Good lyric writing is, most often, a deceptively simple endeavor. When a lyric is at its best, it seems to effortlessly tell the story of your song using memorable imagery, great details and an unforgettable message. The reality, however, is that there are lots of factors at work “behind the scenes” that go into a seemingly simple lyric. I addressed seven of those elements in my previous article, “7 Tips for Instantly Better Lyrics,” but I’d thought I’d bring up four more for your consideration.
1. Honor your metaphor
Metaphors are a wonderful way to make your song’s message more memorable by conjuring vivid and meaningful details inside of the framework of an overarching theme. The trick, however, is to be certain that once you’ve chosen a metaphor, each image is related back to the metaphor’s theme and not simply random visuals or expressions that feel good while you write them.
2. Make sure your rhyme schemes match in your verses
The strategic use of rhyme is designed to help your listeners learn your song and remember it. The danger is in not paying close attention to the rhyme scheme in your verses. In other words, it’s not enough just to rhyme wherever you can. If you’re rhyming the lines next to each other in the first verse, you should do the same in your second verse as opposed to, say, rhyming every other line. It’s all about setting up an expectation and then delivering on that expectation the next time a verse comes around.
3. Keep your chorus lyric the same for all your choruses
Given that it is the job of the verse (through details and visual imagery) to tell the story of your song, your chorus is designed to summarize your song’s message or theme. Another way to put this is that the chorus is what you’ve been leading up to in your verses. Since this is the case, a rule that I’ve found works most of the time is NOT to change your lyric from chorus to chorus in an attempt to further your song’s story. That’s the job of your verses. If you feel that you absolutely must change your chorus lyric, I’d recommend that it be the final chorus once your listeners have had time to learn the original chorus so the difference has real impact.
4. Go for clear over clever
As songwriters who love words, there is always the temptation to make your lyric clever as a display of your verbal skill. Clever can be fun and it can also be entertaining but when the choice is between clever or clear, always go for clear. Your listeners will be more moved by the clarity of your message than they will be by wordplay that leaves them confused or lost. The simplicity and power of clear beats clever every time.
As I’m fond of telling my consultation clients, there are two responses to my suggestions that will make me happy. The first is that you’ve found these tips useful and you can apply them to something you’re working on. Or, secondly, you’ve decided that you disagree with a particular tip as it applies to one of your songs and you can tell me why. In other words, I’m a firm believer that you are allowed to break any “rule” in songwriting that you want as long as you know that you’re doing it and why. The goal is to understand your own songwriting process and make informed decisions along the way.
Cliff Goldmacher is a GRAMMY-recognized songwriter, music producer and author with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and demo singers for their songwriting demos. Find out more. You can also download Cliff’s FREE tip sheet “A Dozen Quick Fixes To Instantly Improve Your Songs.”