You can never get enough good advice when it comes to lyric writing. Today I will share some very good advice with you, given by Anthony Ceseri on how to write lyrics that our listeners can easily relate to. The advice comes from Anthony’s course: “Success for your songs”. Enjoy!
Specificity in your lyrics can be a great way to pull your listener into you story and make your lyrics relatable. It may seem counterintuitive, but typically the more specific, detail oriented, and personal something is, the more universal it is. We’ve all had situations like the specific ones we hear about in a well written song, even if the situation isn’t exactly the same as what happened to us. The similarities in the details enable us to relate to well written stories. It lets us see ourselves in them, which bring us into the story emotionally. Alternatively, saying vague things like “I’m happy” tends to create a disconnect, because they’re so general, no one knows what they’re referring to.
A great way to be detail specific when delivering your story is to engage the senses.
When we remember things, we tend to remember what they looked like, what they sounded like, what they smelled like, how they felt and how they tasted. That’s why incorporating sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste into your lyrics can help drive your specificity by tapping into your listener’s memory banks. Let’s look at some examples.
Sight can be the most instinctive one to start with. Here’s a line that engages the listener’s vision.
The old paint is cracked and curled as it barely clings to the wall
In this example, we’re getting a nice visual of old paint that’s pretty easy to see in our mind because of how specific it is. It would have been much less effective to simply say “the paint was old.” That doesn’t “paint” the picture for us. Here are two more:
The rusty copper and brown pipes formed domed beads of dew
The jagged edges of the broken glass met at a sharp point that looked like a knife
You can see how in both of these it becomes very easy to picture these objects in our minds, because of how they were described to engage our vision. Everyone will picture these items differently, based on their own past experiences with them, but the important thing is that the listener is able to clearly visualize them in his own way.
Describing what can be heard is another great way to create a scene for your listener. Look at this line:
The leaves are crunching as they play in the woods
The sound of leaves crunching is a specific sound that everyone can relate to because it’s most likely a sound that everyone has experienced hearing. Now look at this piece of lyric:
My pen furiously scratching as it digs into my page
So many thoughts come to mind about you
You can see how much more descriptive this is than simply saying “I write about you.” Now, we can hear the pen tearing into the page. It’s putting us in the scene. Let’s look at one more:
The volume of her footsteps lessens as she walks away
When it’s silent I’ll know I lost her
Here we’re seeing sound being tied into the idea of loss. This is a good time to mention that the sense of hearing is an important one, since music is an audible-only medium. As a result, it can give you your best opportunities for moments of prosody in your song.
For example, in this last example the idea of the volume of footsteps lessening as she walked away could get played out in the music. Maybe the beats of the music resemble footsteps and they start to fade when that line is sung. You can have some fun when mentioning sound in your lyrics to develop prosody in your song.
Smell seems to be a less thought of sense to engage when writing, which is why it can be effective when used. Take this line as an example:
A musty odour fills the old, vacant home
That musty smell puts us there in the house. Combining senses can work well too. Look at this one:
The aroma of incense accompanied the dark atmosphere in her room
Here, we’re given the visual of a dark room, but it’s added to with the smell of the incense. Now we have a good feel for what it’s like in that room. Let’s look at one more:
The smell of rotting food invaded my nostrils
Rotting food is impossible keep out of your nose. Here smell is being used with metaphor. We’ll talk more about that shortly.
Touch can be a powerful one too. Have you ever walked by a stone wall, or a fountain and couldn’t stop yourself from touching it, just to see what it felt like? That’s why sprinkling those moments into your song can work nicely. Look at this example:
My bare feet against the cool, moist grass
That’s certainly one our minds (and feet!) can relate to. How about these two:
The steam from my coffee warmed my chin
Her cold, hard skin felt like porcelain
You can see how these moments place you in the story better than lines like “the coffee was hot,” or “her hand was cold.” These lines are descriptive by talking about how they feel. That makes them much easier to relate to.
Taste is another one that’s easy to forget about, which is why it can be powerful. Look at this line:
His nerves get the best of him as he tastes the dryness in his mouth
The saltiness of her skin on my lips as I kissed her neck
This one taps into what you taste and see:
I can taste the chalkiness of the dust as I watch him drive off
Leaving nothing but a brown cloud behind
We can see the brown dust cloud as we tasted it too. Descriptions hitting multiple senses can be a great tool, as we saw before.
Organic and Kinesthetic
In addition to the standard five senses, you can also discuss the organic and kinesthetic senses. Your organic sense is your awareness of what’s happening in your body, like a heartbeat, the tense feeling in your fingers and forearm as you clench a fist, or sore muscles.
Kinesthetic sense is your relation to the world around you. When you spin around you see the world as a blur, while you get dizzy. An astronaut looking down on the world would certainly have his kinesthetic sense engaged as well. So would a snorkeler looking out into the vast ocean.
An example of a line that relates to the organic sense would be this:
A felt a jolt in my chest as if lightning struck my heart
It explores what panic could feel like, since it hits us from the inside.
These lines are speaking to our kinesthetic sense:
I gripped the handrail of the roller coaster so tight
It was the only thing around me that didn’t appear blurred
It’s relating us to the world around us. These next two lines take into account both organic and kinesthetic senses:
The bad news seemed to slow time around me
As my heart decelerated to what felt like a beat per minute
The world slowing is kinesthetic, while a reference to a heartbeat is organic. These two senses can be great tools to use to create specificity, in addition to the standard five senses.
So far Anthony Ceseri.
Take care until next time and Happy Writing!