Before you enter the recording studio, you should do a quality control check of sorts on many aspects of the songs you are recording. Today, we'll explore how to do such a QC check on your lyrics.
Lyrics are often written hastily. Whatever comes to you in a stream of consciousness is what goes down on paper.
Because lyrics often have the least repetition of any of the parts of the song, lyrics are often the last component to be completed. This can put pressure on the lyricist as you can't have a complete song without complete lyrics. As such, sometimes the first draft of lyrics are less than perfect.
And that's OK. However, before you cast your song into proverbial stone in the recording studio, you should carefully review your lyrics and, if necessary, rewrite them to make them perfect. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help reveal ways to improve your lyrics.
1. Does every line make perfect sense?
Obviously, when we write our first draft of lyrics, they make sense...in our own heads. We know what we are thinking. We have an idea of the context. We are assuming certain things. But, without what is in our heads, a different person may not have a clear idea of the story.
Look at every line. Would each line make sense to someone reading or hearing it for the first time? Are you missing details that would help you tell the story better? Does anything sound lazy, like you just picked that line because it fit and not because it is the greatest line possible for that part of the song?
Asking yourself these questions - and answering them honestly - can help you infuse your song with better lyrics. Even if you only improve one line from your original version, it can make a big difference to listeners and help your song be positioned for greater success.
2. Is your listener expecting a rhyme and you disappoint them?
Music styles changes throughout the years and decades. The most popular songs today sound nothing like the most popular songs from the early 1960's.
However, one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that the most popular songs all have rhyming lines. It's expected.
Sometimes, an amateur song will set up the listener to expect a rhyme and fail to deliver that line. Imagine something like "Roses are red/Violets are blue/I am in love/In love with her."
You were expecting "In love with you," right? So, when the lyric said "her" instead of "you," you had an unmet expectation that felt upsetting. Don't give your listeners this feeling!
Spend the time, find a rhyme.
3. Are your rhymes too predictable?
There's something called a "perfect" rhyme, where the entire ends of two words rhyme and the only thing that's different is the beginning sound of the two rhyming words. From our last example, that would be "blue" and "you." That's a perfect rhyme.
But, in modern music, over-reliance on perfect rhymes is frowned upon. It is regarded as more creative to use "imperfect" rhymes as perfect rhymes can be too predictable. This is where the two rhyming words share a vowel sound, but may have other sounds that keep them from being perfect rhymes.
Examples of imperfect rhymes would be rhyming "me" with "beat," or "slay" with "tame," or "beach" with "treat." Hopefully, you get the idea.
As an example, let's say that you've written the line "Twinkle, twinkle, little star/How I wonder what you are." You are using a perfect rhyme scheme and it sounds a bit predictable. You want to convey the same message, but wish you had an imperfect rhyme. You could rewrite it as "Twinkle, twinkle, little star/You have me so in the dark."
Not exactly a Grammy-worthy lyric there, but it's just to illustrate how using imperfect rhymes can open creative doors and make your songs less predictable. Embracing imperfect rhymes can help you avoid being boxed in and unable to tell your story well because you feel you have to be obedient to the perfect rhyme scheme.
4. Are your rhyming rhythms too predictable?
Rhyming rhythms can be predictable, too. When you have rhyming words on the same beat of their measures, your lyrics can sound dated. Modern music often has rhymes on different beats. Using the "Twinkle, Twinkle" example, here's how you can change things up a bit.
If you want your second part to be longer than your first part, you can subtract syllables from your first part. Like, instead of singing "twinkle" twice, sing it once, keeping the same rhythm thus moving "star" from beat four to beat three and having a quarter rest on beat four, such as:
Twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
"Star" will be on beat three of its measure and "are" will be on beat four of its measure.
You could also leave the first line alone and modify the second line similarly by subtracting two syllables and, thus, having "are" fall on beat three with a quarter rest to follow:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
Wonder what you are
Another idea is to add one syllable/one eighth note to the second line, thus placing the rhyming word on the "and" of beat four, as in:
Twinkle, twinkle, little stars
How I wonder what you dudes are
So, there are three very quick examples of how a very small tweak can make your lyrics (as well as your melodies) sound less predictable and more modern.
5. Can you convert something simple sounding into something more creative?
Plain words are fine in speech when you are trying to convey a message. But, lyrics should be more creative. They should express an idea in a way that no one has heard before.
For example, you could write "You've ended relationships with a lot of people." And your audience may relate to that sentiment. But, it's kind of boring. Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts" is a great example of how to take a boring sentiment and make it exciting, new sounding, and very visually-oriented: "Collecting your jar of hearts/And tearing love apart."
Another example is "Black Vultures" by Halestorm. The song expresses the theme of "I will prove my critics wrong." But, that would be a bit pedantic if the band sung those exact words. Instead, they sang:
Black vultures, circling the sky
Pick at the pieces
Scavengers wait for me to die
But I'm not defeated
Again, way more interesting and very visual.
Plus, did you notice the imperfect rhyme scheme? Halestorm rhymed "pieces" with "defeated." Cool!
I hope that these tips helped you to discover ways to improve your lyrics and make them the best they can be by the time you put them down in the studio.
As you plan your recording and release strategy, you'll eventually need mastering between the time that you finish mixing in the recording studio and the time that you submit your music for digital distribution.
Before and After Music Group is a professional mastering studio that would love to help your music reach its sonic potential. It's never too early to decide who will master your recording.
Whether it's just to ask questions or to take the final step in securing mastering services for yourself, we welcome you to contact us by email at email@example.com or by phone/text at 412-600-8241.
Best of luck getting your music prepared for the world!
Chip Dominick is the CEO and head mastering engineer for Before and After Music Group