My 3 tips for writing great lyrics

A post by singer and guitarist Andrew Healey about writing lyrics.

I’m five weeks into working on my new album. How’s it going? Well, I haven’t recorded anything yet, but the song writing’s on track.

Let’s stay inside

Since my last post, I have finished another song. It’s called ‘Let’s just stay inside,’ which seems an apt title for the present time. I kind of broke my own rules with this song in that it’s not entirely new.  I wrote the music several years ago. Originally, the song as called ‘Pie in the sky.’ I’ve always been proud of the music. The lyrics, though, were, frankly, not very good. They also didn’t sit well with the theme of my album, which is day-to-day life in 2020 for my partner, Kathy, and me.

I never officially released ‘Pie in the sky,’ so I thought I’d rewrite the lyrics. Heck, I’m probably the only person on Earth who remembers the song’s existence, anyway.

The music has a languid jazz/blues vibe. So, my new lyrics are about a lazy day during lockdown when Kathy and I couldn’t bring ourselves to get out of bed. We didn’t have anywhere to go, and we were way too comfortable cocooned within our bubble, so what the heck!

Anyway, since starting my project, I’ve worked hard at the art of song writing. So, if you are on a similar musical journey to myself, here are my three tips for writing lyrics.

1: Finding those rhymes

I’ve mentioned previously that I work as a freelance writer. Words are my bread and butter. Ironically, though, I’ve often found it difficult to write lyrics. I don’t know why. I guess, though, unlike blogging, the words of a song have a predictable rhythm, they usually rhyme and, of course, they must gel with a melody. Switching writing styles takes practice.

In the old days, I’d spend hours brainstorming and scribbling down everything I could think of to find suitable rhyming words. There were rhyming dictionaries, which would have been useful, but I never used them. Maybe I thought that would be cheating. Who knows?

Anyway, in the year 2020, I have no qualms about using tools to make the song-writing process a little less painful. And, believe me, when it comes finding rhymes, the internet is your friend. There are heaps of websites, like the Ultimate Rhyming Dictionary and Rhymezone, that will conjure up hundreds of words that rhyme with anything you can think of. Check them out. You’ll save years of your life!

2: Fitting in time to write

If I have plenty of time to write lyrics, I set a timer and work in 45-minute units. Doing so forces me to write for small, manageable chunks of time. Much of what I dream up is unusable, but I come up with some good stuff, too. And, after two or three sessions, I usually produce lyrics that I’m happy with.

As well as freelance writing and playing gigs for a living, I work in a guitar store. It’s my safety net. To get to work, I take a bus (as I write, New Zealand is in level two, which means that busses can now take non-essential workers). I love public transport: There’s no need to navigate the gridlock that is Auckland’s motorways or find — and pay for — car parking. Also, during each trip, I have around 30 minutes to kill. So, I’ve started writing lyrics on my iPhone’s notes App while bussing to work. It works a brilliantly. And, once I’ve written something worthwhile, I copy it to a Microsoft Word App in Dropbox. Then, when I’m at home, I can continue writing the lyrics on my laptop. The App is also useful for recording lyrical ideas in the middle of the night because, as we know, cell phones self-illuminate, so there’s no need to switch on the bedroom light and wake up Kathy.

3: Edit, edit, edit

I used to be a terribly lazy lyricist — once I came up with something half decent, I’d consider my job done. For some reason, I have always cared more about the music. However, let’s face it: A song is 50/50 music and lyrics. To write a truly worthwhile song, equal effort must be applied to both. I want my album to be as great (don’t we all?). So, these days, I’m always editing my lyrics — even with ‘The sun is up,’ which is more or less finished. Only when I record the final take of a song will the lyrics — and music — be set in stone.

I believe feedback from others is important, too — I’m sure The Beatles wouldn’t have been half as good without their avuncular producer, George Martin. So, in I my case, I ask Kathy for her opinion. I reckon being part of a song-writing group would be a good idea, as well. Maybe I should join one.

Up-coming songs

I’ve plenty of musical ideas on the go. I’m still working on a song called ‘Situation lockdown’— I’ve got the lyrics, but I think the music needs some work. I’m also writing a song about Kathy. I love her facial expressions — she’s an open book. I’ve written most of the lyrics, and I’ve got some of the music, too. My challenge is to capture her sunny personality. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how I go.

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