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Songwriting Tip 8 - What is the message in your lyrics?

The question

When it came to writing great lyrics, I used to think that inspiration was all I needed and that somehow the lyrics were sacred. I never asked the question "what is the message in your lyrics" and “what are your lyrics trying to say?” I would write them and then work hard on the music trying to make the complete picture work. Recently I had some lecturers who showed me the error of my ways. I realized that my lyrics need to be worked on as much as my music. The common question I was getting was “what are you trying to say?”. It wasn’t clear and this was a defining moment in my songwriting.

The revelation

Just starting with that question – “what do I want to say?” has changed me as a songwriter. Now I decide the big picture stuff first and then I start the process of writing the lyrics. Firstly, I write everything I can think of about the subject, then I identify key words and write everything about them. I use the concepts – touch, see, hear, smell and feel to create verbs that describe the key words. Often, I end up with too much but that is a good problem to have when you are trying to be creative.

During the process I will often come up with sentences when trying to describe something. The other day I was going through this process, while travelling on the train, and suddenly this sentence came into my mind – “I can’t take anything with me but I can leave love behind.” It became the basis for my chorus. I may not have it exactly the same in the final draft but it was a good foundation. Having lots of words, I could then be very clear about what I wanted to say in each of the sections so that the song developed, lyrically. Once I had these topics for the sections I began assigning words from my list to the sections and then I was able to group the words together.

The process is then a matter of refining and making sure that the lyrics are always answering the question “what am I trying to say?”.

The response

The comments about my lyrics now are that not only is the message very clear but there is also a lot of imagery for the listener to put their own interpretation to. This means that people begin to create their own stories to the songs. When a listener does that, they begin to think of the song as their own and you have them for life.

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