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How to Write a Song – Part Two – Lyrics, Theme, Title

How do I write the best song lyrics?

How to write a song - part two - title, lyrics, and theme of songwriting.

When writing lyrics, the first rule is never to take yourself too seriously.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all your lyrics must be deeply profound or meaningful to be considered worthy. To disabuse yourself of this notion, all you have to do is listen to today’s pop music to see that the bar for lyric writing these days is pretty low.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t aspire for something better. I only mention it to demonstrate that you don’t have to be a poet laureate to write hit songs these days.

In fact, you can get away with a lot more in songwriting than you can in poetry.

While in poetry, the words themselves are the music – when you write a song lyric, the effect of those lyrics work synergistically with the music they are sung over.

Often the music will convey emotion or profundity absent in the lyrics themselves.

Cliched words and images that might fall flat in a poem, can often be rendered extremely powerful and full of meaning in the hands of an accomplished singer and backing band.

What is my song about?

Theme – at it’s heart, songwriting is a search for theme.

What am I singing about?

The most common theme, as we all know, is romantic love. You can also write about trains and cars. Weather is also popular. You can choose to write about stormy nights, November Rain, Raindrops Falling on Your Head (although I think that one’s taken).

 

How do I find a good theme for my song? How do I come up with ideas for songwriting?

Then there’s protest songs, which were around long before Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan began singing about injustice.

You could also write about books, such as Lord of the Rings. Led Zeppelin’s Battle of Evermore, and Ramble On, as well as Rush’s The Necromancer, were all inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy.

Neil Peart, Rush’s lyricist, was a big fan of Ayn Rand. His songs, Anthem, Something For Nothing, and The Trees, were all inspired by Rand’s political novels.

Once you’ve got your theme selected, you’re almost ready to begin.

But first make sure you’ve got your songwriter’s quiver filled with the following arrows:

While these tools may not be absolutely necessary to write a good song, you’ll find them extremely helpful when searching for new ideas and selecting just the right word for each situation.

Point of View – POV

Just as when writing a story, when writing a song, you must decide who’s point of view you want to use.

Who’s voice is speaking in the song?

You can use first person:

“I was a dumb kid in love with a pretty prom queen…”

You can use third person:

“He was a dumb kid in love with a pretty prom queen…”

Or, you might even use second person:

“You were a dumb kid in love with a pretty prom queen…”

Occasionally some songs even alternate between first and second person, especially in duets:

“I was the dumb kid in love with a pretty prom queen…”

“You were the dork with the funny-looking shoes…”

Tell A Story

Your song can tell a little story if you choose. Perhaps a close friend of yours died young. Maybe you read an article or book about a tragic romance in which one or both lovers perished.

There’ve been songs about shipwrecks –The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot, and songs about the French Revolution –Bastille Day, by Rush

Tell a story that interests you as the writer!

You can always find good stories in books and magazines. Look for compelling human interest stories that grab you by the heart.

Titles

Sometimes simply coming up with a title can trigger the artistic process and result in a song.

Titles might pose a question or present a mystery.

  • She Wouldn’t Let Me Go There
  • The Things We Never Did
  • After She Left Me
  • Under the Cover

Wordplay – feel free to play around with words:

  • Maid In America
  • Bobby-Joe Loved Ewe (or so the rumor went)
  • Blew Blew Morning

Many people think writing a song is a generic step-wise process that comes about through following the same process every time.

The truth is, many songs come about spontaneously in a flash of inspiration, and could no more be planned than sitting down to write a hilarious joke.

The fact is, it rarely happens that way. Most of the better lyrics I’ve come up with were while writing letters or in conversation.

The wonderful thing about writing songs, is the complete lack of rules surrounding the craft.

No one can tell you a song you wrote was written incorrectly. The only constraints are the limitations placed on you by your own imagination.