I’m a huge fan of trip hop and finally decided to try my hand at it. I have cool instrumentals and stuff, but I’m not good at writing lyrics. Anybody got any pointers on writing lyrics? or better yet, does anybody feel like writing lyrics for me? I’m looking for something along the lines of UNKLE or Massive Attack lyrics. In addition, does anyone have any other trip-hop artists I should listen to?
you’ve probably listened to them a thousand times but since you didn’t mention them: portishead
The craft of lyric writing is as personal as one’s tastes in style. There are no hard rules, although there are a lot of templates people feel the need to conform to, often to the detriment of the lyric. You’ve simply got to experiment and find something refined that suits your aims.
Personally there are few guides I follow to prevent myself from writing Crap Lyrics:
Never write four line verses with rhyming ends unless absolutely necessary. Sometimes I get a blinding inspiration for a neat and sharp as fuck rhyming couplet, but I’ll never write to that format in a forced conformist manner. It just really, really hinders getting the message across.
Write free form first, without set meter or concern for rhyme. Get the mood and argument of the idea down, fresh and as organic as possible. I usually do it with pen and page, as fast as possible. I’ll toy with paragraph shapes and line length as I go, but not in a rigid way. Then later, I come back to the music, look at the sections of music and start cutting up the body of the words and forming sections that fit the music. At that stage I usually write more lyrics to fill out sections, and I’ll shape the meter a bit more by speaking the words in rhythm with the music to find that interesting flow.
Never feel compelled to rhyme by default. Rhymes especially at the end of lines kill meaning. Rhymes tend to sound a little better when rolled into the lines themselves. Rhymes in line are just divine, push us thru space and time and prevent oblivion.
Always write more than you think you need. Nothing more boring than a few lines just repeated over and over (unless it’s for dramatic effect, e.g. metal does this well). There are so many ways you can squeeze more lyrics into a song: counter vocals, background vocals, spoken word, sung sections, etc. Copy/paste sections only when utterly necessary, otherwise avoid to prevent boredom.
I tend to avoid the obvious if I can. I’m trying to be artful as possible, but paradoxically trying to write words that relate to people. So say for example I want to write a song about the general shallowness of social interaction on the web, well I’m not gonna write lyrics like “You people are fucking dumb and hollow, wake up to yourselves!” - I’ll only alienate people, appearing brash and lacking in sophistication. Instead, I’d start out with something like “User fatigue, asleep at the wheel, fragments of empty containers - just click on the special offer, we hold out a chalice to be filled with resigned boredom, our nothing is our common language, our login is our blank ritual…” And so on. If you get too obvious you limit people’s imaginations when they follow your words. Having a slightly more open ended approach opens the door for people to wander in and exercise their own imagination.
There are no rules with subject matter, but certain subject can lead to tiresome cliches. Two examples. First, say if you want to write about the pain and joy of love. It’s just way too easy to do what a million people have done before and write from your linear experience in a first person way. I’d still keep the potency of the emotion (we love the drama) but transform it into something more creative, e.g: change from first person to third person, swap the audience and subject around, fictionalize the characters into a new context, and so on. Secondly, say if you want to write about some sort of social political issue. The same applies, too many get stuck into making a overly obvious protest song “waa waa the problem is this, it is bad, I hate it”. Again I’d twist it around to something more creative. Work the story into a totally different context, new characters, new dramas, work the experience into a different perspective. Again play with changing the default approach, change the tense, change the speaker, change the audience. IF I’ve done something right then the words have both a unique yet timeless contradiction to them. It punches with the wallop of now, but evokes our endless human narrative.
Write for a listener in mind. And I don’t mean dumb it down for an ‘average joe’. Don’t compromise your vision, but be ‘giving’ in your effort and presentation. Some of my favourite stuff confuses me at first, but then slowly reveals itself to be a gift. There you go, another paradox: concealed yet revealing.
That should be on TED.
I’m in awe of the songwriting process described in the Weezer episode of Song Exploder.
There are spreadsheets involved. It seems like_a lot of work_.
it is easy to make lyrics. it is hard to cut away the stupid.
Check out William Burroughs cut-up technique. He used it for writing a lot of his poetry, and I believe Tom Waits used it as well for writing some of his lyrics. The idea is simple: take several clippings from several pieces of literature, cut them up, re-arrange them face down, then turn them face up and see what the result is. You’ll be surprised with what you can get out of it. That results are more often than not nonsense, but the beauty is in the nonsense. It’s also an excellent way to get started when your mind is blank, or if you have writer’s block, or something.
The cut-up technique is part of what’s called ‘aleatoric music’, which is basically music that is created by some degree of chance.
You can also apply the cut-up technique to music as well by playing multiple songs at once, listening by ear, and pick out phrases that you hear from the combination of words created from the overlapping lyrics.
Sorry that I didn’t give any info regarding structure or composition of lyrics. I don’t actually write lyrics myself, I just do a lot of general writing and knew of these technique. Figured they might be a nice way to start out and loosen up the brain through experimentation that is fun.
Goodluck, and happy writing.
P.S: Some good trip hop mixes, and albums, if you haven’t already heard them that is.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LEClqWFP10 – Bonono Presents Solid Steel: It Came From The Sea
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPe9F2QHAV4 – Kid Koala: Music To Draw To
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJgNPpTmz4w – Freddie Joachim: Patterns Volume 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CFcuWQEJog - London Funk Orchestra: Flesh Eating Zombies
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0CBzKfvA80 - Thievery Corporation: Suadade
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6wU4jT4xL4&list=PLhrglt2nmIGgk8tedQeBkJjGPJIZhkjYR – The Herbaliser: Take London