Writing song lyrics is a lot like writing a short story, though admittedly a very short story. They can have everything a short story should have: characters, conflicts and plots. Plus a repetitive chorus to give weight to a particular point and stick in the listener’s memory to be recalled at random intervals.
Of course not all lyrics are like this. Some musicians see them as an afterthought, something that is inferior to the melody, harmony and rhythm. Some songs lyrics can seem perfectly sensible as you sing along with your radio on the dull drive to work, but if you’ve ever seen those lyrics written down, without the aid of music, you might see them in a less flattering light.
For me though, songs with a story are the most powerful. My favourite is Lonestar’s ‘My Front Porch Looking In’. This song has amazing imagery, both in terms of the scenery and the family that are described. I might not have a front porch on which to sit, but this song always makes me think about my own family and how grateful I am to have them. A good song, just like a good story, has the ability to make you feel something.
What are your favourite lyrics and why? Do you search for the meaning behind the words that your favourite group or solo artist sings? Do their words resonate with you, enabling you to draw something from the track other than just an appreciation of the music?
The challenge of writing song lyrics is to embed a story within a few short lines, often rhyming ones, which have a rhythm that will enable them to be put to music. When I write lyrics I hear music in my head. They come with their own soundtrack built in. I can’t necessarily say that it’s a particularly good soundtrack, but given my only method of communicating this to anyone else would be to sing it, I am my only audience. It’s better for everyone that way.
This means that my lyrics live on the pages of my note books in silence. Their stories are known only to me. For a set of lyrics this seems like a flat sort of half-life.
As well as being a self-contained short story, song lyrics can also be great sources of inspiration for writing your own stories. Here’s a challenge for you; listen to the words of a song playing on the radio and try freewriting your own story based on the lyrics. I’d love to see what you come up with.