Remember this fundamental fact: You are absolutely unique. There never was, is not now, nor ever can be anyone exactly like you. The proof lies in the vaults of your senses, where you have been storing your sense memories all your life. They have come cascading in through your senses, randomly and mostly unnoticed, sinking to the bottom. Learn to dive for them. When you recover one, when you rise with it to the surface and hold it aloft, you will not only surprise your onlookers, you will surprise yourself.
Much of lyric writing is technical. The stronger your skills are, the better you can express your creative ideas. You must spend time on the technical areas of lyric writing, like rhyme, rhythm, contrast, balance, and repetition. Here, I want to focus on the most important part of all creative writing, and therefore surely of lyric writing: the art of deep diving–finding your own unique voice and vision.
The best diving technique I know is object writing. It’s direct and simple. You arbitrarily pick an object–a real object–and focus your senses on it. Treat the object as a diving board to launch you inward to the vaults of your senses. Come up with a bomb title for the song, or take a trip down memory lane, about a past love affair that went wrong or one that went right. Try spending time alone with your senses, you do not want to be disturb. Give yourself a chance to daydream. Expand your imagination. The more senses you incorporate into your writing, the better it breathes and dances.
In its simplest form, this is the basic rule of songwriting: Keep your listeners interested all the way through your song. Get them with you from the beginning with a strong opening line, then keep them with you the rest of the way. Whether they stay or go is up to you. In most songs, you’ll repeat a line (refrain) or a section (chorus) two or three times. The danger is that once your listeners have heard something it will be lest interesting the second and third time–like telling the same person the same joke three times in a row: Once you’ve heard it, it doesn’t give you anything more the second or third time.
Your job as a songwriter is to make your repetition interesting and productive so that the same words deliver more each time. A bit of a challenge right? It might be helpful to think about a song as a stack of boxes that are connected to each other, each one gaining more weight, the last being the heaviest of the lot. The first box begins the flow of ideas, introducing us the the song’s world.
The second box continues the idea, but from a different angle, combining the weight of the first box with the weight of the second. The last box builds from the first two. introducing its own angle and combining its idea with the first two, resulting in the heaviest box. Assume you’re working with the idea “I’d just like to know.” Box 1: “Hi, it’s nice to see you. You’re looking good, and you’re looking really happy. Are you? I hope you don’t mind my asking. I’d just like to know.”
Let’s try to advance the idea and make the second box gain weight. Box 2: “When you left, did you already know you were moving in with him? When I was out of town, did he come over to your place? Did you hide that picture of us you kept on your dresser? I suppose it doesn’t matter now, I’d just like to know.”
See how the idea gains weight with the new information? It combines the first box, the meeting, with some history, giving the second box more weight and giving more impact to the title. Box 3: “For me, a relationship is all about honesty. I want to be able to say everything to you, and for you to say everything to me. I don’t want any secrets , no matter what. You could have told me about him. I wouldn’t have tried to stop you. I’d just like to know.”
Box: 3 combines or resolves all the information, and delivers the point of the song. It’s simply a matter of actually writing the song, but writing it knowing where you’re going. Your have a outline, a scaffold to hang your song on. You can bang around inside each box without being afraid of getting lost.
And don’t be afraid to call your six best friends–who, what, where, when why, and how–to ask them for specific suggestions. They’re always helpful, especially when and where.
Your verses are responsible for keeping listeners interested. The verses develop your idea; they are the basic tool to advance your concept, plot, or story. They get us ready to hear each chorus or refrain–they control the angle of entry and the way we see the repeated elements. Like the paragraphs of an essay, each one should focus on a separate idea. Say you’ve written a song with only verses, and the summaries go something like:
Verse 1. Dr. Dre’ and Snoop Doggy Dog are the baddest MCs. straight out of Compton and Long Beach. Verse 2. Their very elite when it comes to, writing poetry to music. Verse 3: Everyone in town knows their hit makers when it comes to spinning rhyme to reason!
The ideas don’t move much. These verses say pretty much the same thing in different words. Obviously, you’d probably have written it in more interesting language, using sense-bound images and metaphors, but no matter how you polished the language, it would only disguise the fact that something important is missing: development. The only real fix is to take the idea new places.
Verse 1. Dr. Dre’ and Snoop Doggy Dog are baddest MCs. straight out of, Compton and Long Beach. Verse 2. Their very elite when it comes to, writing poetry to music. Verse 3. Everyone in town knows their hit makers when it comes to spinning rhyme to reason!
The language is a slight blend but with no image. Yet now we want to know what happens next. We had no such curiosity about the first sequence.
When you add a repeated element to those verses(a refrain or chorus). development becomes even more important. Stagnant verses will make your repeated element stagnant, too. the boxes won’t grow Watch….
Box 1. Dr. Dre’ and Snoop Dog are the baddest MCs.
Straight out of Compton and Long Beach.
Box 2. Their very elite when it come to writing poetry to music
You better beware, beware all sucker MCs beware…
Box 3. Everyone in town knows their hit makers when it comes to spinning rhyme to reason.
Beware, beware you sucker MCs beware.
The refrain suffers from the same disease as the verses: stagnation. Boredom is amplified. the boxes, at best, are all the same size–they don’t gain any weight. More likely, the boxes lose weight. You can feel the letdown when you get to the second and third boxes. You can only fix stagnation by developing the ideas. Like this with a little chorus line to give it flava…..
Box 1. Dr. Dre’ and Snoop Doggy Dog are the baddest MCs….
Ain’t nothin’ but a G thang babe, All the women in the house goin’ craze’.
Box 2. Their very elite when it come to writing poetry to music
Swing low sweet chariot sound and let me ride….
Box 3. Everyone knows their hit makers when it comes to spinning rhyme to reason….
Ain’t nothin’ but G thang babe, all the women in the house goin’ craze’.
Now each refrain gains weight. The boxes get progressively larger because the verse ideas move forward–they each introduce their own idea or angle. When a refrain or(chorus) attaches to verses that mean the same thing, the result is boredom. When it attaches to verses that develop the idea, it gains weight and impact. It dances.
What about changing the chorus each time? Some songs do exactly that, but the definition of a chorus is “many people singing together.” If you change the words each time, you’ll be the only one able to sing it the second and third time. One person singing alone is called a soloist, not a chorus. If you change the words to a refrain each time, it isn’t a refrain, just additional material.
Remember, you fix a stagnant chorus or refrain by doing the same thing you do if you have only verses–you develop the idea. Don’t waste your verses. Don’t let them sit idle waiting for the hook to come around and rescue them. too often, there won’t be anyone around to witness the rescue.
Wa’Dell Jones: Author/Artist/Music Producer.
Co. Rock Of Ages Entertainment
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Artist/Music Producer: Wa’Dell Jones