So many songs deal with the same themes – love, life, loss – but great songwriters are able to make that story fresh. Why is it that when two songs promote the same idea, some sound powerful while others sound tired?
Here are five ideas you can try right now with your lyric writing to ensure that you’re telling your own unique story in a strong, vivid way.
1. Name it
One of the Beatles’ most well-known songs is “Eleanor Rigby.” The lyrics are forward and hard-hitting, in part because so many songs speak about the subject with pronouns, or even more descriptive titles like “mother,” “teacher,” or “bartender,” but so rarely use names. Attaching a name to the subject creates a more complete and complex persona for the listener to contemplate. You may not know Eleanor Rigby or Father McKenzie, but you can empathize with the feeling of loneliness.
2. Create sensory images
The use of specifics and sensory details to tell a story are what creates an impression for listeners, so that they can live that story every time they hear it. For example, in the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” Mick Jagger sings, “When I’m watchin’ my TV / And that man comes on to tell me / How white my shirts can be,” you can easily picture a living room scene with an ad on the TV. You may not have seen the same exact advertisements as Jagger, but you’ve seen commercialism affect authenticity and value. Painting a picture with your lyrics makes it more impactful because it stimulates the audience’s imagination.
3. Avoid cliches
It’s easy for an unpracticed songwriter to fall into the trap that lyrical cliches present. The problem does not lie in the fact that cliches instantly make a song bad – listeners could still enjoy the tune overall. The bigger problem is that cliches, by definition, are overused and produce very little emotional impact as a result. Otherwise well-crafted songs that are based on lyrical cliches will fade away, while more lyrically diverse and unique songs will live on.
4. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Think about the catchiest part of any of your favorite songs. We’d be willing to bet that part comes back several times! Using repetition with phrases or a musical hook is the most effective way to make a song stick with listeners and make it more cohesive. There must be something memorable in your lyrics in order for the audience to return to it. This phrase or word will likely be a good title for the song, and the melodic idea you attach to it will ensure the listener will be humming it all day.
5. Rethink your rhymes
It’s easy to use perfect rhymes at the end of every line. The simplicity of the perfect rhyme, however, creates a childish cadence that adds to the cliche of a less advanced musical work. To counter this, try slant rhyme – words that almost rhyme, but not perfectly – as long as it does the best job at telling the story of the lyrics.
Another way to change up the rhyme scheme is to put rhymes in less obvious places. Check out this example from “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G.:
Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight
Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade
Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner
He rhymes both at the end of the phrase and, occasionally, within the phrase as well. He also changes the rhyme scheme by first rhyming “limelight” with “tight” and “paid” with “trade,” and then the change comes when “sinner” rhymes with “dinner” as an internal rhyme, and again at the end of the phrase.
The emotions behind your songs may be true and real, but how you channel, construct, and deliver those emotions is what makes your story original and impactful. Try reworking your lyrics with these tips in mind so you can better connect with your listeners!