If you ask me the MOST important thing about songwriting, and want a short answer so that you can get on with your day, here it is: It’s All About the Lyrics.
In a Hurry?
Here’s a quick answer that will get you on your way. If somebody asks you “what’s that song about?”, are you going to tell them it’s about the drum sound? Or the guitar riff? No, you’re going to tell them the story, the opinion, the call-to-action, that live within your song’s WORDS. Now, feel free to go drink your coffee.
Okay, you’re sticking around for more. Glad to see you!
One by One
Let’s isolate the parts of your song. NOT the parts of your recording, the parts of your SONG. The melody, the lyrics, the harmony, the groove – the elements that identify your song regardless of whether you’re spinning the final master recording or singing along to your acoustic guitar.
Try presenting any one of these elements on their own:
- Just the harmony (the movement of chords). Intriguing.
- Just the groove (the rhythm of changes; the suggestions of how I should move if I’m going to dance to your song). Okay, you’ve got me bobbing my head and tapping my feet.
These elements tap into our human experience. They’re essential to how music stimulates our brain. They are the moment, but they are not the message.
Now try Just the melody. Pretty. Maybe a little moody. I like it. And I can remember it enough to hum it later. That’s good. But it doesn’t really tell me a story.
If you want to break my heart, brighten my day, call me to action, rock the establishment or give me a musical hug, the most power for your message is in THE LYRICS.
So now try presenting Just the lyrics… Okay, I get what you mean, what you want me to take away, what you want me to think about, what you have to offer me to enhance my being.
Or maybe I don’t…
Make it Last Longer Than a Moment
If anyone ever listens to your music and doesn’t respond to your message – doesn’t cry, smile, laugh, or pick up a protest sign – it’s because of a failing in your lyrics. It has much less to do with your melody, your harmony or your groove (although each of these can betray your song as well).
Putting together a lyric that makes sense is harder than building a melody that makes sense, a harmony that makes sense, or a groove that makes sense. This is why songwriters take longer building a lyric than any other piece of the puzzle. And if they don’t, they should, because a half-baked lyric will kill your song’s chances of actually connecting with a listener. Without a good lyric, your song has a moment, and then the moment is gone.
So yes, I’ll take a stand and argue that It’s All About the Lyrics. Except for when it’s all about the melody – which is what I’ll argue next time…
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