“How can I write good lyrics?”
The answer seems simple: write about something that inspires, touches and moves you. That’s the fundamental factor that will make things easier and allow you to write a great and heartfelt song.
But even then, how can we make sure our lyrics are not boring or predictable? After all, songwriters from all over the world have been writing songs for centuries…
A good way to achieve that is to find new ways to talk about “old stuff”.
If you’re going to talk about love, for example, you may want to find a better line than simply “I love you”, “your eyes are beautiful”, etc… John Mayer came up with “Your Body Is A Wonderland”, a sweet and interesting way to express his love towards his girlfriend. And that song won Mayer a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2003!
A great tool available in literacy to make our lines interesting is figures of speech, which is “figurative language in the form of a single word or phrase”. It usually takes longer to explain them than giving few examples, so here are a few of them that I like to use.
One of my favourite figure of speech is the metaphor. Do you remember from school what a simile is? Something like “You’re beautiful like a flower”? Right, the metaphor is the same thing but does not use “like” or “as”. In this case, it would be “You’re a flower”.
An example may be “Love is a razor and I walked the line on that silver blade” from “The Evil That Men Do” by Iron Maiden. What better way to say that love hurts and the main character of the song is heartbroken?
Another popular figure of speech is the oxymoron, which puts together two contradictory elements, like Simon & Garfunkel’s famous song “The Sound Of Silence”. How can silence make any sound??
The number of figures of speech available to us songwriters is huge. Just have a look at some of them and get inspired: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_speech
You may also find unusual and clever images to describe a specific situation or topic.Take “Hide And Seek” by Imogen Heap for example. Take the line that goes “The dust has only just begun to fall, crop circles in the carpet, sinking, feeling”. I remember my songwriting teacher saying that line refers to when Imogen broke up with her boyfriend, who then moved out from the house they used to live in. Those circles are the marks left by the furniture, which prevented the dust from falling on some portions of the floor. Now the furniture has been taken away and those circles are visible on the floor, which tells us somebody has moved out. WOW!
Good songs often picture images that strike people’s imagination.
Think of Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room”, which gives a strong and vivid idea of what the relationship between the author and her girlfriend feels like.
And what about Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”?”We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl”… That line always made my imagination take over!
Let’s keep in mind that all these devices are just “spices” that you want to put on top of “good food”, that is a good story that moves you, to make it “tastier”. If the food is “bad”, as in if you don’t feel inspired or don’t know what to write about, just take the time to listen to and get inspired by a great song like the following, where all the elements we’ve seen today have been used:
Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (originally written by Leonard Cohen)