Reddit

If you haven’t discovered Reddit’s We Are the Music Makers then you really should – it is a great place to get feedback, advice, and even exchange skills with folks from across the industry.

Recently, a great thread appeared about lyric writing. Some of the best comments included

English Literature student here. The most common problem with people trying to write song lyrics (or poems) is that they’re not sure exactly what they want to talk about, so they start off just saying random things that seem to fit and piece it all together later.

I suggest you write out, in plain English, what the central message is. Then elaborate on it (plain English still). When you have a few bullet points, then try turning that into more poetic, song-fitting words.

The major benefit of this technique is that you avoid cliches and boring phrases more easily. If you wrote “I miss you” in your plain English version, you’ll want to come up with something more creative for the actual song, but because you’ll know what you’re really trying to say, it’ll all come out making more sense. Hope this helps.

I like to come up with a working title before I write a song. It helps focus all the emotion. This is critical when writing with others. Everyone needs to get one same idea or the lyrics will be directionless and abstract and weird.

and this analysis of what makes for bad lyrics:

The story/message of the song is not interesting. Write what you know. If you’re not writing interesting songs maybe it’s because you’re not that interesting. What are you reading? Who are you listening to? What characters are you encountering that can inform you perspective? It doesn’t have to be classic literature but I think that if you’re going to be writing words there should be some component of reading involved. Personally I’m a fan of Douglas Coupland, Donald Westlake and Brandon Sanderson but even the Harry Potter series has great characterization.

Your songs make too much sense. I think that when you first start writing you’ll really want to make sure you’re point comes across: “Ok… this song is about this girl I liked who didn’t like me and I had feels left and right and that’s what the song is about” But after writing 50 of those songs you’ll figure out that sometimes the meaning comes later. I think that’s OK. Sometimes you’ll just be messing around with a few phrases that sound interesting and then you’ll realize that you’re sort of talking about these kids you had a fort with in elementary school. Some songs are a series of photographs and some are like a bunch of disjointed watercolor paintings. Both of those can be pretty great if you do them well.

You’ve got to work through all the shitty rhymes and boring clichés in hopes that you’ll find some interesting stories to tell.