When mixing songs (across many genres), much of the focus is on getting vocals to sound great and have excellent placement in the mix. We emphasize the vocals and want them to be heard and understood. Considering that, if the lyrics are awful, it certainly can take away from an otherwise excellent song.
Lyrics are also another great avenue for expression. Music can make us feel so many things, but adding impactful lyrics on top of great beats and instrumentation can turn a song into something truly special.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a naturally gifted poet like Bob Dylan, or a lyrical wizard like 2Pac, writing lyrics can be quite challenging. So today, I’m going to offer up 3 easy steps to help you write better lyrics. When you sit down to put pen to paper… keep these steps in mind!
Step 1: Show, Don’t Tell
This piece of advice has been thrown around so much it’s almost cliche… still, I think it’s thrown around often because it’s just so fundamentally important. It’s the first step to writing any great lyric in my mind.
Don’t write something like I’m feeling lonely and missing you
Do write something like I count the minutes until I’ll see you again
The action verb (“count”) is key, and will draw your listener in and help them connect with the song. In my second example, the listener can see what’s happening, as opposed to simply being told about it. Action gets listeners more engaged with your song.
Step 2: Include Details
Think of lyrics like painting a picture, or telling someone a story. Would you tell your friends a story and leave out important facts? Would you paint a picture of a forest and leave out all the trees? Including detail is tremendously helpful when writing lyrics, and you should focus on that whenever you can. Now, you don’t need to go overboard with the detail of course, but consider these two examples:
Don’t write something like she throws the flowers on the ground, and runs into the house
Do write something like she throws the roses in the mud, and runs into the dingy foreclosure
Which picture or story is clearer in your head? If you can add times, locations, landmarks, brand names (e.g., for you country singers out there…don’t just write about a truck, write about a Chevy or something!), and more to your lyrics your listeners will be able to connect much more easily.
Step 3: Utilize Imagery
So far I’ve been listing actions and details which can beef up any lyric and make it better…but those tips are nothing without the use of powerful imagery. If you’re writing about intangible things such as love, joy, sadness, and anger… the use of imagery can be tremendously helpful. Consider something like this:
I slammed the door then clenched my fists as I stomped out to the car.
Clenched fists, slamming doors, stomping… these are all words that provide tangible imagery to convey something intangible (anger). The best songwriters are able to convey complex emotions, stories, and the like by using imagery.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the ways you can write better lyrics, but to me, these three steps are at the core of every great lyrical endeavor. When you sit down to write that next great song, consider these and ask yourself, “do my lyrics follow these steps?”