Songwriting that Grab People by the Ears

Want to write the songs that make the whole world sing? Well, Barry Manilow may have beaten you to that, but you can still create lyrics that are strong, imaginative and memorable. Here are tips about turning your emotions and observations into catchy, unforgettable lyrics.

First, write lyrics for a genre of music that you love. Whether it’s pop, country, rap, or 80’s hair metal, write your song lyrics with that style in mind, and they’ll sound authentic and heartfelt. If you force yourself to write lyrics simply because they cater to the latest musical trend, they’ll sound exactly that way—forced.

Remember to keep a pen and paper, or small tape recorder, handy—on the bus, in the supermarket, next to your bed and, yes, even in the bathroom. Inspiration isn’t picky about when or where it strikes. And that inspiration doesn’t need to rival Shakespeare. The B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” had fun, silly lyrics, and it became a huge hit.

If you already have a melody playing in your head, you can write your song lyrics around that. If you haven’t thought of a melody, but already have a few great lines jotted down, let the rest of the lyrics freely flow from those phrases. That way, you’ll capture the raw essence of your emotions, and you can tighten up the wording later. And if you have a burning desire to write lyrics, but are unsure of exactly what to write about, that’s no problem, either.

It’s solved with the advice given to all writers: write about what you know; a personal experience. You’re writing song lyrics for a genre you’re familiar with, and now you’ll be further honing those lyrics with a description of an incident or emotion that’s uniquely yours. Start with a title that sums up what you want to write about—say, “Walking in the Rain with You.” Now you’ve got the subject, as well as the catchphrase at the heart of your chorus.

Home in on specifics. Was the rain cold? Warm? Were you walking with a friend? A lover? A child? Was it a walk to a party? A remembrance of a walk with someone no longer in your life? When you ask yourself a question that triggers a powerful emotional response, write that down as part of your song lyrics, and the sincerity of your passion will powerfully impact your listeners.

After all, you’re telling a story—but instead of being printed in a book or magazine, your story is in the form of lyrics set to music. It can be a deep ballad about a profound religious experience, a blunt political statement, or an uncomplicated rock anthem about partying all night, but the challenge is to tell the story with lyrics that are brief but packed with description and emotion—even if the emotion you’re striving to convey is apathy.

Finally, avoid using clichés in your song lyrics. Your lyrics should be as unique as you are. When others see the world through your words, they may just see things with a fresh, new vision. Good luck and have fun!

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