How to Write Song Lyrics (Part Three) – Metaphor & Simile

Aristotle said, “the ability to see one thing as another is the only truly creative human act.”

As a songwriter or any form of writer for that matter, you have the power to invent an entire world for your listener or reader. With a stroke of your pen you can scheme up wild images to give life to your story. One of your most powerful tools when writing song lyrics is the usage of metaphor and simile to create stories or experiences that the listener can taste, touch, feel, smell, and of course hear. Let’s take a closer look at what these are and how you can use them in writing song lyrics.

Metaphor – an object, activity, or idea that is used as a symbol of something else

Simile – a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., as brave as a lion, crazy like a fox )

Although these sound the same, the implications of using them are very different as you can see in the examples below.

Examples of metaphor:

  • She was a hovering storm cloud
  • They drowned in a sea of grief
  • His mouth is a soft summer day
  • Happiness is warm gun
  • Fear is a shadow

These metaphors can flipped around and used in three ways which are known as expressed identity metaphors:

  • “x is y” (fear is a shadow)
  • “the y of x” (the shadow of fear)
  • “x’s y” (fear’s shadow)

There are also qualifying metaphors which use adjectives to qualify nouns and adverbs to qualify verbs.

For example:

  • tired eyes (adj, n)
  • swiftly moving (adv, v)

And there are verbal metaphors which are formed by conflict between the verb and its subject and/or object.

For example:

  • clouds sail
  • he tortured his clutch
  • frost gobbles summer down

The basic difference between metaphor and simile as you will see is the usage of the words “like” or “as” in simile:

  • She was LIKE a hovering storm cloud
  • The sea was AS grief and they drowned in it
  • His mouth was AS a soft summer day
  • Happiness is LIKE a warm gun

As you you’ll notice right away, saying the same thing using metaphor and simile adds a very different feeling to the imagery.

When using metaphor the listener or reader in their imagination is seeing the morphing intermingling of two objects.

In the first example of metaphor, she was a hovering storm cloud,  the mind wants to picture the girl as the storm cloud. You actually see her become the cloud, hovering above the situation and creating anxiety or depression.

In the similar example of simile, she was like a hovering storm cloud, there is a sense of distance between the girl and the cloud. She is like it, but she is not it. You are making a comparison between them to add weight to what you are saying, and in the mind of the listener there are two images: a girl and a storm cloud. Whereas in metaphor there is only one image, which is the merging of the girl and the storm cloud to create wild and exciting imagery for your story.

I doubt The Beatles would have had as much success with the song if the lyric was happiness is LIKE a warm gun. To me it doesn’t pack the same punch. Happiness becoming or morphing into the gun creates some great content for the imagination.

This is not to say that simile is a lesser tool. It can be equally effective. It just depends on what image you, the songwriter want to paint.

A great exercise I learned in Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison (I HIGHLY recommend this book by the way) is to come up with a bunch of nouns and assign each of them an arbitrary adjective that is different or weird or uncommon. You can do the same with verbs  It can really help you create some wild metaphors and images that can make your songs more exciting and dynamic.

For example (taken directly from the book):

  • smoky conversation
  • refried railroad
  • decaffeinated rainbow
  • hollow rainforest
  • understated eyebrows

Say More with Less

At the end of the day what we want to do when writing song lyrics is create compelling stories. Metaphor and simile allow us to do this creatively and keep from boring our listener.

Referring back to the examples above, if you were to say plainly, she was getting on my nerves and making me anxious and depressed, this may be true, but its not nearly as interesting OR as simple as saying, she was a hovering storm cloud.

You’ve now said WAY more with half the words you used in plain speak, and you’ve left room for the listener to imagine what that means as well. You know what it represents to you because you wrote it. It may mean the same thing for the listener, but it may mean something different, which is a great and exciting possibility.

If you find yourself looking at your song lyrics and wondering why they’re not exciting or interesting, try using metaphor or simile to say thing you’re already saying, but perhaps with a more vivid or interesting imagery.

Hopefully this helps you while learning how to write song lyrics and helps you become a better songwriter.

If you have any questions feel free to email me!

Read Part One of this How to Write Song Lyrics series.

For a more in depth look at songwriting, listen to my podcast.

Visit my website.

Follow me on snapchattwitter, instagram, and YouTube.

 

References: Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Write Song Lyrics (Part Two) – The Melody

If there’s one thing I believe to be true in songwriting, its that:

MELODY IS KING.

What do I mean by that?

The melody is the guiding force of the song. It is the main, lead part of the song that is sung and the part of the song that you remember.

I bet you can still remember the melody to songs you only heard once or twice. The melodies of songs you heard as a child are easily brought to mind and hummed whether or not you know the song lyrics. When you can’t get a song out of your head, more than likely its the melody that is haunting you.

Let the Melody be Your Guide

When setting out to write song lyrics, it is important to let the melodic flow of the song guide your lyrical structure. To me, this ensures that the song is singable, flows well and naturally, and allows the lyrics to breath and be understood.

If you play an instrument, try and find some chords that fit the range of your voice and are easily played. A combination of G / D / Em / C is an example and a good starting point for those just learning an instrument. Start by playing these chords and while thinking about the various sections of the song that you’d like to include (verse, chorus or hook, bridge, pre- or post- chorus, etc), gradually hum a melody that instinctually sounds good to you. If you don’t play an instrument you can just hum melody ideas that come to mind.

Imagine you already know the song and just let it come out of you.

Its a good idea to keep an audio recorder handy during this stage (handheld, smart phone, etc) to capture these raw first ideas before they get lost as you try different melodies. These first gut instincts are usually some of the best stuff.

Also don’t be afraid to use gibberish or freestyle over the melodies to let instinctual, sub-conscious lyrics surface (you can hear an example of me doing this on my podcast.)

Sometimes these are sub-conscious hints at what the song should be about. 

Some examples of general tendencies for melody on various song sections:

  • Verses – tends to be lower in pitch, gradually building and anticipating the hook (chorus), can be more rhythmic, bouncy, containing more movement than the other sections, room to breathe between sections, openness 
  • Hook (Chorus) – tends to be a leap in pitch, creates a jumping or soaring effect, has more energy than the verses, long open notes, strong and memorable, easily sung (sing-songy like a lullaby or nursery rhyme)
  • Bridge – usually a departure to a new and different section of the song, reinforces the hook, can often have a growing, climactic feeling as it moves towards the final chorus

Once you’ve decided on strong melodic sections for your song, start to formulate lyrics from the concept you’ve chosen (see part one of this series).

You’ve now laid the foundational structure and know exactly where your lyrics should fit and what your story is. Using a notepad or an app on your smart phone, begin to write song lyrics that tell your story and communicate your concept with the melodies you created in mind.

As you come up with song lyric lines that you like, don’t be a afraid to manipulate the melody a bit to make room for new ideas in the lyrics. Sometimes you will need to add pick up notes for the small words that help transition between the sections.

Repetition & Variation

A useful skill when creating melodies for your song lyrics is the implementation of repetition and variation.

Repetition can be useful in giving the listener a melody they become familiar with. When introducing the listener to a new idea (hearing the song for the first time) repetition helps them feel at home in the song.

Variations are small departures from the repetition that help keep the listener interested and not bored. These allow the listener to be introduced to new ideas then return to the repetition without feeling bombarded by new sections of the song. 

A great example of this is the song Blank Space on Taylor Swift’s Grammy winning album 1989.

I will associate the sections of the song with letter names (A, B, C, D, etc) to show the usage of repetition in the song.

VERSE 1

A – Nice to meet you, where you been?
B – I could show you incredible things
A – Magic, madness, heaven, sin
B – Saw you there and I thought
C – Oh my God, look at that face
C – You look like my next mistake
C – Love’s a game, want to play?

The second verse uses the same structure so we’ll skip to the chorus

CHORUS

D – So it’s gonna be forever
E – Or it’s gonna go down in flames
D – You can tell me when it’s over
E – If the high was worth the pain
F – Got a long list of ex-lovers
G – They’ll tell you I’m insane
F – ‘Cause you know I love the players
H – And you love the game

 

Once again, the second part repeats this pattern so I’ll skip it to keep things brief.

So if you look at the different letters I’ve given to each of the song lyric lines in each section and listen to their melody, you can see that her usage of repetition and variation is much easier to hear and identify. If you sing the different lines to yourself you can see that the lines with the letters in common are almost identical in melody. This usage of repetition is what keeps you singing this song after its over. There’s really only a handful of melodies used in this song. They are staggered to keep it sing-songy and interesting, and used repetitiously to drive home a point.

You can do this with many of your favorite songs and more than likely identify similar patterns. This can help you while writing to be able to reference the music you like as a guide for your own songs.

When writing your song and deciding on your song lyrics, use this knowledge of melody, repetition and variation to make your songs interesting and catchy to listen to.

Keep in mind these are not rules. These are only guidelines to help you examine why the music you listen to keeps you listening, and how you can write song lyrics that accomplish this same goal.

Have questions or want to reach out? Email me.

Read part one of this series: How to Write Song Lyrics (Part One) – Choose a Concept

Subscribe to my podcast to go more in depth on this subject: Episode 3 // Songwriting & Poetry

Visit my website.

Follow me on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

 

How to Write Song Lyrics (Part One) – Choose a Concept

Music has the power to change the world, and music is a universal language. So it makes sense that everyone would want to tap into this process in some way. But if you’ve never tried writing song lyrics you may wonder where to begin.

This multi-part series hopes to familiarize you with the process of lyric writing and give you an idea of how and where to start. I will explore some of the important aspects of writing song lyrics such as concept, melody, structure, repetition, variation, and of course the song lyrics themselves.

Choose a Concept

Before setting out on the endeavor of writing song lyrics, its important to identify your destination. Choosing a concept or a “hook” can help you know where the story of your song reaches its peak or climax. This concept will probably also be the main lyric of your “hook” or “chorus.”

A hook or chorus is the main part of the song that you remember and sing along to. This can be a lyric, a whole section of lyrics, or even a section of la-la-la’s or na-na-na’s, but ultimately it is the overarching theme, concept, and memorable part of the song. 

Keeping a notebook or notes in your phone or tablet where you can write down song lyric concepts is a great way to create great starting points for songs.

Some examples might be:

  • Wounded in Battle
  • Shot in the Dark
  • Last Chance
  • Waiting for Tomorrow

These concepts can help you define what story you want to tell in your song. It is important to tell a story and take your listeners on a journey. These stories can have a beginning and an end, they can go back and forward in time, and can even suspend time for a moment to dissect or place a moment under a microscope. Whatever method you choose, deciding what your message will be before hand will help you decide what song lyrics to use to tell that story.

To use one of the example concepts from above, if your song is called Wounded in Battle, you might say that this is a metaphor for a relationship gone bad. So in your song you now know that the lyrics need to tell the story of a bad relationship, but because of the title or concept you realize that it needs to be told through the lens of a war or battle scenario.

For example when starting your hook or chorus:

I was wounded in battle // Cut below the knees

I dodged the bombs for oh so long // But missed the bullet aimed at me

So here you’ve painted a picture for the listener. You’ve also given room for the imagination to interpret what bombs you were dodging and who was aiming at you. In the listener’s mind’s eye, they are probably envisioning a battle field, bombs exploding, bullets whizzing by from snipers taking aim. You have successfully pulled your listener into two worlds at once: a chaotic, terrifying battlefield and a relationship in turmoil, which can be equally as terrifying and chaotic. Using these powerful metaphors, you can really help the listener to feel and experience the emotions you’ve felt, and to experience theirs in their own way. This is ultimately the goal – engaging the listener. The more you can engage with someone, the more your message will come across clearly.

Another example from above might be:

I’m counting the seconds // As they fall down to the floor // Each one is a lifetime // Of waiting // Waiting for tomorrow

These are examples of ways you can identify a concept and execute a section of that song to resemble the theme and feeling of your story. The more cohesive your writing of these song lyrics in relation to your concept, the better your chances of communicating effectively and creating a great song.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss Using Your Verses to Support the Hook.

Read my last blogThe Top 5 Qualities to Look for in a Music Producer.

Check out my podcast for a more detailed look at this lyric writing process.

Email me your questions or lyrics, I’d be happy to give feedback or advice.

 

 

Top 5 Qualities to Look for in a Music Producer

What is a music producer?

How does a person ‘produce’ music?

Does a music producer make a salary?

These are all questions that I’m sure many up and coming producers and artists have asked.

I think most people are unaware of what a music producer actually does, and why does a musician need one?

Or perhaps you’re a young musician trying to find his or her place in the music business, and you’re wondering if music production is something you might enjoy.

So…I’ve assembled a list of the TOP 5 qualities to look for in a Music Producer.

My goal is to educate you, and perhaps give a window into what a music producer does and why you may (or may not) need one to take your career to the next level.

1. Music producer excels at creating the ‘sound’ that you’re looking for.

Let’s face it. There are a ton of music producers in the world. How do you know which one is right for you?

The best way is to see who is producing the albums or songs you like to listen to.

If you’re a Taylor Swift fan, you should definitely know the name Max Martin. If you like Ke$ha, you should definitely know the name Dr. Luke. If you like Adele, you should know the name Greg Wells.

These are examples of A list producers. These guys are getting paid by the big record labels to crank out the next hit. They can make anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for ONE SONG!

These A list music producers, may be way out of your financial means, but what about the producers that help create the music for independent musicians you listen to? This information is available as well by a simple google search, and these guys are much easier to get ahold of and much easier to afford. For a working producer at the B or C level, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1000 to $10,000 for a single song, depending on their experience and expertise.

Ultimately, you want to find a producer who excels in the type of music you want to make. Heck, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and see if a producer wants to collaborate on a song for a licensing deal (these can be lucrative for both parties). Which leads me to my next point…

2. Music Producer is willing to work with your budget

I’ll be honest, we’re all trying to survive and make money. So a music producer who does this full time as a career is definitely interested in being compensated for his time.

However, there are multiple ways for him to do this.

There are two aspects of a song/recording, and both of these has the potential to make money. There is the song, which is owned by the writer/publisher and the recording (master) which is owned by the producer (the creator of the master) until he or she is compensated for it (by the artist or record label).

If the producer is paid a rate that is satisfactory, he or she will then give ownership of the master to the artist or label and they stand to make a financial gain on the product they’ve hired the producer to create.

If the the artist or label only has $1000 and the producer wants $2000, the artist or label can offer retention of 50% (or a percentage they agree upon) ownership of the master or publishing. This benefits the producer because down the road, if the song gets licensed (chosen to be used for film or tv placement) the owners of the master or publishing both get paid a fee. So this may be lucrative for the producer if he or she feels like the song has great licensing potential.

The artists ability to write a great song, social media presence, or general charisma have the power to negotiate a deal that works for both the artist and the producer and can be lucrative for both parties.

3. Music Producer is willing to push you to new heights

Hopefully if you’re seeking out a music producer, you’ve recognized that you can only take your sound so far.

A willingness to allow the music producer the ability to push you beyond what you may believe you are capable, will help you take your music to new heights.

Sometimes as humans we don’t know our true capabilities. A coach or teacher or music producer can help identify and bring to the surface your best qualities. These could be vocal tone or delivery, guitar timing or approach, drum groove or dynamics.

A great producer has the ability to identify a strength and amplify it, so the world can enjoy the unique fingerprint of an artist.

If you are willing, a music producer can help take you AND your sound to the next level. Often a music producer is someone who has navigated the music industry for a while and has learned ways to accomplish artists’ musical goals. They can also help you avoid certain pitfalls and mistakes that other artists have made.

This is based on your willingness, and the producer’s trustworthiness.

4. Music Producer helps accomplish your goals NOT theirs.

Ultimately it is you, the artist (or the label), that is hiring the producer. You definitely should make sure you’re getting the sound you want.

If the producer thinks you should take a song in a certain direction, make sure that is the same direction you’re willing to go. If you get to the end, and decide you don’t like it, the music producer is going to want to be paid for his or her time whether you like the end result.

So it is important to make sure you are on the same page.

There is nothing wrong with trusting a producer to take your music in a direction that is more commercially viable or towards a different sound, as long as that direction is decided and agreed upon by both of you. Also, make sure you trust the ability of the producer to make those decisions based on his track record. If Max Martin or Greg Wells tells you to he thinks a song should lean in this direction or that, they probably are saying so for a reason. If Johnny-No-Name-Producer, thinks you should try rapping on a section and you’re a jazz singer, you should probably question their judgment.

At the end of the day the best producer-artist relationship is one that is mutual and in which both musical opinions are valued and welcomed, in order to create the best sounding recording or song.

5. Music Producer makes you feel safe and comfortable being vulnerable with him or her.

This should probably be number one in overall importance.

It is imperative that a producer makes you feel safe. Not only physically but intellectually and creatively. You must be free to try new ideas, reach for high notes, and pen lyrics that are out of the box if you want to grow. A producer who is overly negative or critical without aim to improve a song or make an artist better can be very detrimental to an artist’s creative space.

A producer’s job is not to shoot down ideas or hold his ideas as superior to yours. Rather a music producer should help steer your ideas towards their greatest potential. He or she should encourage an artist to reach outside of the comfort zone. That is where the gems of genius lie.

If you need help with songwriting, there is nothing wrong with letting an experienced music producer who is a great writer help you write the best version of YOUR song. If you don’t feel comfortable with the direction a song is going, speak up and retain you artistry.

A great producer will strive to be the mouthpiece for the artist. He or she should desire not to steer the ship, but to help the artist direct it towards the best course.

 

I hope these help give you an idea of what to look for in a music producer and what a great music producer is capable of doing for your career.

If you have questions you can post them in the comments below or email me at jefjoslindiyu@gmail.com.

You can also check out my podcast for interviews with working artists and music producers, that go into greater detail on this topic.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve learned a little better how to DIY!

-jj