From operas to pop ditties, writing good lyrics is a keystone skill of any good musician. Whether you write ska or punk, art songs or song cycles, here are five ways to write better lyrics.
Lyricism is a form of poetry, and so it stands to reason that reading (and writing) poetry can make you a better lyricist. Read all forms you can get your hands on, from pantoums to iambic pentameter, by poets from all over the world. You'll eventually land on a few forms and poets you really love – and will inform your lyrics writing.
Listen to (a LOT) of Music
Of course, almost all musicians are total music junkies, and we waltz through the word to our own eternal playlists. But listening thoughtfully is a whole other level. Listening thoughtfully means mentally recognizing themes – like love, death, humor, or sadness – rhyme schemes, word flow, vocabulary, and everything else that we see and hear in the use of language. Pay close attention to vocal music that really moves you, both melodically and linguistically. Figure out why you love it, and if you want to model your own work after those styles.
No one ever became a brilliant lyricist overnight, so make sure you practice! Writing lyrics frequently – even if you wind up not using them on that next album – will help you develop your chops and really flesh out your personal style. Sing or speak them aloud – how do they sound? Do they have the impact you're looking for? Try sharing them with other musicians as well to see what they have to say – constructive feedback can help you grow.
Themes are incredibly important in good writing. Some writers make thematic lists that they consult before they sit down to write, and if you're the kind of person who likes to take things in steps, this might be a great method for you. Whether you want to write about death and zombies or love and romance, read material that features those themes and their offshoots.
While that old saw “nothing's original” certainly has something to it, rehashing old work over and over – whether yours or someone else's – is never the way to go. If all your lyrics sound the same – or sound too much like someone else's – consider what you might need to do to develop. Maybe you need more practice, more study, or more feedback; maybe you need to expand your subject matter. It's impossible to be influenced by other writers without some similarities cropping up, but make sure you're not just regurgitating.
Lyrics writing isn't just for performing artists – whole teams of lyricists work for record companies and studios, contributing their talents to some of the most famous voices of the day. Whether you write for yourself or for other musicians, becoming a good lyricist is yet another key to success in the music industry.