JSJII - How to Write Song Lyrics (Part One) - Choose a Concept
Music has the power to change the world, and music is a universal language. So it makes sense that everyone would want to tap into this process in some way. But if you’ve never tried writing song lyrics you may wonder where to begin.
This multi-part series hopes to familiarize you with the process of lyric writing and give you an idea of how and where to start. I will explore some of the important aspects of writing song lyrics such as concept, melody, structure, repetition, variation, and of course the song lyrics themselves.
CHOOSE A CONCEPT
Before setting out on the endeavor of writing song lyrics, its important to identify your destination. Choosing a concept or a “hook” can help you know where the story of your song reaches its peak or climax. This concept will probably also be the main lyric of your “hook” or “chorus.”
A hook or chorus is the main part of the song that you remember and sing along to. This can be a lyric, a whole section of lyrics, or even a section of la-la-la’s or na-na-na’s, but ultimately it is the overarching theme, concept, and memorable part of the song.
Keeping a notebook or notes in your phone or tablet where you can write down song lyric concepts is a great way to create great starting points for songs.
Some examples might be:
- Wounded in Battle
- Shot in the Dark
- Last Chance
- Waiting for Tomorrow
These concepts can help you define what story you want to tell in your song. It is important to tell a story and take your listeners on a journey. These stories can have a beginning and an end, they can go back and forward in time, and can even suspend time for a moment to dissect or place a moment under a microscope. Whatever method you choose, deciding what your message will be before hand will help you decide what song lyrics to use to tell that story.
To use one of the example concepts from above, if your song is called Wounded in Battle, you might say that this is a metaphor for a relationship gone bad. So in your song you now know that the lyrics need to tell the story of a bad relationship, but because of the title or concept you realize that it needs to be told through the lens of a war or battle scenario.
For example when starting your hook or chorus:
I was wounded in battle // Cut below the knees
I dodged the bombs for oh so long // But missed the bullet aimed at me
So here you’ve painted a picture for the listener. You’ve also given room for the imagination to interpret what bombs you were dodging and who was aiming at you. In the listener’s mind’s eye, they are probably envisioning a battle field, bombs exploding, bullets whizzing by from snipers taking aim. You have successfully pulled your listener into two worlds at once: a chaotic, terrifying battlefield and a relationship in turmoil, which can be equally as terrifying and chaotic. Using these powerful metaphors, you can really help the listener to feel and experience the emotions you’ve felt, and to experience theirs in their own way. This is ultimately the goal – engaging the listener. The more you can engage with someone, the more your message will come across clearly.
Another example from above might be:
I’m counting the seconds // As they fall down to the floor // Each one is a lifetime // Of waiting // Waiting for tomorrow
These are examples of ways you can identify a concept and execute a section of that song to resemble the theme and feeling of your story. The more cohesive your writing of these song lyrics in relation to your concept, the better your chances of communicating effectively and creating a great song.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss Using Your Verses to Support the Hook.
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