You’re probably not a Comedian. Most likely, you’re looking to make music your career, or at least to get better at writing songs.
So why did I just go through the basics of writing comedy?
Maybe you’re already seeing where I’m going with this, maybe not.
How is writing lyrics like writing comedy? Go back over that last section and swap out “Comedian” with “Songwriter” and “joke” with “song.”
These are all things that apply to writing songs. Let’s break it down.
Be Consistent. Writing songs consistently is one of the most important things you can do as a Songwriter. Ask any great Songwriter and they’ll tell you to write as much as you can.
Malcolm Gladwell, although not a Songwriter, presented a fascinating idea in his book Outliers called the 10,000-hour rule. The idea is that “ten thousand hours [of practice] is the magic number of greatness,” and he cited how The Beatles played a ton of shows before becoming Rock Stars.
The more you do something, the better you’ll get at it.
Be Concise. I once heard a Songwriter say that, when writing a song, you’re basically saying the same thing over and over again throughout the song. That’s great advice. Keep it simple and be concise. If you force words, metaphors, or ideas into the song, it will probably show.
Only use enough words to say what you need to say. Then once you’ve said it in the way you want, stop singing.
Setups And Punchlines. This is one of my favorite comparisons between comedy writing and songwriting. Songwriting can be full of setups and punchlines.
For example, your verse could have three lines that set up the fourth line. You could write three vague-ish, poetic lines followed by a clear, real-world, relatable fourth line that brings all four lines together and explains the whole thing.
On top of that, you could view the verses as the setup and the chorus as the punchline. Another way to say this is “tension and payoff.” The verses provide the anticipation and the chorus takes you home.
Use Characters. Paul Simon is one of the best Songwriters out there, in my opinion. He does that by painting a picture inside your head, especially by using characters.
One great example is from “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes,” where he tells the story of a young man and woman.
She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
And puts on after-shave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes
And she said honey take me dancing
But they ended up by sleeping
In a doorway
By the bodegas and the lights on
Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes
So good, right? It’s almost like you’re there watching these two people in a movie.
Use Contrast and Misdirection. Catching the listener off guard can be a powerful tool for a Songwriter.
Jacob Collier is a master at using contrast. He’ll take a song from cinematic, to funky, to folky in a matter of minutes, all without losing the listener. You can do that when you’re a musical genius. Examples of this are his songs “With The Love In My Heart” and “Savior.”
Misdirection, on the other hand, can be very effective when used in your lyrics. Take the listener to a place, then at the last second, surprise them by pulling the curtain back, making them realize they weren’t going where they thought they were going.
Be Bizarre. Not every Songwriter can pull this off (or wants to), but it’s definitely a technique that writers use. The Beatles are a clear example of weirdness paying off. Granted, they were on drugs for a good amount of their careers, but still.
For example, “I Am The Walrus” includes the lyrics, “I am the Eggman / They are the Eggmen / I am the walrus / Goo goo g’ joob.”
In “Octopus’s Garden,” they sing, “I’d ask my friends to come and see an octopus’s garden with me / I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade.”
And in “Dig A Pony,” they say, “I dig a pony / Well, you can celebrate anything you want / Yes, you can celebrate anything you want.”
Strangely, these song examples all involve animals. Whatever the case, The Beatles got super weird sometimes, but they got away with it.