TGP songwriters, you play multiple instruments, write great vocal melodies, but subpar lyrics?

Achord

Member
Messages
126
Are there any songwriters here who play multiple instruments, can do great arranging on a computer, and your lead vocal melodies are pretty good, but your lyrics fall short?

Why is this? Is it possibly because we might have a great understanding of melody and harmony, and the vocal melody is just anther "instrument" on top of the instruments we've already arranged? (think of the lead vocal melody almost as a saxophone or mini-moog solo)

But lyrics are an entirely different beast. They instrinsically are not musical. They convey meaning through language not melody, and this is something that those of us with years of musical training tend to NOT have as much training for.

What do you folks think about this?
 

ZeyerGTR

Member
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3,731
IMHO it's like everything else: where is your interest, how closely do you paid attention, where have you spent your time? Did you pay attention in English class? Did you write often? Do you read a lot? Do you pay attention to lyrics and think about how certain writers put things? Do you think about prosody and how you could rewrite songs? Do you read books on songwriting? It's okay if not, music is too broad for everyone to do everything (with some obvious exceptions). I do think lyric writing is intrinsically musical, otherwise it would be poetry or short stories. The rhythm has to fit, and the mood has to fit... to me that's part of music, just like the rhythm and mood (or perhaps tone is an analogy) in the other parts.

I think you're probably right that it just isn't the focus and background of some songwriters, and of course you can write and play great music with no lyrics at all.

[Edit]I also think there's an aspect of it where many people drawn to words and writing simply have other avenues to pursue it than lyrics. If you're drawn to music, you kind of have to do music. If you're a great writer you could pursue your art in lots of ways besides lyrics. And, on top of that, being a great writer doesn't mean you're a great lyricist any more than being a great musician means you're a great lyricist. Being a good lyricist is a unique combination of skills and interests.
 
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15,350
My lyrics fall short? Well, crap. I am crushed. Say it ain't so! I worked dang hard on them :)

(see my lyrics by following the LoFi Decibels link in my sig!)
 

ChampReverb

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
11,383
Lyrics are a struggle.

However, I do have a reasonably high bar and when I've tried collaborating with a few self-defined lyricists I've been underwhelmed knowing full-well that even I can do better than that.

So, I've had to go back and *as tactfully as possible* assist in the rewriting of those flaccid sections of prose, at least until the dry heaves calm down.

There are an awful lot of mediocre to excruciating lyrics out there. I tend to be so "melody and chord structure"-focused that the lyrics often slip by me until at some point some phrase catches my ear and I realize that "something is rotten in ... Denmark".

-bEn r.
 

MartinCliffe

Member
Messages
1,967
I've written a few decent sets of lyrics, but a whole lot of mediocre ones too. Thankfully I work sometimes with a lyricist (and occasional bassist, although he's not a natural) who is great with words. He writes short stories primarily these days, but still sends lyrics my way occasionally, and he's a Cambridge graduate with an MPhil in European Literature, so he's got something going on upstairs! Not your banal blues rock lyrics perhaps, but for the more experimental / progressive stuff I do, it's great. We've been friends for 16 years, and at this stage pretty much know how to get the best out of each other.
 

supergenius365

Supporting Member
Messages
10,479
I love writing lyrics. I only play guitar and bass and am absolutely lost in the age of digital recording. I love playing with words and finding the ones that fit best with the music. I have penned some clunkers to be sure, but for the most part I "think" I'm pretty good at it.
 
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4,899
All things considered, music doesn't have to have lyrics. I can play a few instruments, am very good at guitar, record some, but don't sing very well or enjoy singing nor do I care about writing lyrics. Everything I record is instrumental. And a lot of the music I listen to is instrumental.
 

Shiny McShine

Member
Messages
9,494
Great songwriters don't find things to say by hanging out here. They hang out at Cannes, Sundance, or Compton.
 

EL 34 X2

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,289
I'm a fiction writer. I've had stories published and written a decent novel. But I find writing song lyrics difficult. It's a different animal. Every type of writing is different and few people easily straddle multiple genres. I've gotten better as I've put more time into it. But I'm also apt to be disappointed by my lyrics in comparison to the greats. Because of my exposer to such fantastic song writing over the past 60 years my bar is set extremely high. That's both a blessing and a curse.
 

Creighton

Member
Messages
2,082
This seems to be a common complaint I hear from guitar players, myself included. I think it's just down to spending as much time working on writing as one does playing and practicing guitar.
 

Toowoombaus

Silver Supporting Member
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1,039
Lyrics fall into another area of expertise.

Remember how some actors from the 30's and 40's were referred to as a triple threat? They could act, sing and dance.

If we want to excel as an instrumentalist, a composer and a lyricist we need to put in the work in those three disciplines.

I hated English in high school but as an adult I've realized the power of the written word. It can be a powerful weapon.

Check out "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. E.B. White went on to write the book Charlottes Web.

For an easier and more enjoyable intro into the craft of writing look at "On Writing" by Stephen King.

If you don't want your lyrics referred to as a "clinking clanking clattering collection of collagenous junk" * sharpen your pencil and dive into the wonderful world of words.
* The Wizard of Oz.
 
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834
I'm fine writing highly allegorical short stories that tie into my personal thoughts or provide commentary on current events. It's a good way of expressing thoughts without burdening others with them. As soon as it comes time to take that to a poetic form for a lyric, that falls apart. I doubt I would want to share those with anyone, regardless.

It's a whole other thing from writing. Most people are familiar with prose writing, and think lyrics are in some way the same thing. They're not. It takes as much work to write passable lyrics from being a good prose writer as it does to become a composer from being a simple guitar player. On a similar note, developing skills in lyric writing and developing musicianship are different entirely.

I prefer working on my guitar playing and compositional excursions, so I'll leave lyrics to a lyricist who's put the time into it. Jerry Garcia did the same with Robert Hunter, and it worked wonders.
 

Achord

Member
Messages
126
I can't write lyrics for sh*t.

Lyrics are a struggle.

nor do I care about writing lyrics.

Lyrics don't interest me. That's for the vocalist to deal with.

This seems to be a common complaint I hear from guitar players, myself included.

I prefer working on my guitar playing and compositional excursions, so I'll leave lyrics to a lyricist

Don't get me wrong, I'm not being critical, but these comments reflect the attitude I've heard from many instrument players over the years. Not saying it's bad or good, I'm just sayin'
 

Achord

Member
Messages
126
IMHO it's like everything else: where is your interest, how closely do you paid attention, where have you spent your time?

Agreed - if we look at some of the greatest guitar players, they spent every waking moment playing guitar, so there was no time to become great at anything else... HOWEVER... a lot of the skills they learn (scales, chords, etc) carries over to other instruments, especially other fretted instruments like bass. (and string instruments too) A lot of the experience of guitar also carries over into keyboard instruments too. Even lead-soloing can carry over into creating vocal melodies. But lyrics....

Lyrics fall into another area of expertise.

Consider Neil Peart. Aside from a few melodic percussive instruments, he's a drummer. Geddy and Alex handle all the chords and melodies. Geddy obviously handles the vocal melodies, but Neil .... who doesn't really live in the same melodic/harmonic world as Geddy & Alex ....writes the lyrics.
 
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champion ruby

Member
Messages
1,806
I write decent lyrics, built from phrases and things I like gathered over time. A friend who is an excellent songwriter spews out gold on the spot. Some people have it. The sound of my voice bothers me the most.
 

Multicellular

Member
Messages
7,884
Are there any songwriters here who play multiple instruments, can do great arranging on a computer, and your lead vocal melodies are pretty good, but your lyrics fall short?
***
But lyrics are an entirely different beast. They instrinsically are not musical. They convey meaning through language not melody, and this is something that those of us with years of musical training tend to NOT have as much training for.
I think writing lyrics is something people mistakenly think doesn't take study and practice. Even most people who write in a fog of inspiration can improve how they get into and what they bring into that fog and on what they do by editing.

However, I disagree that lyrics are not musical. Even without clear melody, the rhythmic, the rhyming, the alliterative, these define whole genres (hip hop) and are important in all. Great lyrics not only convey meaning, but do it in a musically interesting way. And for those starting in the more intentional conscious direction, these are fundamental.

I personally am on the continuum of writing in bursts of partially conscious inspiration*. However, I am not so far in that direction that my lyrics don't need edits. My meaning, metaphors, analogies, symbolism, etc. tend to be quite presentable right away, but editing for rhythmic flow, that takes studious work.

*And I say that with no negative judgment. Some of my favorite songwriters start from the other end.
 

Creighton

Member
Messages
2,082
Anyone else noticed that some of the great lyricists and songwriters tend to not have good singing voices or guitar skills? I've wondered why that is. It must be that the parts of the brain utilized when crafting lyrics are different from those that deal with pitch, harmony, melody, rhythm, etc.
 




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