One of the pathways to learning how to be a better songwriter is mastering the art of lyric writing. But if you’ve just decided to try your hand at writing songs, this might be difficult for you, especially if you have no background in poetry or any form of creative writing, for that matter.
Not sure where to begin? As usual, we checked with a few of the songwriters on the Tunedly platform to share a few of their tips and tricks to help you out. Below, you will find the basics of how to write song lyrics, step by step.
1. Write down ideas
There are a number of ways to start writing song lyrics, one of which is to jot down several ideas and then try to fit them all together. The truth is when you set out to write a song, a number of ideas are likely to come rushing at you. A good practice is to write them all down and then examine which are worth exploring in terms of crafting lyrics.
The legendary David Bowie, on giving a songwriting tip, once said “You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients-list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ‘em up and reconnect them. You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this. You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”
2. Start by picking a title
A song’s title often makes up the hook/punchline or chorus of a song and it can also be (or related to) the song’s main subject. Choosing a good title is a critical part of the lyric writing process because it has to encapsulate what the song is about in very few words, thereby capturing the imagination of the listener.
While the possibilities are endless, the title also has to be memorable and catchy. If you think about some of your favorite songs, you will realize that the titles are usually short and spicy while raising some level of curiosity. Some tips (with examples) for good titles given by the songwriters on our team include:
- Describe a noun/emotion/ action – “Bodak Yellow”, “Funhouse”, “Elastic Heart”
- Paint a picture – “Ten Feet Tall”, “Castle On The Hill”
- Use slang words and phrases – “Shake It Off”, “Swang”
- Use a suggestive word/phrase – “Side to Side”, “Dip It Low”, "Naked"
- Refer directly to someone/something – “Someone Like You”, “Billie Jean”
- Remember to keep it short (no more than six words)
3. Start writing
On some days, inspiration will be nil and you probably won’t have any idea what to write about. When that happens, don't think of throwing in the towel. Instead, start writing the first thoughts that come to your mind when you think of the subject or song title, even if those thoughts seem nonsensical.
This is referred to as stream of consciousness writing and once you get going, more often than not, some lyrics will start coming to you that actually make sense. It may also be helpful to hum the lyrics or words that come to mind. In fact, humming is a good way to create a melody when writing a song without using an instrument. Some song lyricists also pick out some of the “nonsensical” lyrics they have written and fit them together to create something more meaningful.
4. Build using music
Alternatively, for some musicians, it’s easier to produce lyrics if they can come up with a catchy guitar riff or memorable piano chord. If you play the guitar, piano, or any other instrument, you can try playing something and see where it takes you.
Many times, the music will speak to you and you’ll be able to come up with some lyrics to go with what you’re playing. If you don’t play an instrument, you can use instrumentals and music samples as the basis to come up with your song lyrics. Either way, be sure to record what you create.
5. Read and rewrite once done
Congrats, you've finally learned how to write song lyrics step by step and, after laboring for hours, days, or even weeks on crafting something meaningful, you're finally finished. The next thing you want to do is proofread what you have written and then do some editing. Most writing will require some polishing, but be careful not to nitpick or obsess over trying to make your lyrics sound "perfect."
6. Start making your song
With the lyrics in the bag, your next logical step will be to have it put to music. If you'd done step four and even added your vocals, you've practically got a rough song recording. But you want it to sound like the songs you listen to on the radio, especially if you plan to share it with the public or even have commercial ambitions. This is where turning to a professional music recording studio comes in.
7. Enriching Your Lyrics
In addition to learning how to write a song's lyrics step by step, there are a few things you should know in order to ensure your lyrics are not just basic and blah.
Know your song structures
There are several different song structures that might be helpful to learn about as you dive down into the business of lyric writing.
Understanding the various song structures is not compulsory, but learning the differences can help with the overall placement of your words and things such as knowing when to move on to the chorus or introducing a bridge. Some of the popular song structures used in today’s hit songs include
- and verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus.
Keep it simple
While you don’t want your lyrics to be too basic, it’s okay if you don’t have a lot to say. Don’t try to overwrite using long sentences, instead just focus on telling the story that you have in mind, in the simplest way possible.
Besides, some of the most well-known songs have very little lyrics; some even have the same lines just being repeated over and over again. Another way to look at it is that you can write just a small, central theme and then build on it. You can try writing the hook (the catchiest part of the song), for instance. Having the hook written down can make it easier for you to craft supporting lyrics in the form of verses.
To rhyme or not to rhyme?
Rhyming is a common practice in songwriting but it isn’t always necessary. For starters, don’t focus on rhyming when you just start writing lyrics, just write what's in your head. Oftentimes, the rhyming will come naturally as you get better at lyric writing.
Just so you know, however, there are different rhyme schemes to use if you feel it's a must (some genres such as rap are rhyme intensive). Common rhyme schemes include alternate rhyming (ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, etc.), enclosed rhyming (ABBA, CDDC, etc.), couplet rhyming (AABB, CCDD, EEFF, etc.), or mono-rhyming (AAAA - every line has the same rhyme pattern).
Throw in some literary devices
Metaphors, similes, and personification are some of the most popular literary devices used in songwriting and lyric writing. When used properly, they often add to the listening pleasure of the audience, so it would help if you used some figures of speech from time to time. In some cases, they will come naturally, but if you aren’t that conversant with using literary devices, it would be great if you learned all the different ones and when and how to use them in order to make your songwriting more imaginative, so to speak.
Listen to the lyrics of popular songs
One of the good things about starting a music career is that there are many people who you can learn from. When listening to the lyrics of your favorite songs, note the different ways how the songwriter(s) use words to paint the picture and how the story comes to life.
Also take notice of the rhyme schemes used (if any), the type of language, slangs that are used, etc. You can even start rewriting the lyrics of some of your favorite songs, putting them in your own words and even changing up the storyline. Whatever you do, you can learn a lot about how to write song lyrics step by step, just from listening to the lyrics of others.
While it is possible to hire a lyricist to do it for you, becoming good at crafting your own song lyrics is necessary if you want to start writing your own material. Thankfully, there are many books, articles, and guides on how to write a song lyric step by step. If you find these lyric writing tips helpful, don't forget to share them with all your friends. « return to blog