Mailbag Nov.8/01

I will occasionally respond to emails I receive by posting them here for you to read.  Here is one I received today:

“I’m an 18 year old college student who makes music as a rapper. I hear alot of music, but I connect to songs that actually have meaning in it. I’ve been writing for about 2 years consistently but I want my songs and verses to have meaning and impact the listener in a positive way.

Kick School of Creative Writing
Image by ginja_ninja via Flickr

Any tips on things to read or songs to listen to or writing tips would be appreciated..thank you in advance.”

Writing songs that are meaningful, not only to the writer but also to the listener is what we are all aiming for, isn’t it?  How do I get deeper, how do I say more and still keep the listener totally engaged in what I’m saying?  And if you’re writing rap songs, lyrics are the focal point so learning to write great lyrics is a must.  Reading a lot is certainly one way of stimulating your creative writing skills.  There are a gazillion wonderful novels out there.  Fortunately, they’re not all “War and Peace” length (meaning hundreds of pages long!), but you would benefit greatly from taking the time to read good novels from cover to cover. A well-written novel can open up the top of your head and give you all kinds of ideas about how to approach your own songwriting.

Song lyrics don’t have the luxury of pages and pages of words to get their meaning across, however, in which case, EVERY word is critical.  What I see more often than not in song lyrics that are sent to me are what I call “throw away” lines or words, as if they were put there just to fill the space.  But instead of revisiting them and rewriting them, the songwriter just leaves them there.  The other thing I see in lyrics is tired old phrases, just the same old, same old way of describing something.  The bore factor.  If this is a problem you suffer from as a lyric writer,   I highly recommend reading anything by Pat Pattison.  He even gives a few free lyric writing tips from one of his books on his web page, just so you can get an idea of how he teaches.

So powerful lyrics are critical, but here is another mistake that songwriter’s often make:  they write songs that are TOO PERSONAL.  Now, of course, the most powerful songs are those that are “true” on some level because listeners can always spot something real, but that’s not the kind of personal that I’m talking about.  When you insert details that only have significance to you, you’re going to lose your listeners…they don’t really care if you had a dog named Spike when you were ten.  I imagine it like watching home movies…who wants to visit someone and just sit there and watch home movies of them when they were kids?  It might be funny for a minute, but then it gets boring!  Don’t write your songs like home movies.

On the other hand, we all have universal experiences, meaning experiences that are common to most people, and when you can find a way to write about your own experiences in a way that everyone can relate to, you’ll find success.

The last thing that I want to emphasize is the “show me, don’t tell me” part. Here’s a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head example:

It’s been a long time since I loved someone
And then you came around
You gave me just one kiss
And now I’m found

Boring!! Here’s something that says the same thing, but in a more interesting way:

My love is an engine
It ain’t run in years
Just took one kiss from you
To loosen up the gears

I grabbed that as an example that was given on Pat Pattison‘s website, the song is written by Kurt Thompson. Now these aren’t the most profound lyrics in the universe, and it certainly isn’t rap, but you can “see” the second set of lyrics, can’t you? The first set of lyrics puts you right to sleep. This is an example of “show me, don’t tell me.”

The last thing I’d like to emphasize is write, write, write.  Write a journal, don’t just write lyrics.  Make yourself write things you don’t normally do, so you can avoid getting into writing ruts.

Hopefully there will be some ideas here to keep you on the right track!

Good luck 🙂
IJ

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