Cliches - Do they still work?


How many times have you heard lines like these in a song: feel the pain/by my side/set me free/lost without you/broken heart/all we've been through/hold me close/my foolish pride/all night long/give you my heart/want you, need you, love you/all my love/more than friends/never let you go/more than words can say/when you walked into the room/when you came into my life/when I first saw you/dream come true/call on me/our love is forever, and the ever popular/oh baby?

Then there are the cliché rhymes: hold (take my) your hand... understand... be your man, dance... take a chance... romance, kiss you... miss you and on and on. Of course, you've never been guilty of using any of these worn-out phrases and rhymes. Or are you?

Most of the songs you hear on radio are written by the artists who perform them. In those cases, there are few, if any, who are willing or able to criticize the artist's songs, particularly once the artist is successful. Also remember that a lyric is not a song, it's not a record and many artists are signed because they've gotten a great sound, a great look and a vocal identity and style that allows an audience to recognize them instantly. If you're a lyricist, you may hear those cliché lines and disregard the fact that other factors, including a dynamic, engaging melody and groove for the style of the artist contributes to the success of the song, and great arrangement and production contributes to the success of the record. No matter what A&R reps say about the songs being the most important factor, it ain't necessarily so, though it's certainly most always true for pop ballads and country.

It's always important to avoid them, but if you're a writer submitting songs to artists who don't write (or who write but record "outside songs" in hopes of getting a hit whether they write it or not). Your song passes the ears of publishers, producers and A&R reps who, no matter how young, have already heard thousands of songs. They've heard all the worn-out lines and predictable rhymes mentioned above and more. They know that, in order to compete with the songs submitted by the world's most successful writers, your song has to be better than theirs. It has to be so unique and compelling that they would not have thought of it and that they know it could become a hit for another artist if they don't record it themselves. Lyrics full of clichés are viewed as lyrics that anyone could write since they're ones that have already been written, since they use phrases heard over and over again.

The best way to avoid clichés is to write with as much specific detail as possible about your own personal experiences and trust that you tap universal emotions. Also, if you've heard the line before, push yourself to find a new way to say it. How often have you heard, "break my heart"? Now tell me how often you'd heard "Unbreak My Heart," before the Diane Warren song became a major hit for Toni Braxton? She took a cliché and did something so simple and obvious that writers all over the world are kicking themselves for not thinking of it first. Your job is to think of it first and good luck!

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