7 Things Every Lyricist Must Remember

As I discussed in my last post, “But I’m Only A Lyricist” I’m a (you guessed it) lyricist- I don’t write music or play an instrument (enough to count, anyway).  I write the words to songs.  It’s a specific skill set, but one I have leveraged to land publishing deals and cuts by major artists.

Today, I’d like to talk about seven things every lyricist should keep in mind.  I’m not saying this is an exhaustive list, but realizing the following points has helped me tremendously in my songwriting career.

 1.  You are enough.  It’s okay to be “just a lyricist.”  Writing great lyrics is a valuable skill, and the people that matter know this.  Hold your head up high.  If you think or act like you’re not worthy, people will assume that you probably aren’t.  Don’t be arrogant, but be confident.

2.  Lyrics are only half a song.  For the other half, you need a cowriter.  So pick your cowriters carefully. I know from experience- it’s a terrible feeling to take an idea or a lyric that I LOVE into a cowrite and have someone slap on a sub-par melody.  

3.  Your cowriters have different strengths- bring in ideas that let your cowriters shine. One cowriter may write killer traditional country songs.  Another cowriter may write great female pop country.  Where do you think I’m going to take my cry-in-my-beer ideas?  I don’t go to a steak house hoping for great salad, and I don’t go to a vegan restaurant hoping for steak.

4.  Give respect to the melody. I didn’t used to care too much how a line sang- just as long as they got all my words in there.  That was a proof of both my arrogance and inexperience, and my songs suffered as a result.  Songs are BOTH lyric and melody.  If a line just isn’t singing right, keep at it until you find the line that both says what you want it to say and sings like it should.

 5.  Show up with two or three strong ideas. If you’re a young writer writing with a seasoned pro, they expect it from you.  After all, they can probably write a great song without you- they want your fresh ideas.

 6.  You don’t always have to write your idea. Your cowriter may just have the right idea for that day.  Or a magic idea may spring up out of your conversation.  Don’t let your ego or your need to justify your presence in the room cloud your judgement.  All that really matters is getting a great song.  If you take care of that, the rest will take care of itself.

 7.  They’re just as scared of you as you are of them. People who can create great melodies out of thin air may be a mystery to you- they may intimidate you because you don’t have that skill.  Well, I’ve learned that it runs both ways.  They are often a little freaked that you can write great lyrics WITHOUT melodies running through your mind.  So don’t worry- you each have something the other needs.  And that’s beautiful.

Enjoy the journey,

Brent

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YOU VS…

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  If you have things to add to this list, help out your fellow songwriters and leave them in the comments.  If you think something on this list should NOT be on this list, go ahead and tell us why.  Thanks.

HEY, YA’LL…

Congrats to Charles Billingsley on his new album, “Charles Billingsley In Concert” on Inpop Records.  I’m proud to have my song, “God Amazing” on there.  Thanks for playing it in your shows, Charles!  You can check out the song on iTunes here.

17 thoughts on “7 Things Every Lyricist Must Remember”

  1. Thanks for the advice in #5. I’ve always been a little hesitant to throw out a bunch of my “golden nuggets” in one session. It’s nice to see it from that point of view. Cheers!

  2. If you aren’t ready for co writes w/ the pros, or can’t land them yet…..Find the best writers in your community or online to work with. You can’t go wrong with the experience you build and there are lots of options! NSAI and SongU are examples of where to find them. Love #7 Brent!

  3. Ok, here’s a question related to #2. Do you write a complete lyric and then give it to a musician if you can’t sit down with them? Or do you insist on working on both together? I’ve heard writers talk about writing the melody and lyric in real time together.

    1. Steve,
      I’ve done both- I’ve left lyrics with cowriters, and we’ve written in the room “in real time.” I came in to the cowrite with Erin Enderlin with the lyric to “Monday Morning Church” pretty much done. I left it with her, and the next time we got together, she played me the melody. So, that worked out. Of course, even if I’m not in the room when the melody is being written, it’s not considered “done” until both writers sign off on it (same as if they send me a melody and I write lyrics for it). I prefer to be in the room working on melody and lyric at the same time, since they inform and shape each other. “Crickets,” my cut on Joe Nichols’ upcoming record, was written in the room just from the idea (which my cowriters brought in). But it’s not always possible to be in the room together. You just have to do what IS possible and what’s going to be best for the song. Hope that helps!

  4. I am always amazed with the way musicians take my lyrics and bring them to life to produce an honest-to-goodness SONG. I have never been disappointed with the results. Sometimes I have a bit of a melody in mind, but never a complete one. So grateful for people who can play and sing and are ready to work with me.

  5. I do everything and both lyrics and melodies usually come to me at the same time. If you’re strictly a lyricist a nd the song idea is yours and you have a good feel for what you’re looking for I highly suggest being there in person with your co-writer.

  6. Lyricist responds:

    ….i will take this moment and share how my songwriting came about. I do not play any instruments, I have always been a writer of poems, kids stories in rhyme, and more all the way back to 3rd grade when my English teacher recognized me for the most well written poems in 20 minutes and had me read them to the class (7 in all and we were to do one) . As life would have it, i went many other directions than to pursue just writing. Even to be instrumental in producing and marketing of a country music television series in the late 80’s. As a stylist and makeup artist for the show as well I got to spend some great one on one time with many great country artist’s at that time like Dottie West , Eddie Rabbitt, Mickey Gilley and more along with the new ones just coming on the scene like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and more…ahh but now they are the golden oldies i must say. I got to do my own personal interviews with each one behind closed doors and got to hear many personal stories of their lives because of it.

    Fast forward 23 years from then and i have been blessed to work with a great published composer of music who taught me to write musically to his compositions needing lyrics. His music took me another direction than country. Romantic ballads, mystical, inspirational, and a few country and pop tunes as well as movie and a documentary;”Agriculture From the Heart; Michigan Dairy Farmers” soundtrack. I am inspired by the music i get sent with a working title. I listen to the instrumental music and write whatever comes to me, as we writers do. No particular order just all thoughts like a dream. I then get sent the music again and he has the melody hummed thru out it and like a puzzle laid out before me i work the lines til they fit. Changing words to those that are more musical and send those lyrics to him. Most of the time the lyrics take form from the working title and sometimes he shares with me his vision for the scene. He or a studio singer tries them out and we work by phone fine tuning each one. He then produces the finished piece in his studio broadcast ready. We have a few demos but most are complete produced songs. We have been writing together through internet and telephone this way for 4 years now and have never met in person, yet.

    so, like i have said “There is no greater high than to hear a creation sung into life”~songwriting !

    I look forward to one day being in the studio with other writers of music and lyrics to co-write.And to hear a country artist sing one of those. That will top the high, with even more energy !

    Thanks Brent Baxter for adding me to your blog and sharing your insight of the music business from Nashville !

    ~d

  7. Your articles always seem to come at a time when I need the extra encouragement – thanks Brent! I am a lyricist, loud and proud! I can sometimes come up with a melody while I am writing, but finding a musician or melodist to bring them to life is a work of art and gives me chills!

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