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Thu Jan 5, 2012, 12:10 PM

How do you write lyrics?

I'm working on my first rock song and I'm having trouble with writing some lyrics. Does anybody have a system or does it just come to you?

Is it just a matter of playing the song over and over and working through them?

Signed Frustrated Beginning Songwriter
DU, Anystate, USA

31 replies, 3195 views

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Arrow 31 replies Author Time Post
Reply How do you write lyrics? (Original post)
geardaddy Jan 2012 OP
Scuba Jan 2012 #1
geardaddy Jan 2012 #3
Scuba Jan 2012 #5
geardaddy Jan 2012 #6
i_sometimes Jan 2012 #2
geardaddy Jan 2012 #4
ProfessorGAC Jan 2012 #7
geardaddy Jan 2012 #8
onpatrol98 Jan 2012 #11
rbnyc Jan 2012 #9
geardaddy Jan 2012 #10
rbnyc Jan 2012 #12
Shankapotomus Jan 2012 #13
rbnyc Jan 2012 #14
mrk1839 Jul 2012 #15
CaliforniaPeggy Jul 2012 #16
mrk1839 Jul 2012 #17
geardaddy Jul 2012 #18
Zorra Aug 2012 #19
borelord Aug 2012 #20
Shankapotomus Aug 2012 #21
geardaddy Aug 2012 #22
zzaapp Aug 2012 #23
geardaddy Aug 2012 #24
zzaapp Aug 2012 #25
Tunkamerica Aug 2012 #27
zzaapp Aug 2012 #29
Tunkamerica Aug 2012 #30
zzaapp Aug 2012 #31
Tunkamerica Aug 2012 #26
geardaddy Aug 2012 #28

Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Thu Jan 5, 2012, 06:56 PM

1. Do you have a melody? A rhythm?

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Response to Scuba (Reply #1)

Fri Jan 6, 2012, 10:28 AM

3. I have chords and a bass line

I have a rudimentary melody.

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Response to geardaddy (Reply #3)

Fri Jan 6, 2012, 10:35 AM

5. The you're on your way. Like others on the thread said, "feel it"...

just let your theme follow the rhythm and melody.



And the number one rule for writers of all genres: Don't be afraid of bad drafts.

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Response to Scuba (Reply #5)

Fri Jan 6, 2012, 11:16 AM

6. Thanks!

I'm a technical writer, so I know all about editing, editing, editing. It's just that I'm new to this and it's hard to feel my way around.

Thanks for the help!

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Thu Jan 5, 2012, 08:32 PM

2. Feel your subject.

 

What do you want to say? Have a riff or melody already? What does it say? Does it feel bluesy and melancholy? In a minor key?
Happy song? fats? Slow?

For practice, I used to take poetry and put it to music. Gives a feel for the flow I think.
But yeah, subject first, then what you want to say. Then melody, chorus, bridge.
My two cents.

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Response to i_sometimes (Reply #2)

Fri Jan 6, 2012, 10:31 AM

4. Thanks

I have the chord structure for the verses and the chorus already and a bass line (I play bass) It's in Am and it's kind of gritty. I'm playing with ideas of getting your heart stomped on, etc. One image that keeps coming up in my head is kind of a punky girl with Doc Martins. So, I came up with one idea of how she left a boot print on my heart.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Fri Jan 6, 2012, 03:01 PM

7. You're On The Hard Part

Writing for me has always been iterative. I've got to have a hook line in the lyrics to start with, and then feel how the music should work around that hook.

Then i go back and figure out how words would fit into the structure. Then alter the structure to make the phrasing work, and then change words and phrasing to make it smooth.

I'm not a prolific songwriter because it takes me so long. I wrote my first song when i was 18 and i think i've only finished 20. I'm 55 now.

Good luck on your efforts.
GAC

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Response to ProfessorGAC (Reply #7)

Fri Jan 6, 2012, 04:21 PM

8. As a person who writes for a living

My penchant would be to start with the words, but I was trying to do the music first. Maybe I should write the lyrics first.

Thanks for the input.

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Response to geardaddy (Reply #8)

Sat Jan 7, 2012, 01:56 PM

11. I like to feel it too...

The music...just seems to lend itself well to certain moods. And, the mood give a picture...sometimes a video. Actually, I think in my mind, I see a movie video before I write the lyrics. And, then I just write what I see in the video. Or, how I feel about what I see. Aargh...the pictures in my mind. LOL.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Sat Jan 7, 2012, 02:15 AM

9. I have a few methods:

Usually I start by just singing syllables so that I can find the right melody without thinking about words and meaning. I let the melody and the kind of accidental sounds of the syllables suggest theme and language and then I choose words that match the syllables that evolved out of this process.

Sometimes I go through old journals and free-writing and rob good lines and re-work them and make them fit together.

Sometimes I take random words or word groups from my own writing, from books and magazines or whatever is handy and literally put them in a hat, draw them out and see how they come out, maybe changing a couple things here and there if the music demands it.


Most rarely, I actually have something I want to say, I write the verse and make it fit with the song.

I think you have the right idea of just playing it over and over and working through it. But, don't try to make it perfect. At a certain point, stop. You get better at writing songs by writing songs. Throw them over your shoulder.


Examples of each of my writing methods just because I rarely miss an excuse to post these old songs:

Evolving syllables:



Leaves

At the same time, I don't know how
No matter, here he is

I just wanted you to stand down
There are two ways

Leaves
Impossible
Is it that small?

Leaves
Impossible
Is it that small?

One more favor...

Leaves
Impossible
One more favor...

Is it that...

One more favor...

Leaves
Is it that impossible?
One more favor...

Leaves
Impossible
Is it that small?
One more favor...


Journal mining:



Damage Control

If you try to rescue that child,
She may say, ďWhy are you bothering?
You canít drag a dead dog on a leash.
What? Do you love me or something?Ē

You may even be ashamed and then you know that you are her.

I donít blame you if you donít take it from me,
I know I treated you like a whore.
But arenít you glad for that special perspective?
The deeper one end, the richer the other.
I loved you then and I love you now, mmmm, better.

If I could see you, I would set you up.


Random words:



One and One

One and One
A dark Room
That you should
You have shown
Hereafter
The paper
The same year
Was not far
The poor dear
A good time
Bow or breadth
Among Sons

I'll let it go, if you crawl
All of the sea foam wasted

And daughters
The nurses
Defeated
And a friend
Contracted
She managed
No longer another
One and One
A dark Room
That you should
You have shown

I'll let it go, if you crawl
All of the sea foam wasted

Preconceived idea:



Smokescreen

When I saw the smoke rise across the river, I saw a smokescreen rise.
Use it to cover the desperate agenda of hand that is closed on a time that is gone.

6,000 people killed twice, once on that Tuesday and once as we write
their names on the bombs that we drop on Kabul

When I saw the ash fall and smelled what I can't say, I saw a Trojan Horse made.
Stuff it with clutching and fear-informed measures
Of a dying self-righteous leftover regime.

6,000 people killed twice, once on that day and once as we use them
As a reason to hold 800 without bond.

When I saw Marc Roger Welles hung up with duct tape on the side of a payphone
and I knew that he was loved...

When I heard the choked voice of loss turned to sound byte
and I lost the heart to write...

When "United we stand" is a pizza box slogan and I wake up ten times a night.

There are 6,000 people killed twice, once on that Tuesday and once if we fear to say
this isn't justice and this isn't right.




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Response to rbnyc (Reply #9)

Sat Jan 7, 2012, 02:50 AM

10. Thank you thank you thank you!

I love your ideas of different methods. Now I just need to persevere.

Do you play out a lot in NY? We'd love to come see you sometime!

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Response to geardaddy (Reply #10)

Sat Jan 7, 2012, 02:27 PM

12. I stopped playing out over 10 years ago.

Now I just play at home if I ever have a minute. My husband has been trying to get me to play a show again, but I don't know how I feel about it.

I used to play at clubs like The Knitting Factory and CB's Gallery, and I've played around the country. I got really tired of the business end and opted for a career with hour and benefits.

I miss it sometimes, but I really enjoy sharing on the internet.

I'm so glad you liked my suggestions. I'd love to hear what you come up with down the road.

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Response to rbnyc (Reply #9)

Sun Jan 8, 2012, 07:51 AM

13. Just beautiful

So glad you shared...

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Response to Shankapotomus (Reply #13)

Sun Jan 8, 2012, 01:35 PM

14. Thanks.

That makes me so happy.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Sun Jul 29, 2012, 01:33 AM

15. Writing lyrics

I have a few ideas - some things that work for me at least - sometimes I will hear a line that I like, maybe in another song or someone talking ... I sit with it
Until I feel my own way to mix it into what I want to sing - or - I work with a line that strikes me as funny or bizarre and try to use it to tell a story - my favorite still is a line I wrote "the Hershey boy waits lonely with a single bar left "

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Response to mrk1839 (Reply #15)

Sun Jul 29, 2012, 01:36 AM

16. Welcome to DU, mrk1839!

Your work sounds fascinating...I hope it brings you great satisfaction.

And I like your favorite line about the Hershey boy...



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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #16)

Sun Jul 29, 2012, 02:31 AM

17. Hershey boy

Thank you
It's from a post apocalyptic. song I wrote Bout 30 years ago / people were asking me what I'd do or what I'd miss if the world ended or zombies came - I said I'm miss Hershey bars cause I'm the Hershey boy -
Laughed so hard - next thing I know I got a song out of it haha

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Response to mrk1839 (Reply #15)

Mon Jul 30, 2012, 10:21 AM

18. Thanks for your comments!

I think I do the same. I have line that sounds good, and try to work around that, but sometimes (since I'm a beginner at writing songs) I get caught up in creating great lines throughout the song.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Wed Aug 1, 2012, 02:54 PM

19. I can only write lyrics and music in a muse driven burst of inspired

creative passion.

Often this manifests as stream of consciousness.

Once the basic form manifests in inspiration, I then smooth over any rough edges.

This is the only way I have ever written any song that I felt was decent enough to perform and/or record.

I do not seem to be capable of just using some songwriting formula and then sitting down and writing what I consider acceptable music/lyrics at will.

Everything I have tried to sit down and write when I was not creatively inspired totally sucked, and I don't even bother trying anymore.

For me, the muse comes and goes; when she comes I have no choice but to put everything else on hold and stay in the zone until she leaves.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Thu Aug 2, 2012, 09:02 AM

20. It's usually frustrating, even a few years in.

Honestly, I have to wait until the rest of the song is pretty much fleshed out, then work around it. I usually know what it's going to be about, but lines that are written before the riffs are done usually get changed a fair bit in the editing process. I have to hear the riffs a while first.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Thu Aug 2, 2012, 09:40 AM

21. Here is a trick you can try

I fell upon this idea accidentally when I first started teaching myself to write lyrics at 18. I am very confident in my lyric writing ability today.

Take your favorite lyricist and pick a few of your favorite song lyrics from them.

Get a pen and paper and slowly and diligently start writing the lyrics out to the songs on your favorite list.

As you write, you will start to develop as sense of the thinking process of the lyricist. After a while you'll start to imagine alternate lines on your own. This will put you in the right frame of mind in order to think about lyrics and realize it's not so difficult. Then from there, you will start to develop full verses and then whole songs.

Good luck!



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Response to Shankapotomus (Reply #21)

Thu Aug 2, 2012, 10:46 AM

22. I'll try that!

Thanks!

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Fri Aug 3, 2012, 12:11 PM

23. Hi GD

 

If I may, I have been a (semi successful) musician/song writer for many years. May I offer a little advice?
I'm not sure what kind of a song you are writing, fast/slow,
radio friendly/avant garde, country/rock but here are some basic guidelines

When you start to write a song most writers start with what's called "the hook". The hook is the catchy, often repeated phrase or riff that "hooks" the listener into the song. This hook could be anywhere in the song, but it is more likely to be the first line of the "chorus"
examples. "relax, don't do it", "pour some sugar on me"
"You got to know when to hold em"

The hook is often a clever play on words (but you don't want to get too cute) example: "Stop in the name of love"

I'm not sure how advanced you are in song writing, so I'm sorry if I'm pointing out the obvious. One last thing, I don't want to be long winded.

Song structure (very important)
There are MANY ways that a song can be structured, but when first starting out, it's a good idea to stick to a basic format until you become comfortable with lyric writing. The basic form is this.

1. Intro music (optional) the intro music is often the chords/riff that comprises "the hook" (with no lyrics)
2. Verse1 (usually 4 lines)
3. Verse 2 (usually 4 lines)
4. Chorus ( usually 4 lines with "the hook/lyrics as the first line
Often times the first and last lines are the same (the hook)
5. Musical break containing a solo (guitar,harmonica keyboard
6. verse 3. (4 lines). Often used as a story closer for the first
2 verses, OR contains a surprise ending.
7. Chorus ( often but not always identical to the first chorus)
8. Repeat chorus.

If this has been helpful, I will be glad to offer more advice.
It would help if I knew the type/tempo/genre of song that you are trying to write. Good luck.





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Response to zzaapp (Reply #23)

Fri Aug 3, 2012, 12:29 PM

24. Hi zzaapp

I'm a complete beginner in songwriting, so this was a great primer for me. Thanks!

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Response to geardaddy (Reply #24)

Fri Aug 3, 2012, 12:33 PM

25. Glad to do it, if you have any more questions, please feel free to

 

post to me. If you are stuck on a line, or phrase, let me know.
I'm glad to help. PS, is there a way that you can post to me privately on DU. Just thinking that maybe you would be uncomfortable posting your lyrics in a public format.

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Response to zzaapp (Reply #23)

Wed Aug 8, 2012, 05:27 AM

27. +1 pretty good description of pop song formatting

i always want to change it up and I do sometimes but always seem to fall back into that format. It's classic for a reason.

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Response to Tunkamerica (Reply #27)

Wed Aug 8, 2012, 01:39 PM

29. Yes, I try to work

 

with different formats as well. For example "End of the World as we know it"

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Response to zzaapp (Reply #29)

Fri Aug 10, 2012, 06:20 AM

30. try memorizing those lyrics sometime.

we played it for a halloween show one year.

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Response to Tunkamerica (Reply #30)

Fri Aug 10, 2012, 11:35 AM

31. LOLOL...there's NO WAY I could memorize that song

 

I tried to do "American Pie" one time. I got so confused,
that I stopped in the middle of the song and started laughing.

Another tough one is "The last resort" by the Eagles.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Wed Aug 8, 2012, 05:24 AM

26. Speaking as a professional amateur... I tend to come up with an interesting

chord progression and then sing nonsense or semi-nonsense till I get a melody. Once I have a melody I'll try to fill in a few lines using that melody. Eventually I 'll get an idea of what the song is about and revise. Once the band gets hold of it I might decide some of the lines are trite or don't fit and I'll revise some more, using the rythm and melody thatI'd already worked out. Lyrics def. evolve over time. My best songs I've written in a few minutes to an hour, though. Call it inspiration.

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Response to Tunkamerica (Reply #26)

Wed Aug 8, 2012, 10:39 AM

28. Cool

Thanks for the comments!

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