‘3 a.m., in the morning’I give these lyrical excerpts a 10. A perfect 10. Because that is exactly the number of toes that curl when I hear these songs. They are all taken from Dutch artists; some more established than others, and it’s painfully obvious that they never had these lyrics screened by a native speaker. It doesn’t matter who wrote these songs, and it doesn’t matter who sang them. What matters is the fact that these songs are out there, done and dusted, and that the artist was completely satisfied with these lyrics.
‘Please explain me again’
‘Looking forward to see your face again’
‘You make my skin crawl’
This concerns me. Deeply. We all know that it’s human nature to remember the mistakes (Hello, Idols auditions, ‘Strong in my pants with his finger…’!) better than the good stuff. If you listen to these songs, it’s clear that there was a great deal of effort put into the song – into the music, the production, the arrangement, the melody, the harmony, the structure, the mixing, the mastering…. The lyrics? Not so much.
Please, don’t let your lyrics suck. Don’t let your lyrics grow up to be baddies. Every word has value, but it doesn’t mean that all of them belong in your song. Believe me. When you write a song, you’re sitting somewhere comfy, wearing your “troosttrui” (yes, I made that up), with your favorite coffee cup, and your Cheshire cat, Mr. Glitter, snuggled serenely on the sofa. You’re in your element, in your songwriter’s bubble - that’s where you belong; that’s where all the magic takes place. However, there is no guarantee that your message comes across in the way that you intended. My job as a coach is to poke a little hole in that bubble, and to let a little light in.
You can do a lot on your own, even without a coach. Here’s some tips:
- Make sure that you have grammatical symmetry in your lyrics. Say what, mama? This means that you don’t jump from one tense to another in the same phrase or verse without justification. For example, ‘I am walking down the street and I will miss you’ doesn’t make sense. You’re combining 2 different tenses here (am walking/will miss), and we’re confused as to why. How about ‘I am walking down the street and I’m missing you’. Here the tense is reinforced, which paints a clearer picture in the listener’s mind. The storyline is not fragmented, the visual imagery is stronger – everybody wins!
- Come up with a strong opening verse. If you’ve lost me in the first verse, you’ll have to work very hard to get me back. Chances are I’ve already moved on to another song, or another artist. God Bless Shuffle.
- Don’t be redundant. Please don’t tell me you’re crying sad tears. Or that the water is wet. Or that 3 a.m. is in the morning. Been there, done that, worn the T-shirt.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks with descriptive language. Use thesaurus.com as a tool to help you expand your vocabulary. Try to describe using all of your senses – how does it feel/taste/smell/etc? Don’t just focus on the visual. Also remember, describing what something is, is also describing what it is NOT. Flip it over, look at what’s on the other side. You and your listeners might be in for a real treat.
- Check your prepositions. My god, if I see another album with ‘We like to thank the people in the making off this album’ I will actually start slicing off my own toes in order to stop them from ever curling again. (There are 2 mistakes here…can you find them? I’m not telling you what they are. So sue me.)