Well hello my friendly friends! Tyler Preston here, back with another lesson for you. In this post we’re going to talk about how to write amazing lyrics for your next hit song.
Now, I’ve got a lot of information to get to you, so let’s get to it.
1. You need a great title + and your first line has to slap
To write amazing lyrics, you’ve got to start with two things: a great title and a great first-line.
Let’s talk title
A great title is a compelling title that asks the listener a question and encourages them to give the song a lesson. Great titles also make great choruses, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
The two titles that I have on my mind today are ‘All of Me’ by John Legend and ‘the 1’ by Taylor Swift.
‘All of Me’ is a love song that talks about how the speaker is going to give all of himself to his love. That’s a compelling thought. But on the surface, All of Me sort of asks a question: what all are you referring to, exactly? What does this title mean? It gets the listener thinking, it gets them curious.
And then on the flip side, we’ve got Taylor Swift’s opening song from Folklore, ‘the one’. which is a great title because it immediately evokes the soul-mate myth, or the idea that there’s one person out there that we’re destined to be with for the rest of our lives.
This idea is very persistent in our culture and finds its way into most of our storytelling. However, Taylor takes it and is very playful with it— she turns it upside-down with her chorus, which is:
wouldn’t it have been fun, if you would have been the one?
So she takes this soulmate idea and sort of flips it and undoes the cliché, but you can’t tell that right off of the title. So this title is like an iceberg. You can see a bit sticking up above the surface, catching your attention, but there’s a lot more to it underneath.
After the title comes a great first line
The next thing your song needs is an amazing first line.
The first line of your song must be compelling. If it doesn’t immediately draw the listener into the story, then it hasn’t done its job properly.
Of course, there’s tons of songs out there with crappy first lines. But that just means that a great first line is worth its weight in gold. For instance, take the opening of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey:
Just a small town girl in a lonely world, she caught the midnight train going anywhere
Ah, what a line! You could go anywhere with that line. Literally. That’s what she’s doing. Going anywhere. This is universal imagery, full of possibility and opportunity, and it immediately draws us in.
You don’t even have to be a “small-town” person to understand it. We all know what it feels like to be standing on a train platform, or waiting for a plane, getting ready to blast off to another place where we hope that our life will be better.
So that’s a great first line. It immediately draws the listener in and hooks them, and then you’re off to the races.
Pay attention to your rhyme structure
The next thing you need to write amazing lyrics is a well-constructed rhyme structure.
It should be fairly consistent. But it shouldn’t be boring or sing-songy. For instance, you shouldn’t use the same exact end rhyme throughout the whole song. That would be lame.
round brown Around town sound Mound
Trying to force a song out of all those words, just because they rhyme, and only using that one rhyme sound at the end of our lines? That would be boring.
But if we consistently say something like
Mary had a little lamb
its fleece was white as snow A
everywhere that Mary went
the lamb was sure to go A
In this verse, the first and third lines are lyrical, meaning they don’t rhyme; while the second and fourth lines do rhyme, which means they are melodic.
Lines 2 and 4 are perfect rhymes, meaning that they have the exact same sound at the end.
But a common technique for songwriters is to use a slant rhyme. Something like:
Round / Town
Cat / Bad
A slant rhyme is when a rhyme contains a similar, but not exactly the same, sound as the line it’s paired with. And when it comes to creating a consistent rhyme scheme that allows you to develop a compelling narrative, slant rhyme is your friend.
Which brings me to my next point…
Your lyrics must speak before they sing
If your lyrics don’t sound natural when read aloud without the melody and the harmony to support them, then they’re not as good as they could be.
So, as you’re writing, step back and make sure you’re assessing your verbs, tenses, and conjunctions, and all other things that go into creating a natural phrase.
The most compelling songs are those that feel like they were simply spoken by someone, and then put into a melodies.
Pro tip: to get a great feel for this, check out Broadway. The lyric writing for Broadway musicals is the best in the world, and will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about, ie, getting your lyrical phrasing to ring naturally.
Great titles make great choruses
This is key: If you have a great title, you have a great chorus.
Now, you can spin your title a lot of different ways, and I’m not going to go into all of them today, that will be for another lesson. But here’s a few ideas:
You can use your title at the beginning of your chorus. You can use your title at the end of your course. Your chorus can just be your title repeated over and over again.
Think about Poker Face by Lady Gaga: She says:
my my my poker face, my my poker face
….about a million times.
It’s a great title, it makes a compelling hook, and it doesn’t need anything else. Easy peasy.
Remember that you’re telling a story, use the narrative arc
The last thing I want to cover today is the narrative arc within songwriting.
When you’re writing lyrics, you have to keep in mind that you’re crafting a story.
The first verse is the first chapter of the story, and the chorus is going to be a sort of summary.
So it would be like…
first verse: I feel this way; and chorus: this is why.
first verse: I’m going to do this; chorus: and this is how I will feel after I do.
So you do that twice: verse – chorus- verse- chorus
And then you get to the bridge, which is the third or the tertiary section of your song.
The bridge should be a departure from your standard Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus structure. To make it pop, you’re going to go out into left field and grab a new chord or a new rhythm. Now, listen up, this is where the narrative arc comes in.
Your bridge should be the emotional peak of your song.
It’s where your speaker or the overall story of the song is going to hit some kind of a climax or high point and it creates the story narrative arc where the song gathers steam through the first two verses, hits the high point in the bridge, and then eases down into the resolution with the final chorus. Curtains. The end. Fin. The story is over.
So, when you write your bridge, remember that this is where you should place the twist or the catch in the story, or where you should help the listener come to an emotional realization. The place where you get to have the most influence as an artist, to uniquely weave your lyrics, will be in the bridge.
Ok, that’s it for today’s post! Thanks for reading.
As always, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @MrTyler Preston, or shoot me an email at email@example.com .
And until next time my friendly friends: good luck, have fun, and happy strumming!