24 January, 2006

lyrics 101

I don't know much about songwriting, but I know what I like. Okay, so that's not entirely true. I do know a fair bit about songwriting, mostly through sitting at my piano with a pencil between my teeth trying not to cry because the FUCKING WORDS JUST WILL NOT BEHAVE!!! This has made me a bit of a lyrics-snob.

Here are the top 10 rules for writing song-lyrics, in mindlessmunkey's not-very-humble opinion:

1 ~ No-one wants to hear a transcript of your latest therapy session set to music. Writing is always about expression, but don't get too personal. Remember: if you write literal, it’s only about you. If you write lateral, it can be about anyone who’s listening.

2 ~ Don't rhyme “...on my knees” with “...begging please”. It’s been done too many times.

3 ~ Don't rhyme “...hands in the air” with “...just don’t care”. It’s shithouse and always has been.

4 ~ Use non verbal sounds like "Hmmm", "La la la", "Grrr", "Arrrgh" etc sparingly. It makes it sound like you couldn't think of anything to say. (Remember Crash Test Dummies' Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm? It screams cop out.) "Hmmm" works best when immediaely preceded by the phrase, “Things that make you go”.

5 ~ The name of the artist/group should never be mentioned in the lyrics, e.g. “Backstreet’s Back”, etc. It is a cheap marketing ploy to ensure teens and morons will remember who to ask for when thy go into their local Sanity.

6 ~ Unless you are Leonard Cohen, do not try and sing a letter.

7 ~ If you self-consciously use fashionable slang and vernacular, your songs will NOT age well... also, you sound like a try-hard.

8 ~ If you’re going to get political, have something more interesting to say – or at least say it more interestingly – than your average First Year Arts student.

9 ~ Stucture, people! It doesn't have to be verse, chorus, verse, chorus repeat; it doesn't need to have a neat middle-eight followed by an instrumental... there is no requirement to follow a conventional structure. But it needs to have shape. It needs to start somewhere and go somewhere and leave you somewhere.

10 ~ If your song is purely for yourself, save it for the shower. Music is about inclusion and communication. Don't forget that someone will be listening.

Okay. I will crawl back under my rock now.



Anonymous Lili said...

6 ~ Unless you are Leonard Cohen, do not try and sing a letter.

This immediately made me think of the OTHER kind of letter, and I was just about to retort and say, 'What about C is for Cookie!'. Then I realised you were talking about the to/from kind, not the alphabet kind.

January 24, 2006 12:32 pm  
Blogger Afe said...

You forgot "never rhyme 'maybe' and 'baby'."

Although I can't talk. I've perpetrated that crime, albeit in my early days.

January 24, 2006 12:41 pm  
Blogger mindlessmunkey said...

You're right Lilikens, THAT kind of letter often yields wonderful results. "C Is for Cookie", "I Stand Up Straight And Tall", "Dee Dee Dee", "Would You Like To Buy An O?" ...all classics.

But in terms of to/from type letters, it's hard to get away with, outside of "Famous Blue Raincoat". Ahh Lenny... *sigh*


As for maybe/baby you're absolutely right Afe. But I couldn't include EVERY bad, overused rhyme ever to appear in a trashy song. I would be here forever.

And indeed, we are most of us guilty of these sins, at some point. The imporant thing is that we now know better, and thus have the right to judge others.

January 24, 2006 12:51 pm  
Anonymous Reth10 said...

I didn't know Leonard Cohen wrote "To All the Girls I've Loved Before".

Small world.

January 24, 2006 1:03 pm  
Blogger B.Wabbit said...

I was given kudos one day by my drummer who said: Man yr the only guy I know who can write a word like "invariably" into a song that sounds like a "The Cult" pisstake...

January 25, 2006 12:09 am  
Blogger mindlessmunkey said...

That is pretty impressive, Mr Doull. I think the best word I've ever managed to slot into a song is "simulacrum" in a folky Bob-Dylan-esque number. Fun and games...

January 25, 2006 2:58 pm  

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