People sometimes ask me, “Do you consider your lyrics to be poetry?” I always reply, “I’m not trying to write poetry; I’m trying to write words I mean.” The truth is, there isn’t really any difference between lyrics and poetry. There’s only a difference between words written with care and words written carelessly.
People sometimes ask, “Who even listens to lyrics anymore?” The answer is: Everyone who sings them. If you’re a performing songwriter, singing your own words night after night, your ability to love your lyrics is a part of being able to perform your music with sincerity and passion.
In this way, lyrics are like romantic partners. Some seem appealing at first, but quickly become irritating; others appear plain, but grow on you over time. And as with any relationship, the love you discover in your lyrics has a lot to do with the love you put into them.
So here are three “rules” I’ve learned about loving the words you write. These have nothing to do with craft (which is certainly important too,) but rather, with the overall sense of purpose you bring to your writing:
First, write only what is necessary: Discover what you really want to say and don’t waste time with anything else. Go through letters/emails/texts to those you love and pull lines from these. Keep a dream journal to uncover the themes your unconscious is pushing on you. Find your ideas in your life, don’t force them.
Second, taste your words, don’t think them: Search for consonant and vowel sounds that feel good on your tongue. In the end, the music of language will lead you to your own voice more directly than anything you can manufacture with your intellectual mind.
Third, spend time with your lyrics once they’re written: My neuroscientist friend claims that one reason people like The Beatles is that they’ve heard them so much. The opposite is true of your new lyrics: they will sound awkward at first because they are new. Keep practicing your songs until their words truly feel like yours.
All of this is to say: your words matter. People are listening more deeply than you realize. And above all, so are you.
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