Writing a catchy song that delivers a strong message can be quite difficult. Here, voice teacher Emmanuel N. shares the songwriting tips you can glean from several famous singers…
When it comes to lyric-writing and songwriting, nobody can really teach you how to do it – it’s better to show by example. Whether you’re simply writing lyrics to a song you will one day sing (or someone else will sing for you) or you’re songwriting to a musical piece you found or created, you will have your own unique style. Songwriting and lyric-writing are some of the few artistic skills that are difficult to truly teach.
There are some songwriting tips and suggestions that can be very beneficial, but there is no real “by the book” way of writing lyrics for a song. So, the next best thing is offering examples of great songs by some very talented artists and songwriters. Although the artists listed below may not be the top singer-songwriters of all time, they represent a range of genres, including R&B (my specialty).
Listen to the lyrics in the tunes below, then check out my notes on what you can learn from each about writing songs:
“Looking At Her” – Paul McCartney [written by Paul McCartney]
- Matching the melody of the vocals with the melody of the song is not a bad thing. Don’t be afraid to do what Paul did at [1:40] in the bridge where his vocals match the main melody of the music (“Doesn’t she know…”).
“Nobody Ever Told You” – Carrie Underwood [written by Carrie, Lindsey, and Laird]
- When writing a song with a positive message, making it personal gives the song a stronger meaning. Carrie does this in the first verse as she talks about how beautiful she is despite what society says. At [0:21], for example, she says “…Don’t be shy, don’t be scared…” when pertaining to showing your real self.
- Using similes in a song makes the lyrics more beautiful and poetic. Carrie does this at [0:51] and [2:20] with her chorus and bridge to give the listener a more vivid picture of just how beautiful they are (“You shine like a diamond, glitter like gold… you’re free as a bird… just like a flower growing wild.”)
“Looking In” – Mariah Carey [written by Mariah Carey & Afanasieff]
- Similar to Carrie Underwood’s song, you’ll notice that getting personal in a song makes it that much more emotional and powerful. At [1:23] Mariah continues her second verse describing some girl by using “she,” yet not telling us who it is. She ends the verse by revealing this “she” was Mariah herself all along (“…and hides herself inside of me”), making it very personal.
- Don’t be afraid to be passionate, emotional, and show your frustration. The bridge at [1:51] is short but straight to the point; Mariah exclaims her frustration on the lack of people understanding her pain and where she is coming from (“Don’t say she takes it all for granted… Please understand”).
“You Said” – Keri Hilson [written by Keri Hilson]
- Having each line in a chorus start off the same is a good way to grab someone’s attention – and it makes the song catchy. Keri’s chorus at [0:48] starts off each line with “Thought you said…” to capture that feeling of annoyance we get when we’ve been lied to repeatedly.
- The bridge of a song is the perfect place to get real and just say it like it is – and if you’re going to repeat it, add some harmonies like she did. At [2:11] Keri gets to the point and tells her boyfriend he lost her trust (“…now I can’t believe a word that comes from you”).
“Cry” – Mariah Carey [written by Mariah Carey & James Wright]
- When the music gets stronger and more powerful, let loose and let those emotions out. During the bridge, as the piano chords get stronger, Mariah gets dynamic as she lets those emotions out at [3:06]. “…So naked…” is extended vocally to let the emotions sink in, in between emotional lyrics.
“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga [written by Gaga and Laursen]
- Adding a message in the intro of a song has a good chance of capturing the listener’s attention. Lady Gaga does this in the beginning of her song with, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M…” to provide a sort of prologue to the song.
- Don’t be afraid to use the title of your song throughout the entire song itself. Lady Gaga mentions “born this way” in the intro, first verse, chorus, bridge, and outro several times to truly stress that we really are born this way (regarding what makes us different, so that we learn to love ourselves and each other).
“My Everything” – Ariana Grande [written by Ariana et al.]
- Use a specific theme to give your message more dimension. At [1:10] Ariana uses the theme of distance and time to show the strain that distance has on her relationship. With “I know you’re not far… can’t handle all the distance… you’re traveling with my heart… temporary feeling,” you can see the theme play out nicely and poetically.
So there you have it, some examples that showcase how creative you can get when writing songs. I have written more than 100 songs and I learned by listening to songs that inspire me or make me feel something. Hopefully these songs help you in your endeavor of creating masterpieces and will lead you down the path to becoming a successful singer-songwriter!
Editor’s Note: Want even more examples of great songwriting? We love this resource by Robin Frederick, detailing the strategies behind several hit songs, including the lyrics, structure, and melody of each.
Photo by Roger Blackwell