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Thread: Writing Lyrics

  1. #1
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    Writing Lyrics

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    As I'm stumbling with lyrics for something I want to record this afternoon, I came across a description of the same technique that I've always used. This is basically how I do it, always have and probably always will. But it's pretty cool to see it written out by others. Thought I'd share here, maybe it'll inspire a different approach for someone:

    "Start out by writing nonsense words to the music.

    ...Oftentimes when working on a song, I'll try improvise a vocal using nonsense words or just enunciating a melody and seeing what comes out. If things go well, then I'll come up with at least one phrase or a hook that will stick with me. Even if it doesn't make immediate sense, I'll find that I'm stuck with it. The challenge then becomes figuring out a story that goes with those words and writing the rest.

    ...I would create sheets of paper that would sort of map the "beats" of the melody, then drop in different lines to fit the meter. After years of doing this, I saw a picture of one of David Byrne's (of Talking Heads) lyric sheets and saw that he was doing something similar. I was thrilled Byrne has long been one of my heroes, so catching a glimpse of his method felt validating to me as a songwriter.

    ...you'll know when the right combination of words and melody hit you
    ."

    - 4 Weird (But Awesome) Ways to Come Up With Creative Lyrics You Haven't Tried
    "No healthy person waits in line with a slew of geriatrics on a Sunday morning for pancakes" - RFR https://soundcloud.com/andrushkiwt

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    Paul McCartney uses this technique quite successfully - Paul McCartney's "Scrambled Eggs," which Evolved Into One of the Most Recorded Songs of All Time

    As for myself, I can't write that way - the nonsense lyrics part, anyway. I just sound notes with my voice - no words. Like "Da dee dee dum dee dah".
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    There is a song on Elton John's Caribou called "Solar Prestige Aggemon" The whole song is actual words but the content is nonsensical. After a few listens it becomes quite easy to sing along with the chorus like it means something. So much of communication is inflection and phrasing. I wrote one song with the phrase "Blah, blah, blah , something something" as a intentional lyric. This came after realizing that so many of my fav and famous songs, when parsed, don't make real world "sense" for the most part. I personally have an easier time using real words in nonsense phrases then just nonsense syllables or whatever. Frankly I have always been a little jelly of song writers and/or singers who can come up with cool non-syllabic or whatcha callit melisma bits. I have only been able to on rare occasions.
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    I've seen this method described a number of times, but I've just never felt inclined to try it.

    I usually start with some basic lyrics and build from there.

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    That's pretty much my strategy too. It starts with the music. Then I loop it and hum or scat sing over the top to come up with a melody. Then, with any luck, lyrics emerge. Usually starts with a word or phrase, which triggers associations/ideas/more words/phrases. It's not an efficient process. I've got quite an number of unfinished songs that need only lyrics.

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    Steve, yeah same here except the one or two words that form are sometimes nonsense. Usually there's a whole word in there that just seems to fit nicely. I'll build around it, like Ray says. Then I have a phrase. I'll sing it in my head for awhile and see if a more concrete phrase develops.

    The idea though is that the hook just seems to come out naturally while thinking up the melody. And if not the entire hook, then at least the power word(s). I'll build around that theme and imagery later. Usually with things that are realistically off topic, but seem to fit the song from a listeners point of view.

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    I almost always use this method.......but never told anyone because it seemed sort of hokey. Now I find out it's basically normal!! Cooool!!

    One time I was goofing around with a chord pattern and my wife walked by and said....."Hey...I like that....it sounds happy......like a guy who went through a bad time and was in good times now". How she got that from chords I'll never know. And wouldn't you know it.........the words came to me in about 20 minutes. Never even revised them at all. It's still one of my favorites.
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mickster View Post
    "Hey...I like that....it sounds happy......like a guy who went through a bad time and was in good times now". How she got that from chords I'll never know.
    Freud-alert : Maybe she was talking about YOU!

    Yeah it seems pretty common. I couldn't imagine writing lyrics first (I hate story-telling tunes) and then attempting to put it to music. It seems, in my weird world, unauthentic. I think the music and melodies should come first, then whatever comes out naturally, lyric-wise is your best bet - most of the time.

    Music like The Killers, Springsteen, Billy Joel, those story telling people, I really don't get into. Some of the melodies are good, definitely, but I don't like a story in my songs. At least not flat-out and direct. Like, "i saw her standing under the lights, she had a dress of red, her smile was..." ok. got it. You've painted the picture loud and clear. Thanks for leaving nothing to the imagination.
    "No healthy person waits in line with a slew of geriatrics on a Sunday morning for pancakes" - RFR https://soundcloud.com/andrushkiwt

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    Quote Originally Posted by spantini View Post

    As for myself, I can't write that way - the nonsense lyrics part, anyway. I just sound notes with my voice - no words. Like "Da dee dee dum dee dah".
    Same here...I'll just sing the notes until a complete phrase comes into my head...something that makes sense...and then I'll build on that.

    I also don't much care for vague, wonky lyrics, where the imagery is fragmented and somewhat abstract and disconnected.
    To me, that always sounds like someone just pieced a bunch of words/phrases together because it was too much work to actually come up with lyrics that paint a clear picture of what they're trying say with the song.
    I don't mean about using metaphors and symbolism to deliver your message or story...that's fine it they're coherent and all work together to say something that makes sense to most people.

    I mean when it's pieces of unrelated phrases, with only the rhyme making them fit, or often not even that.
    Stuff like...(I'm making this up on the fly here) "The darkness falls quickly, children call your name, we break bread with stones, your colors are all the same."
    Like WTF does that mean?
    Man I hate shit like that...and it's sold by some as artsy genius, but it's just a lot of nonsense to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by miroslav View Post
    I mean when it's pieces of unrelated phrases, with only the rhyme making them fit, or often not even that.
    Stuff like...(I'm making this up on the fly here) "The darkness falls quickly, children call your name, we break bread with stones, your colors are all the same."
    Like WTF does that mean?
    Man I hate shit like that...and it's sold by some as artsy genius, but it's just a lot of nonsense to me.
    It means...

    "The darkness falls quickly,..."

    The blindness spreads unchecked...

    "...children call your name,..."

    ...and the generations ahead will accuse us...

    "...we break bread with stones..."

    ...as we scramble in our blindness for peace through war...

    "...your colors are all the same..."

    ...unaccepting of our differences.

    Dude, you got what it takes! Keep up the good work!!

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