You have the words inside your head. You have something that could become a tune in your ears. However, when you find yourself in front of a blank piece of paper, it seems as nothing can come out, or at least not in the way it sounds in your mind. It’s a struggle known to many artists, both aspiring and experienced ones.
One of the best lyricists in the history of music, Leonard Cohen, once said in an interview that he needs a lot of time to find out what the song is:
“To find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself and my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency. To be able to find that song that I can be interested in takes many versions and it takes a lot of uncovering.”
If you’re feeling stuck or simply think that you can do more and be better, here are some tips that will help you grow as a lyricist and composer.
Take the style-searching path
One of the most important things for a successful musician is having an authentic style. However, authentic styles don’t just grow on trees.
There’s nothing wrong with starting out as a “copycat” of some other musician. It takes an average author to write several hundreds of songs until he finds his voice. Even Bob Dylan started out with something reminiscent of country artists such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and when he finally discovered his music persona, he was the one and only.
This will also mean that you will probably write some bad songs. Others will be average. And some will be amazing. That is how you learn.
Learn to express yourself
For a songwriter, the vocabulary is a chest filled with immense treasure. But if the chest is half empty, you’ll have trouble getting all those powerful feelings and thoughts across.
Reading helps a lot. And this doesn’t include only song lyrics. It also means reading novels and especially poetry. After that, practice by writing the same sentence or phrase in several ways. This all depends on your native language and on the language you want to perform in.
English is by far the best for gaining international recognition, and it can be a very expressive language, too. However, it does require years of training. If this is your goal, try doing one challenging IELTS writing task each day. In time, it will become natural to you.
Find a mentor
The best approach to growing as a musician is finding an experienced mentor. For this, you will need to embrace humbleness.
Seek out mentors at courses, YouTube tutorials, colleges, or wherever else you can find someone you look up to. Listen to their advice and soak in their knowledge like a sponge. If you can, try to find a mentor who really takes an interest in your knowledge and growth. The fact that you’ll probably get guidance free of charge is of secondary value here. The primary thing is that someone will invest their hope and effort in you.
Master the basics
Music theory, notes, key signature, tempo, grammar, vocabulary… Every one of these sounds so empty when compared to a song that touches the soul. Still, they’re the foundation of every good song ever written. If you already have some basic knowledge of these things, revisit them, and upgrade what you know with additional information that could help your style (e.g., cadence, a concept from choral music).
Read over your work
Some people write something, put it aside, and think they’re done with it. This is not how you become a good musician. Now, there are different ways of reading song lyrics and music to help you perfect your work:
Read the lyrics you wrote out loud, without any music in the background. Do they tell you what happened? Do they show how that made you feel? Do they explain the consequences? Do they carry a message? Do you feel something when you read them? Can they be sung? Don’t be shy to ask a second opinion – any criticism, both positive and negative, can be constructive for your writing.
Score reading has become one of the most underestimated practices in music these days, but it is so important. Do this in silence first and then while listening to music. Ask yourself, is it interesting or emotional? Is there progress and a climax? What’s missing? And how well does it go with your words?
When we hear a good song, we get carried away by its poetry and melody. But, like with Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” behind the seven minutes of magic, there are hours and even months of hard work. The tips above could help you build your own masterpiece and nourish your unique style – but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to invest time and effort to make it work.