Songwriting I -Writing Lyrics

As you just read in the Introduction to Songwriting, the songwriting process is not linear, so you will likely jump around between the material for weeks 6-10 as you're writing your song (especially if you're completing this course on your own). With that said, for the purposes of this course, we will start by writing the lyrics first. The goal is to have enough lyric material to fill a song by the end of this week. Then, once you add harmony and melody, you can choose to cut or add more lyrics.

Before you get writing, take a moment to look through the slides below. I talk about some ways to get started, and then provide examples of different lyric-writing styles. 

This week's process:

1. Find your concept: Some of you will find this easy, and some of you will find this very hard. If you've been catching seeds, you may have a number of inspiration points already, so pick any one! If not, that's okay, too. You may choose to write about a particular problem you're currently facing, something in the world you've been thinking a lot about, or something that happened in the past that you want to reflect upon. It also doesn't have to be that deep. Get out and be perceptive. A piece of artwork, a news headline, a person you see on the street, or an overheard conversation can all be concepts. At this stage your concept can either be very specific or very broad -- you'll narrow it down later. 

2. Brainstorm: Start with writing a list. Write your concept at the top of the page, set a timer for a few minutes, and write as many words or short phrases (1-3 words) that you associate with that concept. Don't critique your associations yet or question if they really belong on the page -- just write anything and everything that comes to mind.

Once you've done this, read through the list and highlight/circle the words & phrases that stick out to you the most. A common theme may become immediately obvious, but if not, do some thinking on how these words fit together to create a more specific topic. 

3. Focus in on your concept: Now that you've done some brainstorming, you should have a clearer idea of your concept. Write this concept in a couple of sentences. Try to answer the questions: who, what, when, where, and why? You don't have to discuss the answers to all of these in your lyrics, but answering these questions will help you get to the root of your concept. If you've chosen to write a narrative, briefly write the plot of the story. If you're focusing on a personal experience, be sure to capture the complexity of your thoughts and feelings. There may be contradictions (ex. "I love this person but being with them isn't good for me" or "I feel lonely but I like being alone") and that's perfectly fine. In fact, this makes for lyrics that go further beyond the surface. 

4. Free-write: Write the long version of your concept on the top of the page. Now, focus on writing lyric lines. You don't need to set a timer (unless you want to). Rather, write as many lyrics that relate to your concept as you can think of, and remember you don't have to do this in one sitting. You may write a lot of individual lines, or you may find that as you're writing some of your lines group together naturally. At this stage, don't worry about structure. 

5. Sorting through the weeds: Much like you did with the list activity, circle or highlight the lyric lines/sections that you feel are the strongest and best illustrate your concept. That doesn't mean you have to cut any lyrics that you don't highlight, but you will prioritize fitting in the highlighted lyrics the most.

6. Creating a structure: Look at what you have now. Using the lyric examples in the slides as a guide, determine which style best suits your lyrics. Remember that you can blend together multiple styles. Or, you may opt to work within a predefined poetic structure and adapt the lyrics that you have to fit those rules. Using the lyrics from your free-write, try to write enough lyrics for a whole song while keeping to some sort of form. You may define verses, choruses, and refrains, or have longer sections. It's likely that you'll have gaps in your lyrics at this point. Mark where you may want to add more lyrics, if that's the case. You can add lyrics throughout the week, or wait until you have a melody to work with. Finally, note that the amount of lyrics that go into a song is highly variable. Look at Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue" versus The 1975's "lostmyhead." Both songs run about 5 minutes.

Enjoy the process!

Songwriting is meant to be fun! Use this as an opportunity to express some of the things you normally wouldn't talk about. Don't worry about them being "perfect" (whatever that even means!). Any lyrics can work, as we've seen in the other songs we studied.