Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lyric tips for songwriters

I get lots of questions about songwriting. This is, of course your inner voice, and so the subject belongs on "All Things Vocal" (don't cha think?) I intend to write a 3-part series on songwriting, beginning with my thoughts on writing great LYRICS.

In my humble opinion, no matter what the musical genre, a well-written song should have the following characteristics:

The Lyric-

  • should be written with intellegence and cleverness, avoiding trite phrases and cliches.

  • should try to say something unique about the subject. Drawing from true personal experience helps find the most unique perspective.

  • even if written third person, should be written from the vantage point of a participant instead of a spectator to the story. Writing from a personal vantage point makes is much stronger and more real than writing what you think someone else knows or wants to hear.

  • should be consistant in its language (if it's earthy, say it with "down-to-earth" language all the way through the song... if poetic, keep that voice going... if easily understandable with clear images, or if more obscure and symbolic as in many great pop songs, be sure it sounds like the same person talking in the whole song.

  • needs to say that which will make the listener connect with the singer on an emotional level, even if that level is just a happy or freed feeling.

  • should make the listener identify and actually like the singer (duh); the listener frequently will take on the singer's persona while listening.

  • should make the listener feel loved. Yes. Loved. ie... what would every woman want her man to say to her (and it could be "I'm sorry, I was wrong"!) What would every man want his woman to say to him? (and yes, it also could be "I'm sorry, I was wrong")

  • should bring the listener wisdom, anger at things done wrong, fun, story, drama, and/or empathy with hard places that actually point to solutions (I lost you and I learned how to be a better person, I lost you and learned how to love myself, I lost you and you're gonna miss me, I lost you and I will miss you but I can love again, I lost you but I love you enough to let you go and I'll be fine... etc.)

  • should not be "preachy". Instead... just tell the story and let your audience draw conclusions. They don't trust you when you condescend or preach, like you are smarter/better/wiser than them.

  • should not lead to hopelessness, unresolved hatred or violence towards others.

  • should if at all possible have an unexpected twist or two.

  • should have some kind of structured pattern of lines.

I'll give my songwriting suggestions for writing MUSIC on my next post. On my third post, I intend to suggest HOW you learn to do the things I mentioned, books you should study to develop your skills, what you need to know about co-writing, how to prime the pump of your inner muse, etc.

To make my next posts more interesting, I have questions for you:

  • what have I've forgotten?

  • what more would you like to know?

  • what are your favorite songwriting books?

  • who are your favorite songwriters?

  • what suggestions for successful songwriting do you have to pass along?

Please join the conversation by clicking the "comment" link below this post. Thanks!



  • At February 15, 2008 at 3:07 PM , Blogger LA said...

    Hi, Judy.

    To your second question: I'd be interested to know what would be some of your picks for the best-written songs. I'd also love to know who some of your favorite songwriters are.

    To your fourth question: I'd like to explore more songwriters. I identify songs more with their singers, but if I find a song I like, I bet it'd be neat to research what else the writer has written. As of now, some of my favorite songwriters are:

    SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: Pure poetry, even musically. Their songs tell stories but also have an emotional draw that's irresistible.

    JAMES BLUNT: I love "Goodbye My Lover." Universal and so true: He's breaking up with someone but acknowledging that he's also losing a friend.



    GRETCHEN PETERS: Wrote Trisha Yearwood's "On a Bus to St. Cloud" and Andy Grigg's amazing "If Heaven." Other songs by her I got off iTunes: "This Used to Be My Town," "When You Are Old" and "Main Street."

    AND MY NUMBER-ONE (besides Judy Rodman, of course):
    AMY GRANT: I hate and despise the pop songs she's put out. I think they're meaningless and silly. But, man, if you look past them ... check out one of her newer albums "Behind the Eyes." It just speaks to your soul. Her lyrics--from days of old to today--are so very honest. She's a Christian artist who's not preachy or holier than thou. She's just real. And she lets you into places your best friend might be hard-pressed to let you into. I'd like to know why in the world she puts out such crappy pop songs. I have never understood it and think it detracts from her amazing artistry.

    There's my rant and rave for the day!

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  • At February 17, 2008 at 12:19 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Leigh Ann... Awesome to get your list of your favorite songwriters - aad your great questions! I will use your questions to help me write the second post on songwriting. Thanks a million for commenting!

  • At February 17, 2008 at 4:12 AM , Blogger Billy Robbins said...

    The writer should establish a song title and or a hook or both early. The listener needs a thought to hum (either orally or mentally) all the way to the record store; i.e., your’ “GONNA BUY A ONE WAY TICKET…..”

    Kenny Rogers’ career was resurrected from the doldrums by the song LUCILLE. The setting for the song was barstools. The writer had never been to Toledo, Ohio, but he thought up this line that rhymed to initiate the action, “IN A BAR IN TOLEDO ACROSS FROM THE DEPOT”, which had no relationship to geographical truth. There is no bar across from the railroad depot in Toledo. The song title wasn’t established until the first line of the chorus.

    The gospel song, AMAZING GRACE, begins with the line, “AMAZING GRACE HOW SWEET THE SOUND”. This sets up the title and the two words are never used together again. The ex-slave ship captain who wrote it as a poem was inspired by the same word that most Christians use to indicate prayer before a meal. And Gospel record buyers still hum it on the way to the record store no matter what other song they are going for.

    A country song writer was standing in a line at a checkout counter in a grocery store. Two women were in front of him in a conversation. He never heard the question but the answer inspired a hit song he wrote. One woman showed the other her wedding ring and said, “this is a ONE MAN BAND”.

    So song writers, most of whom may never be inspired every day by his or her life’s encounters, should be constantly on the lookout for song titles or hooks.

  • At February 17, 2008 at 2:45 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Great comment!! and full of truth. You CAN write a great song from another person's perspective. You just have to be VERY observant. And there is such a thing as poetic license. I will talk about some of the issues you raise in my next post.


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