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4 Ways To Improve Your Songwriting - Part 1 - Lyrics

Have you found yourself saying anything like this?

  • “What I write either sounds corny or stilted to my ear.”

  • “Often I feel like I have nothing to say.”

  • “I have a hard time trying to find the right words.”

  • “I can find a new riff every day but the lyrics come slow and frustratingly for me. They usually suck.”

I can relate to pretty much all of the above. But what seems to be a common thread throughout is that everyone who said these things is "in their own heads" about writing lyrics. Meaning, they’re getting in the way of their own creative instincts. This could come from a number of reasons from negative self-talk to lack of patience to feeling trapped in a fishbowl without getting all of their thoughts out. I want to explore these obstacles and offer a few perspectives on what I like to use to bust out a creative rut.

Let’s discuss.

“I have music written but when it comes to lyrics, often I feel like I have nothing to say.” (Inspiration)

If you find yourself falling into this category more often than not, you're in luck actually! If you stop to think about it, you’ve already established a mood with the music that you’ve written whether it’s a riff or a fully fleshed out chord progression. The next step is to put the vibe under the microscope.

1. Ask yourself what are the feelings that the music gives you.

They say that music is what feelings sound like right? (Ever hear that saying?) So what are those feelings trapped in the piece that you've written?

Let’s say you have a chord progression in C minor. It would likely make sense to pursue writing dark sounding lyrics to go along with the sad quality of the progression. This is no hard and fast rule of course. A lot of really happy, joyful, and even romantic-sounding songs are contrasted with incredibly dark lyrics. ("Every Breath You Take" from The Police comes to mind.) and can be a great way to create an interesting contrast in the music but for the sake of this blog entry, let's say we're keeping it dark all around. The idea is to simply start "doing" so don't overthink this. Just make a choice and see what happens.

If we’re following the dark mood of the music, can you describe the feeling that inspired you to write it? Can you describe the feeling you get from playing it? Write this down and any other feelings associated with it. It just takes one word to get going.

2. Find and write down any words that are associated with the feeling.

So you've got your basic feelings conveyed into a couple of words and written down. Awesome. Now, grab the thesaurus and start finding alternative words to describe those feelings. From there, start digging deeper. Are there any experiences you link to this feeling? Are there places? Scenes? Colors? Is there a temperature? Is there a smell? What time of day is it? What does the picture in your mind look like when you play this musical piece? Identify anything you can and write it all down without judgment, without critiquing yourself, without worrying if things sound corny. Let it all go. The filtration process comes later. Right now, you're only responsible for getting all of your thoughts onto the page and yes, I do recommend writing everything down on an actual dead tree paper page. This kinesthetic act of putting the pen or pencil to paper will, in my opinion, allow your subconscious mind the time it needs to do all the heavy lifting for you. Your job right now is to get out of your own way and let the words fly. This is what’s known as a “brain dump.”

3. Be Opportunistic

Get ready to pounce on ideas that pop into your head

Now that you've done your brain dump, you should have a wealth of different words to work with to begin writing statements. As an exercise, I like to start with a chorus lyric first as it's generally less involved verbally than a verse or a bridge. I'm not concerned with a great outcome here. I'm only concerned WITH an outcome. It's the exercise itself that will prompt the creative gears in the back of my head to start spinning on their own as I go about my day. In this particular moment, all I'm looking for is my general message for the chorus. What's my grand statement? What's the main message that I will build the rest of the lyrics around? Berkley College of Music professor Pat Pattison once told a much younger me once upon a time to "show" with the choruses and "tell" with the verses. This is where we can go back to our imagery from our pre brain dump exercise. Can we write a simple line that evokes an image in the listener's mind?

Once I've got something, I stop writing. Power down all my devices if I'm using them at the time, and go on with the rest of my day. I know now that my little friend the subconscious mind is going to take over for me while I focus on the things I need to do throughout the day. This is where being opportunistic comes into play. It's important to have some kind of device to trap any loose ideas that float to the surface. Believe me, they will undoubtedly come at times that are the least expected and usually the least convenient. I've had these bolts of lighting come upside my head in the grocery store, out on a walk, attempting to fix something, doing the dishes, and of course, right before I fall asleep. It's in these moments where we need to trap these ideas. Whether by your phone, notepad, voice recorder, etc. These are the fruits of your labor. They are the pure authentic expression from the voice that is truly you and it's so important to capture these because they're not guaranteed to be there when you wake up the next day. I can't tell you how many times I've had an idea right before bed but I was too lazy to get up to record it thinking "Eh I'll remember it tomorrow it's fine." and sure enough, I completely forgot the idea the next day. Or even worse, I'd obsessively try to memorize it before bed and wind up not getting to sleep haha. My point is. Have something to record, write down, or otherwise trap your idea within arm's reach at all times. This simple discipline will serve you well.

Thanks For Reading!

Anyway, I hope this helps. This is just one example I wanted to delve into today but I actually released a Livestream video where I delve deeper and riff on this concept more. If you're interested, feel free to check it out here.

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