Wednesday, January 9, 2008

8 Tips For Writing Compelling Lyrics

TIP 1 - Use Strong, Sensually Stimulating Opening Lines. The best time to capture your listener is as soon as the vocal begins. A descriptive image with an emotionally compelling couplet works well :
"Half the moon is shining tonight
And half the moon is pitch black
And I’ve got half a chance that you might
Turn around and come back"
("Half The Moon" by Hugh Prestwood)
TIP 2 - Make The Lyrical Hook or Title Obvious, and Fresh. A hook is your BRAND IDENTITY. If after the first chorus I'm still asking myself ‘What’s this song called?’ There’s an identity problem. Here's a link to 500 songs that shaped Rock And Roll. Go to this site and notice how most of the titles will bring the hook melody to mind immediately.
TIP 3 - Be As Specific As Possible, Yet Target the Universal Audience. Make lines and images more specific, but use specific images that are Universal, not obscure. Notice all the specific imagery in Steve Earle's classic, yet none of it is obscure :
"Gotta keep rockin' while I still can
I got a two pack habit and a motel tan
But when my boots hit the boards I'm a brand new man
With my back to the riser I make my stand"
(Guitar Town by Steve Earle)
TIP 4 - Get the most out your Metaphors and Analogies. Extend your metaphors, clarify them, use them cleverly. This will Unify the lyric.
The roller coaster ride we took
metaphor for an up-and-down relationship
Is nearly at an end
extended by giving the “ride” an “end”
I bought my ticket with my tears
extended with “tickets”
That’s all I’m gonna spend
Extended with price of the tickets= emotional cost
(“Red Rubber Ball” by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodly)
TIP 5 - Use Rhyme And Assonance Cleverly And With Variety. Look for internal rhymes, fresh rhyme endings. Rhyme should fall naturally and conversationally in the lyric. Alter the Rhyme sounds as much as possible. Use masculine and feminine rhyme for more variety. Rhyme creates emphasis, unity and memorability in a lyric.
"I blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-top
Cut my heal, had to cruise on back home
But there’s booze in the blender, and soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on"
(“Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet)
TIP 6 - . Show Action, Rather Than Tell Narrative. Use Action to bring a scene to life and convey your emotion. Notice how in the Example A below we’re reading a lyric that’s more like a storyboard sketch.
She was just a waitress
In a small Ohio town
Feeling trapped and desperate
That job just brought her down
She did the same old routines
And lived from day to day
And dreamed she’d hit the road someday
Now in Example B the action brings the same scene alive. We’re SHOWN the emotion in the scene with action rather than TOLD the information in narrative form.
She poured cups of coffee
In a town where nothing stirred
In quiet desperation
She never breathed a word
She was picking up their quarters
And holding back her dreams
And staring out the window in between
("Dancing With The Wind" by Craig Bickhardt and Jack Sundrud)
TIP 7 - Use devices such as Alliteration and Onomatopoeia to create sound harmonics. Note the "s" sounds at the beginning of many words in the lyric below. That's alliteration (any letter can be used):
"And it's sad when they sing, and hollow ears listen,
Of smoking black roses on the streets of Belfast
And so say your lovers from under the flowers
Every foot of this world needs an inch of Belfast"
("Belfast" by Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
Note the way the following couplet about the waves sounds like crashing waves. That's Onomatopoeia:
"The crashing waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and sands"
("Lay Down Your Weary Tune" by Bob Dylan)
TIP 8 - Use precise language. The exact right word can put a spark in a couplet and make all the difference between a lifeless lyric and a lyric with impact.
"There’s a frost on the wind
As it scours the town"
("Painted Pony" by F. C. Collins and Craig Bickhardt)

"Beneath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp"
("Sounds Of Silence" by Paul Simon)
Happy writing!
copyright 2008 by Craig Bickhardt


Unknown said...

this is the most helpful advice i've ever seen. thank you very much!

chromehead said...

Thanks binch. I'll try to keep up the quality of these posts.