What makes good song lyrics?

Songwriting, songwriters, etc

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darkmage
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What makes good song lyrics?

Post by darkmage » Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:28 am

Hi thought I'd post and start a discussion on what makes great lyrics.My question for anyone:Do you think good lyrics have to do with how lyrics are sung or has it got more to do with the content and what is sung about, maybe a mixture of both, or could it be that a neither lyrics or vocals is a factor at say for instance, a live concert, where it could be that performance is the key, not just the lyrics or the way they are sung?Anyway, thought I'd pose the question to all who want to have a go at it. It's something I've always wondered about and i want to gain a further insight into what others think on the subject.DarkMage

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by superflux » Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:54 pm

Great question(s)!!We're having a heck of a time reconciling the advicethat one gets from all of the how-to books of Braheny and Davis etc., with the lyrics of a greatmany of the tunes that are getting cut.It's frustrating to be told by reviewers that "you really need to move the title from thebeginning to the end of the chorus" and thento turn on CMT and hear that the title of"Kerosene" (Miranda Lambert) appears once inthe whole tune,...buried in a verse.Then you watch some awards show andhear Beyonce sing for 3 minutes on no otherlyric than "I love you." (Seriously.)Obviously, there are lots of songs that canbe held up as examples of the tenets of good lyric writing - particluarly in the country genre. But when one examines many pop rock hits, even lots of venerated ones, you don't find"stories" or learn why the singer is mad or sad,or why the person left or whatever. You usuallyget one emotion restated a couple of times - usually through the use of a few hackneyed phrases.What to do, what to do?!?!?!Steve

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by nomiyah » Wed Dec 21, 2005 6:50 pm

The first thing that stands out when you hear a great song is the emotion. But tone of voice, choice of words, melody and music production are also important factors.I think the reason Beyonce sounds good is because of the emotion and tone of voice she puts into every song.The rules found in songwriting books are just suggestions of what could make a song better. And it gives you an idea of what people trained in songwriting are looking for when they're screening your songs.People love a song that expresses something they feel. Hearing it they feel understood, less alone. Maybe that's why a certain song can affect someone so much.Nomi

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by darkmage » Thu Dec 22, 2005 3:31 am

I tend to agree with you Steve, hence the reason for the questions in the first place.It seems a lot of the time there is no rhyme nor reason why a song does well.Sometimes it seems to just have good hooks, sometimes, controversial lyrics, other times, just some girls in a filmclip for all the blokes to have a goggle at.I guess its personal opinion as to what makes a great song and great lyrics.I've written so many lyrics and sometimes think "This would sell well as people would understand what is happening in my mind at the time on writing it and have probably gone through similar crap in their lives."Other times I write and find myself knowing what I'm writing is crap at the time I write it.From what I've read on the TAXI forums and elsewhere, it seems that a lot of these "crap" songs (the ones you think are crap, yourself anyway) end up being the hits. Anyway, guess its a question that maybe doesn't have an answer even, or if it does, maybe its a bit of either luck or coincidence, or both that make a hit song.Only takes one record producer who thinks they can make money out of the song to back it.That's what the game's all about in the end.DarkMage

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by rook1870 » Thu Dec 22, 2005 5:11 am

Well I'll jump in with both feet.... IMO, a great song is in the ears of the listener (much like what you all have said); however, I am partial to the story telling model. Most of your pop songs these days work on the "Hook" model, where as they find a solid hook, and work around that for the entire song. "Oops I did it again" comes to mind. The genre of the music heavily dictates the lyrical style, as country is more prone to story telling, and pop is more prone to the hook, groove; philosophy. a lot of this could be based on the mean age group of each genre. Let's face it, us older listeners are more apt to appreciate a song that tells a story that reminds us of a time in our lives; where as a younger listener wants to sing along with that strong hook and dance along with the beat. All of this being said, if you are asking what makes a strong lyrical song; I would say telling a story, with strong, memorable hook(s), and a strong dramatic singer. ((think about Meatloaf singing "I'll do anything for love", or "Two out of three ain't bad)).If you are asking what is marketable, then there is no right answer. We have pop songs that repeat the hook over and over, that are hits. We have storytellers that are hits. We have weak lyrics sang by strong singers that are hits.(think 80's hair bands).That's my two cents... and no you can not have a refundHave a happy holiday,Rook

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by hummingbird » Thu Dec 22, 2005 6:25 am

Q: What makes a hit song a hit song?A: Payola.The record companies pay the radio stations to play the songs of their artists so they get on the charts, that's why songs that Taxi reviewers would tear to shreds make it on radio.That being said, I'm sure those songs are chosen because there is something in them that the music execs feel would appeal to the audience.H
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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by valeriewynn » Thu Dec 22, 2005 1:54 pm

I thought I'd throw in my two cents. To me, what makes good lyrics is something said in a unique or unexpected way. Generic songs are pretty easy to write, but the challenge is to express something that's been said a million times before in a way that makes the listener go.......oh, I hadn't thought of it that way.....or, what he/she is saying really touches me.I'm a big fan of words (although this post is not a good example of that!), and I tend to collect examples of words or phrases that I like, and I later try to incorporate them into a song. I have a file of song ideas, and some of the entries are simply phrases that I like.(Now back to the backward mic discussion..... )

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by matto » Thu Dec 22, 2005 7:37 pm

Hmm, interesting...so is the question really "what makes a great lyric" or is it "why are my songs being rejected when they're as good (or better) than 'the stuff on the radio'?" Two very different questions. If it's the former, Valerie pretty much hit the nail on the head. You can look at tons of great song lyrics from all styles of music and what you'll find is that most often the song is expressing a common emotion or situation everybody can relate to, but says it in a unique, poignant and fresh way. The lyric usually also has a "monolithic" appearance, every word seems to be a perfect fit and not one could be substituted without weakening the song. That's a great lyric.If it's the latter, we need to realize that there are many factors determining whether a song gets on the radio. Whether the song is any good is just one of them, and whether it has a great lyric is merely a subset of one of them. Look at Beyonce...she's beautiful, can really sing and more important than anything else she's a superstar. She can write whatever she wants. It could be crap, but you can be sure it'll get on the radio. Of course back in the early D C days she wasn't a star yet (although she was beautiful and could sing), so she din't get to write much and most of the songs were written for her by well connected producers. The point is: Superstars write songs. Well connected producers write songs. Professional songwriters write songs. Hipster bands write songs. Paris Hilton writes songs. What all these people have in common is they have a much better chance of getting their songs on the radio than you and me. Even without payola (which btw has rather limited success).So, if you and me want to succeed, we need to write great songs, which includes great lyrics. You should compare your songs to the radio, but only the very best songs on the radio matter. Ours need to be as good as or better than those.If you compare your songs to the average stuff you hear, you may think you're good enough, but alas the playing field is far from level.Besides I really don't think you can succeed in a field as competitive as songwriting by aspiring to be "good enough".matto

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by superflux » Fri Dec 23, 2005 7:47 am

Well, as usual Matto puts it all in perspective for us.One should bear in mind, however, that we're all herebecause we're trying to succeed in the music business.Consequently, even if it is not overtly stated, thequestion "why aren't my songs succeeding?" is boundto be a leitmotif here. This colors the discourse, but itdoesn't necessarily invalidate it.Just because the participants reference their ownwriting experience in the dialog, it's not necessarily fair to dismiss a thread like this as being the same old"my songs are better than the crap on the radio" whining. Some of us DO know we're not there yet,and are okay with not getting forwards (yet). That's why we're asking the questions. We're tryingto figure out HOW to get there, and some of the signposts appear on the surface to be contradictory.I should have been more clear. I really like "Kerosene". I'm not saying that it shouldn't be on the radio at all.What I'm asking is how a song made it to the airwaveswhen it was written by a brand new artist and breaks one of the huge rules of country songwriting.I guess Matto answered the question pretty well, though.Miranda Lambert just beat the odds. She wrote a goodsong that defies some conventions and got awaywith it. If we want to increase our odds of successwe'd better learn the rules and write better songs.I admit the Beyonce reference was just a shot ather for riiffing for 3 minutes. YUCK!!!!!!Thanks for ANOTHER reality check, Matto,Steve

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Re: What makes good song lyrics?

Post by matto » Fri Dec 23, 2005 8:43 am

Quote:Miranda Lambert just beat the odds. She wrote a goodsong that defies some conventions and got awaywith it. Not really, Steve...you may not be aware of this, but she was on "Nashville Star" and came in third. The huge amount of exposure and publicity is what got her signed and gave her some clout, as she obviously had a pretty decent audience ready to buy her album. To be fair though, unlike a lot of the "Idol" contestants, she'd been writing songs and performing more or less professionally for at least 3 years before "Star". But she herself has said that the show saved her from at least another 5 years of playing Honky Tonks...Like I said...the playing field is far from level...

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