“Which do you write first, the lyrics or the music?”
“Which do you write first, the lyrics or the music?” I am often asked this question and I always have to think about it because, for me, there is no single answer. I am a writer, therefore I write. Ideas appear in many different ways and I appreciate them all.
For most writers, it depends on their strengths. If you are a strong musician, you will likely start with a guitar in hand or sitting at the piano and let a musical phrase inspire a lyric. If you are a singer, you may hear a melody first and then try to fit it to a musical structure after you have lyrics to accompany the melody. If lyrics are your strong suit, you may right words in meter and rhyme and then search for a groove and melody to express the emotion of the lyric.
Whatever your natural approach to songwriting is, you can strengthen it by stretching your comfort zone and changing your patterns.
For instance, if you are trying to be a commercially successful songwriter, you should know what is selling in the current market and try to incorporate some of that style into the writing and production of your songs to make them sound current and appeal to artists and audiences of the day.
There seems to be a lot of Rap influence in current Country music. Pop influence has been present for several years.
You can give your songs a leg up in the marketplace by being aware of trends and by forcing yourself to learn from them.
One of my mantras is: “Never sacrifice the story or emotion for the sake of a clever rhyme.” I stand by that. Write to the strength of the idea. But there is more than one way to say everything so try to say what you mean in a way that suits the market you are aiming for.
If you are a good rhymer (aka, poet, rapper) and like to use AABA or AABB; try alternating patterns or using more in-line rhymes so that your lyric sounds a bit more alliterative.
If you like writing flowing melodies try using a more staccato approach in the verses and saving your big, elongated phrasing for your chorus, or vice-versa.
Try strumming along with some current hits to pick up new grooves and musical phrasing.
It is a great idea to chart out some Top 40 songs to study their chord progressions and voicings.
Here are some specific challenges for you:
- If you play an instrument, write a lyric without it in your hand. You will likely still feel a meter and groove as you create your rhyming pattern and phrasing.
– Try to use a rhyme scheme that is not typical for you.
– Pick up the instrument only after you have completed the lyric. (You may or may not have a melody idea beforehand.)
- If you typically write lyrics first, sit down with a guitar, piano, etc. and commit to a few minutes of just playing. Experiment with chord patterns and voicings that are new to you; even if you have to play cover songs to find them.
- If you are a singer, try humming a familiar song using phonics instead of words and varying the melodic phrasing. Or sit with an instrument and play random intervals on it until a melody line appears. Challenge yourself to write a melody that exceeds your vocal range and style.
- Program a drum loop or use some pre-programed ones, such as those on a keyboard or Garage Band, etc. Write a song to that rhythm. See what it opens up for you rhythmically, melodically and lyrically.
- Take one of your songs and play or sing it to a new rhythm and/or tempo. See if it helps you hear the message in a new way and makes the song stronger or more current. Get out of your comfort zone and also try to channel the current commercial market.
Commercial Songwriting Success – Lyric or Music
To be successful commercially, you need to please a mass audience with your songs. That means knowing what they are buying into at any given time.
You should always write to your strengths. That is your best hope of being original. But stories can be told and emotions can be expressed in many ways. By honing your skills, and expanding your talent, you increase your chances of tapping into what is currently finding success and becoming a part of it.
They say that, like the weather, the climate of commerce is constantly changing. Changing with it can be not only profitable, but also fun.
Music producer, Artist development coach, Songwriter, Performer