How to Write Lyrics in 8 Steps - Careers in Music
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Put words on paper—that is, in its simplest form, how to write lyrics. They don’t have to rhyme, fit into any specific structure, or even make sense (and there are plenty of examples of that).

Technically that’s true, but anyone who has tried to create a spectacular song that’s catchy, easy to sing along with and meaningful knows there is really so much more to it, and it’s really rather difficult.

Want to know how to write lyrics? Follow these steps and you’ll not only have fantastic words, but a truly special song by the end:

  1. Find inspiration
  2. Begin assembling
  3. Set it to music
  4. Rewrite
  5. Record a demo
  6. Play the song for others
  7. Rework again
  8. Release

1. Find Inspiration

This is both the easiest and the toughest step of the entire songwriting process, as it’s incredibly broad, and while that can be helpful in some ways, it’s also very frustrating in others. Inspiration is everywhere. It is literally everything, and it can appear out of anywhere at any time. Inspiration can come from something as momentous as the birth of a child or the dissolution of a marriage to a plastic bag floating in the wind (thanks, Katy Perry).

When inspiration strikes, make a note of it. For those who focus only on lyrics, write it down in a notebook.

If it’s a sound, try to capture it in your phone (which actually happened to Billie Eilish’s brother1, who then used an everyday sound to create her No. 1 smash “Bad Guy”). If you happen upon a fun melody, hum it into a recorder. We all have the technology we need right in our pockets at all times to ensure nothing is forgotten, so make use of it!

Also, the heading of this section is a bit misleading, as it’s tough to seek out inspiration. Ideally, it finds you, and when it appears out of nowhere, an artist (of any kind) must do everything they can to capture it in a bottle (metaphorically) and never let it disappear.

2. Begin Assembling

At some point, you’ll have a notebook full of ideas and countless voice memos, and while you may never use a lot of it, the more you have, the better, at least in the beginning. At some point, you need to stop jotting down words, phrases and humming lines you may one day use in choruses and actually start piecing together a song.

This can be difficult when you have heaps of material to play with, but nobody said this was going to be easy. You may choose to begin with a topic, a moment, a memory, or perhaps just one word that sticks out to you. From there, start thinking of what you want your song to say, where you’d like it to go, or the feeling you want your listener to have when they press play.

Once some of these items are figured out, or even if you just have a general idea, you can look through all the bits you’ve jotted down and recorded and begin trying things out. Fit this line around that melody and substitute one piece for another. Play around and write what you feel makes sense. This is your story, your heart, and your brain, and only you can know what works.

You may find after all the work you did before you sat down to actually write you only use a fraction of those nuggets and you end up penning everything from scratch in the moment, but if even one single word ignited a very special flame, there’s nothing wrong with that.

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3. Set It to Music

Some people come up with lyrics first and then set them to music, while others compose a song as they figure out what words go where. However you want to do it, you need both components to complete a project, so don’t think you’re done with something until you have the two pieces…that is unless you’re only trying to be a Lyricist, in which case you should find a musician or Producer to work with in order to craft something that feels whole.

If you play an instrument, get it out and begin toying around with how words and phrases fit with melodies. You may find you’ve gotten everything right the first time, but chances are you’re going to spend quite some time rearranging, alternating how you say something or where it comes in, or learning when to leave empty space.

If you’re not someone who creates their own music, you need to find it somewhere. You may buy a beat on one of the many websites where up-and-coming Producers post their wares, or perhaps you have bandmates who tackle this part of the creation process. You may also now seek out others who possess the music-making talent who are looking for someone who understands lyrics.

4. Rewrite

Once the music starts to feel right, the lyrics are bound to change. Sometimes the words are simply too important and the way they are sung or pronounced needs to be worked out so nothing is altered, but one of the greatest lessons Lyricists need to learn is sometimes the lyrics simply must shift.

This means once things begin to fall into place, rewrites are necessary. This may lead to subbing in one or two synonyms here and there, or sometimes penning entirely new lines, or perhaps even verses. It’s possible, based on the music that was produced, the tone may have shifted, and all of a sudden the lyrics don’t make sense. They can be saved for another time, but this may be an opportunity to try something new, although it does mean starting from scratch.

Rewrites can take five minutes or days, but they are a necessary and unavoidable step in the songwriting process.

5. Record a Demo

You may have already recorded small parts of the song as you worked, such as melodies, general ideas, or even lines, but now you must take what you’ve been spending all your time on and set it to tape, or so they used to say.

Recording a demo isn’t just what must happen before someone steps into a proper studio and tracks the final song, it’s a great way to see if the lyrics really make sense. They may work on paper or in your head, but when they are coming out of your mouth, or the mouth of whoever is actually singing the song, do they sound right?

It is not uncommon for Lyricists to discover what they’ve written either doesn’t feel like it should or simply isn’t as good as they once thought when spoken aloud.

Listen carefully and critically. Do those two lines really rhyme? Is there any other way to write this section to make it cleaner? Are there too many lyrics? Can you get the point across and convey the message and the feeling with fewer words? If so, investigate that—just because a song has a higher word count, it doesn’t mean it’s well-written.

6. Play the Song for Others

This is very difficult for most artists, especially those just starting out, but it is also a much-needed step, and sadly one too many people avoid. Lyricists may feel once they’ve put the words together and the song is in a good place, according to them, they’re all set, but this simply isn’t the truth, at least not for those who want to make it big in the music business.

Letting friends, family, fans, or colleagues hear the song before it has been properly released allows for some very important criticism to take place. What you think is a perfect line may feel odd to others. Some words might be unfamiliar to the masses.

If you thought you could get away with something of a half-rhyme and those listening don’t agree, take their advice. Also, ask them what they feel this song is about, and if they like the lyrics. If they can remember them and sing them back, you’ve got something special. If not, consider what worked and what didn’t.

7. Rework Again

Lyrics are tricky because they are deeply personal, but at the same time, every musician wants a large number of people to relate to what they’ve written. Think about what everyone from Producers to bandmates to listeners said when you go back for one more rewrite.

This is likely to be more of a polishing than a complete overhaul, although, if there wasn’t much those who were in your sample group enjoyed, you may want to shelve the demo or just start over once again.

Once you feel it’s in a much better place, head into the studio, hire excellent Producers, Mixers, Masterers, and Engineers, and create the perfect song, rooted in the best lyrics you’ve ever written, which is something you should be able to claim on every track you make.

8. Release

Most musicians simply post their music to streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music, use distributors to sell it on iTunes and Amazon and move on. Some will make a video or hire a PR firm to promote it, but beyond that, a Lyricist is done, correct? No! Not if you take the question of “how to write lyrics” as a professional should!

Those who wrote the song need to copyright it and ensure everyone who had a hand in the words featured in any song, including those responsible for any samples or interpolations, are properly credited and will be paid well.

Also, depending on how big your band is, you may want to share your words to the various lyric websites that let people learn what a singer was actually saying. If you’re not at the point in your career where it’s necessary, think about adding a page on your own website where fans can look them up.

Those who love what you make may forge a deep connection to the lyrics, and it means a lot to them if they can find them easily.

  1. 1Rolling Stone. "Billie Eilish and Finneas Break Down Her Hit Song 'Bad Guy'". YouTube. published: 16 December 2019. retrieved on: 16 March 2020
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