time? The reason isyou don't write your own songs.

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Regardless of talent level, experience or musical tastes, most musicians (and especially guitar players) have similar long term goals. They tend to have the same dreams: standing on a stage with fifty thousand people chanting their names, soloing for two hours, and then withdrawing to the tour bus or hotel suite with two dozen groupies, a case of vodka and a sack of pot the size of a body bag. This is a pretty typical dream, and it is usually accompanied by a fantasy about whiskey and speed-fuelled seven-day studio sessions, followed by the release of a triple album guaranteed to go quadruple platinum. Usually as a coda, there is also the retirement dream, where the young guitar god imagines his later days, spent sitting and laughing in front of a grand piano topped with a mountain of cocaine, before going to bed on a giant pile of money with a different supermodel for each day of the week. (For some reason this is how I always imagine Harry Connick Jr.) If these are your dreams, I would hate to shit on your head, but you've got a long way to go. Sorry, but it's true. Even if you can already play through every Satriani record from memory, and everyone in your family including weird Aunt Ida tells you that you're a genius, you've still got a long way to go. The sad truth is, right now you're probably closer to sleeping in a box car and fishing dimes out of the sewer than you are to Harry's piano/cocaine mountain/money bed/supermodel combination. But why? You have all the skills! You make Slash look like a shallow chump in a propeller beanie! Why can't you reach the big time? The reason isyou don't write your own songs. Or maybe you do, and they're awesome. If that's the case, I offer you my congratulations and welcome you to dance on my grave. If you don't want to wait until I'm dead, you can stop by my box car and hurl abuse at me, but if you do, please bring me your empty whiskey bottles so I can use the deposits to buy food. If I'm right though, and you don't write your own songs, I think I can help. Or if you've already written a dozen songs about being dumped and have run out of ideas, maybe I can help get you going again. Of course I realize that this is a website for guitar players, and many of you are already guitar gods and don't need help writing music. That's cool; I don't want to tell you how to play your own instrument. As well, many of you just want to play licks and riffs and leave the lyrics to the singer. That's fine. If you want to stop reading right now, that's okay. I can't blame you. But I should warn you that I'll be making some disparaging remarks about people who only read the first half of articles, probably somewhere towards the end. Before I actually get started, I should probably state my credentials, so you know you're getting advice from a qualified professional. First of all, I'm a terrible musician. I sing out of tune. I can't play electric guitar, and the only thing I can do with an acoustic is hit people over the head like in wrestling. I can play bass, but I make Sid Vicious look like a virtuoso. One the other hand, several people have made positive comments about my spelling, and that's enough for me. Without any further delays, here are some good general rules for writing lyrics.

Rule Number One

Lyrics that rhyme are for pauncy tossers prancing through dewy fields and meadows. Okay, so this rule is obviously untrue, but when you're starting out writing lyrics, you'll probably discover how difficult it is to make things rhyme. Every time you write a good line and then can't find a word that rhymes, just repeat out loud to yourself: Lyrics that rhyme are for pauncy tossers prancing through dewy fields and meadows. You'll feel better, really you will. Seriously though, you can dodge rhyming lines occasionally, and nobody is going to shoot you for it. Creative phrasing can let you get away with a lot, but that depends a lot on singing ability. Screw around with language. Anyone who speaks English can tell you that Antichrist does not rhyme with Anarchist, but that will never stop Johnny Rotten from pretending that they do. If you're really sweating about it, find yourself a rhyming dictionary. I'm not making it up, they really exist. Lots of words rhyme. Just to prove it to you, later in this article I'm going to spontaneously write some lyrics that rhyme bat with Laundromat.

Rule Number Two

Exploit your feelings. Without meaning any offence, you probably get shit on every single day of your sad, miserable, lonely life. You should write some songs about that. Not only will your depressing experiences give you topical material, but you will probably feel better after writing it. Webster's dictionary describes this process as catharsis: the elimination of a psychological complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression. Get rid of your negativity by sharing it with your audience. The bitch dumped you? That's worth ten good songs. Dad threw you out of the house? Five songs. Grandma smoked all your dope? Ummone song.

Rule Number Three

Pick up the damn newspaper. Every time you feel like there's nothing worth talking about, open your eyes and take a look around you. The world is constantly full of murders, invasions, overthrows, disasters, injustices, intrigues, schemes and scandals. You can write songs about them. If you can't think of anything interesting to say about the things you read, just come up with a really long list of things and string them together. It works: Billy Joel (We Didn't Start The Fire), and R.E.M. (It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)) both had hits in the eighties doing this. As far as I know, no one has done it in this century. Hey, maybe you could be the new Billy Joel. Maybe that's how I should advertise this article: You could be the next Billy Joel! Maybe not. Even if you don't find any good material in the newspaper, you should read it every day anyway. The more you read, the more words you learn, and it's much easier to make words rhyme if you know a lot of them.

Rule Number Four

Absolutely forget about being original. Seriously, no shit, just fucking forget about originality. People have been writing songs for thousands of years. Thousands. And yes, they've been writing songs about drugs and social protest for most of that time as well. So unless you plan on writing a bunch of songs about the information super-highway (cough, cough, mega-dork), just don't worry about trying to be bold and new. Just be yourself. If you don't know who you are yet and don't know how to be yourself, just follow Ben Johnson's advice (I'm talking about Shakespeare's contemporary, not the disgraced Canadian sprinter). He said to observe how the masters have imitated, and imitate likewise. So look at your favorite songwriters and rip 'em off until you find your own style. Don't worry, everyone does it. Take a look at The Rolling Stones. They've had maybe seven million hit songs, but all of their stuff is about getting laid, getting dumped, getting drunk, getting in fights, and playing music. These are not new, cutting-edge topics. And yetthey just work so well.

Rule Number Five

Learn the two major methods. There are two super-easy songwriting forms. Pick one and use it. If you don't like it, pick the other one.
  • Major Method One: Theme and Variation This is probably the easiest way to write a song, and I can almost guarantee your lame elementary school teachers pulled this one on you a few times. It's called brainstorming. Think of a topic, and then think of maybe three things to say about it. The topic is now your working title. Each thing you can say about it will form the core of a verse. Rocket science, isn't it? Just check out this shitty example. One day it occurred to me that I hated my job. I decided to write a song about that. I decided the punch-clock at the entrance of the place I worked would be my target (I mean topic). Song name: Punch-clock. The lyrics went something like this: Punch-clock keeps on ticking, yet here we remain sitting, Waiting, waiting, waiting for a reason to live. Soul-sucking, spirit-crushing, taking my mind away. Sexless, soulless, spiritless, face, nothing to think or say. Total crap, huh? Yes, definitely. But it's a start. It also showcases my astonishing skills with making words rhyme, doesn't it? The Sex Pistols had a lot of fun with this method. Their arch-demon manager Malcolm McLaren used to give them words that he wanted them to brainstorm and make songs from. One of the words was submission. McLaren expected a song about handcuffs and rubber masks, but the boys gave him a song about a submarine mission, just to piss him off. Get it? Sub-mission. Good shit.
  • Major Method Two: Narrative This is also a pretty simple concept, much abused by country music artists over the last five or six decades. Just tell a story, try and include some rhyming words, and repeat the first verse several times over and call it a chorus. For examples of this, look to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and just about everyone who ever ran out of ideas for Major Method One.

    Rule Number Six: Gimmicks! Gimmicks! Gimmicks!

    Think up a good gimmick and repeat the ever-loving hell out of it. There are many, many bands that have gotten a lot of juice of a single songwriting gimmick. I'm not talking about all the bands out there that seem to have a few repetitive topics for all of their songs (like Pink Floyd: war sucks and I'm insane), but there are bands that have simple patterns they follow. Here are some examples.
  • Ramones Gimmick Number One Get a piece of paper and write a list of things you want to do today, and a list of things you don't want to do. For the items on each list, write three or four reasons why you do or don't want to do it. Try and make your reasons rhyme. Congratulations! You have written an entire Ramones album. Think I'm joking? Check out these catchy song titles: I Wanna Be Well, I Wanna Be Sedated, I Just Wanna Have Something To Do, I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You, I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, I Want You Around, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, I Wanna Live, and I Don't Want To Grow Up (although that last one is actually a Tom Waits cover). That's a lot of mileage to get out of I Wanna and I Don't Wanna.
  • Ramones Gimmick Number Two Take the name of a person you know and think of a word to describe that person. That's the title of your song. Now think of a few things to say about this person, and why they have earned the title you have given them. Examples: Sheena is a Punk Rocker, Judy is a Punk, and Suzy is a Headbanger. This is really easy. I will give an example right now. (insert name) is a (insert descriptive noun). Vanessa Is A Goth Chick Vanessa is a goth chick; I met her at the Laundromat, She wants to find a way to change into a bat. Vanessa is a goth chick, Oh! Oh-Oh! See? I told you I could rhyme Laundromat with bat.
  • Misfits Gimmick Choose a movie you like and write a song about it. The title of the movie becomes the title of your song. Because The Misfits were into gloom, death and monsters, all of the movies they alluded to were old, schlocky horror flicks, but you can choose something more appropriate for your band's style. They used movies like Astro Zombies, Teenagers From Mars, I Turned Into A Martian, American Psycho, Night Of The Living Dead, and so on. If your band has, for example, a retro-eighties sound, you could use movies like The Breakfast Club, Dirty Dancing, or Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Hell, just for fun, let's do Ridgemont High. Fast Times At Ridgemont High Today the kids are getting high, The parents can only wonder why, But the kids won't let life pass them by, That's fast times at Ridgemont High, That's fast times at Ridgemont High! Whoa-oh! Whoooooa! Oi! Oi! Oi! Oi! Once again, this is pretty easy. You can use books too (if you're a big nerd) or television shows.
  • Heavy Metal Gimmick I'll just point out that damn near every metal band uses the same routine (and I'm a metal fan). Choose one of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. Before you run to find grandpa's bible, I'll let you know that they are War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Write a song about each one using the Theme and Variation Method described above, and repeat until your album goes platinum. It ain't metal if it don't stink of The Apocalypse.
  • The KMFDM Gimmick I realize that many of you might not know who KMFDM is, but that's your loss. I suggest you find some of their tunes. Their gimmick is simple. Establish you band name, and base all of your songs on being that band. Here are some examples of their lyrics (and these are all copyrighted to hell and back): 01. KMFDM, doing it again (Light) 02. Stronger than never ever before, KMFDM is a drug against war (A Drug Against War) 03. A new revolution, the ultimate war, KMFDM is back for more (d.i.y.) And so it goes. It's repetitive, yes, but so is any gimmick. The key is finding the gimmick that is right for you and milking it for all it's worth. Eminem figured this one out quick. The Final Word. In all likelihood, whatever illegible gibberish you manage to get down on paper will probably look like rodent droppings smeared over loose-leaf. Don't sweat it. If you take away the devastating riffs, thundering bass and crashing cymbals, most lyrics sound like total crap. So relax and focus on writing more and more songs, because if you do something ten million times, odds are that you might do it very well a few times. Keep trying. Keep thinking about the stage with the million groupies, the piles of cocaine, the money beds and the supermodels. And imagine yourself saying Man, I sure hated writing all those crap songs when I was getting started, but look at me now! And when you make it there, I'll be there too, desperately trying to take the credit for it. Oh yeah, before I forget: people who only read the first half of articles are jerks. -Nolan Whyte
  • 324 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      Atreideslegend
      that article was, obscene....it was so full of cheap tricks and crappy gimnmicks it made me want to die....thank you for the first realistic song writing article ever published!!!! 30 thousand stars
      high voltage
      This was very good! The messages you gave off were clearly noticeable and were definitely all true! I congratulate you on a job well done, cheers!
      DanThompson
      Best... article... ever... Seriously, very useful stuff and humourously presented. Cheers!
      frusciante_5
      Well written article, but you didnt mention intterpreatation, i think that if someone can write a poem or song that can have a different meaning to someone else, then that is a good display of lyric writing, i also liked your part on gimmicks although i personally wouldnt use them in writing. another important thing is not wriitng for the sake of it, i wouldnt write if i didnt have anything to write abgout, but as you metnioned here, opening a newspaper and widening your own knowledge of the world is a good way to grab insperation. I think that lyrics from your own mind are the best one4s, that way they can be analysed thourughly by anyone and a different meaning to the song will be created within that persons mind, thats how i get influenced by the songs i listen to. anyway great article but could maybe cover a more wider scale, anyway 4 stars!
      SilentDeftone
      Well written, wish I'd seen it in the contribution forum? 5 stars anyways. I like your writing style, it's very tongue in cheek.
      Kyle_Klus
      Excellent work buddy... Good pointers indeed... (and you weren't kidding about your spelling either). Much respect.
      reelmanefesto
      i cant stand people like you just want to get drunk and get layed if you really cared about the music hat wouldtnt be the main at of the dream i didnt even read the rest of teh artcle
      pytolk
      Your article was awesome man!!!.. i might have to start a band just to show the singer this article! ---.. There's a picture in a gallery of a fallen angel, looked alot like you. - Van Halen, Best Of Both Worlds
      j-man1988
      Still don't like it. Get a life I hear you shout, nay, never. Don't follow instructions to write songs, do what you think will sound different or good. Nolan White sucks big time.
      lexfortres
      ho ho ho.... !!! good article man, I i think you missed the methaphoric lyrics,kinda like beatle ones but your article is eye opening
      hellachella
      Your article was witty The rip offs were stellar You're pretty clever For an internet feller.
      SilenceEvolves
      I disagree with your section on originality. It may be hard (okay impossible) to come up with a completely original idea, but you can still find new ways to present or say things. You should've said something like that in there.
      Rachmaninoff
      Good ideas--perfect for the uselessness most lyrics inevitably convey. Point of irony: paragraph 7, sentence 6. I hope that was intended. My compliments to you, good sir, on this your most intriguing article. But what about Power Metal vocals?? Hah!
      Floyd93
      That article helped me write better. It was also pretty funny and enteraining.
      lessTHANjake
      long, boring to read, GREAT. you took the time to write somethin long and it turned out great. awesome advice and i hope it will help me in writing lyrics {partly cuz my band members were asses and appointed me to writin our songs} all in all, great article and keep it up
      Ragnarok_Riff
      very imformitave man...a little bit of a different opinion in my eyes...but if u can't take in a little bit of everyones views how are u gonna get good... 5 stars in my opinion...good writing man
      lacey_the_crazy
      Lovely article...yes, I did just call it "lovely". By this I mean it's both useful and pretty funny, which is a pathetically rare combination here on UG. A lot of the articles here are hilarious, but only because of how badly they suck. Anyway..good job. Er..."lovely" job.
      Jack3n665.5
      Nice article, that time clock would work ina dress like girls 80s hair metal bands, and there are some really GOOD bands that take inspiration from books and make kick ass songs, such as Iron Maiden.
      smashngrab1991
      I made it a point never to make any songs about my hardship or about my gf, thus i have songs called "polly wants a cracker" and "chixov couldnt rhyme shit"
      anchains14
      They way you wrote about Rule 2 was a little annoying. You come off as basically saying the only REAL emotions worth writing about and creating songs about are bad ones. Just look at your examples- the dad who kicked you out of the house, the gf who dumped you, etc. And your newspaper example- find some shitty stuff that happened and write a song about it. I mean come on. Basically, the tone of your writing implies that unless you have a ***ed up life or others have a ***ed up life, you can never be an expressive insightful songwriter. This might not have been what you wanted to imply, but it sure comes off as that, additionally proven by how your examples of proposals of different methods of songwriting (like pick a person, brainstorm, gimmicks, etc [xyz is a goth girl]) that are more lighthearted in nature are expressed as the crappy sets of lyrics that you will moan over when the girls and cocaine comes later on.
      steph101
      I didnt read the replies - but i'm guessin its all praise - i dont think you need any more praise - but wow - amazing. Definitly learnt something!!!! Cheers.
      Evil Kid 93
      Four words: Best. Fucking. Article. EVER. Seriously, this was so damn funny, it's rediculous. 5 stars, man. I think you're probably the best writer on UG (and certainly one of the funniest). Great tips on how to write lyrics, too. I usually just go with that "Theme And Variation" thing, that's definitely the easiest way to write a song. And, oh yeah, j-man1988 needs to shut the hell up.
      GAC1989
      the best article i ever read im going to write some songs! it is now 22.45 GMT and i have exams first thing 2moro morning oh well lol take credit for screwing up 12 years of school lol . thnx dude
      brinsk
      Respect! Very good article. I'm on my way to write a song...bye :
      C-man
      very good article. You inspired me to write my own stuff. 5 stars!
      Mike_uk2k
      that is one of the most entertaining article's i've ever read on UG, and i really did learn a lot from it! thanks man!
      0.Configuration
      I WANNA WRITE A SONG! I DONT WANNA SUCK! THIS ARTICLE HELPED!....a bit YEO! YEO! YEO! YEO! that was a sweet article man, and it wasnt boring like all the others so i was actually able to read through the whole thing, thanks.
      Zeus2716
      sweet article some great tips for sh*tty, uninspired writers like myself
      blade'n'gutz
      they so true what you said about brainstorming.. except i think its better if u dont intentionaly find a time to do it. some times when you are feeling bad and you get an urge to write the things you are thinking down, dont ignore it! later on you could use it
      will_clip
      Atreideslegend: that article was, obscene....it was so full of cheap tricks and crappy gimnmicks it made me want to die....thank you for the first realistic song writing article ever published!!!! 30 thousand stars
      Lmao. THat was nice
      DUDE WTF this article isnt the ***ing messiah, its decent at best, it sorta flows but it's very weak, poor trasitons and the blatant hooks are pretty weak. I was going to try that in one of my papers, but after that display I'm gonna have to rethink that one. I hope this was satire and thats what every one is applauding but if not shame on you, and shame on you for making them read this. Good effort but develop that a little more man, revise a few times don't be affraid to cut the 5hit that doesn't work.
      Omg. Did he seriously say that your article sucked cause it was poorly written and lacked structure like transitions. Damn if its not one thing its another isnt it? Good article man. Good ideas and it made me laugh.