The late Amy Winehouse tribute album Lioness: Hidden Treasures has been making waves on the UK music charts, securing the #1 spot just days after its release. Although the posthumous album has had its share of drama and questionable reviews, the collection – with its mix of covers and raw, unfinished tunes polished up by the producers – seems fitting in depicting Amy as the troubled, tattered star that she was.
As she sings at the start of “Best Friends, Right?”: “I can’t wait to get away from you/ Unsurprisingly you hate me too/ We only communicate when we need to fight/ But we are best friends…right?” It seems so simple, yet paints the picture pretty clear.
Even for artists like Amy, writing lyrics can be a daunting task. Luckily, you don’t need to defy rehab to end up with a Grammy-nominated tune. Here’s a taste of 10 songwriting how-to’s, courtesy of musicradar.com, to get you started:
1. Practice. Like any other creative process, such as playing guitar or programming synth sounds, lyric-writing is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.
2. Try to have a clear idea of what the song is about. You should be able to sum up the essence of the song in one sentence.
3. Make sure the song has a clear structure and progression. This is particularly important in narrative songs (songs that tell a story). A quick test is to read the finished song through from start to finish, asking yourself “does this make sense?”
4. Use context. Adding a back-story to explain the situation can add interest, and can change the entire meaning of any lyrics following it.
5. Use perspective. For example, a classic songwriting trick is to describe an event in the first verse, and add perspective by describing how it affected you or made you feel in the second verse. Another viewpoint can put an interesting spin on an otherwise straightforward point.
6. Choruses require a different approach to verses, especially if you’re writing pop. They often need to be more ‘plain’ and easy to remember. A common trick is to write the ‘setup’ during the verse, and the emotional ‘payoff’ in the chorus.
7. Don’t feel that using imagery will make your lyrics too artsy or flowery. Used well, it can evoke emotions or moods that can’t be created by using blunt description alone.
8. Experiment with attitude. Songs can be humble, arrogant, hopeful, somber, aggressive and more. Creative droughts can often be tackled by radically changing the outlook of your lyrics. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be yourself, but a bit of experimentation won’t hurt.
9. Be aware of the ‘sounds’ of words. Words have an inherent sound to them which becomes even more pronounced when sung rather than spoken. Some words sound open, some blunt, and some roll off the tongue. Take the sound as well as the meaning of the word into account when writing.
10. Consider the rhyming scheme, if there is one. It’s important to remember that how ‘catchy’ your song ends up is not just a product of the music and melody; it also comes from the lyrics, especially the rhythm and rhyming scheme.
Remember: there isn’t a cut-and-dry formula to writing lyrics, so it’s important to figure out what works best for you. And when the inspiration hits, don’t waste any time getting your thoughts out on paper!
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Image courtesy of blog.vh1.com.