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Planning Your Lyrics Like A Pro

How to keep your lyrics laser-focused

· Songwriting

This happens to me all the time: I’m writing a song. I’ve got a killer hook. I’ve written the chorus. I’ve gotten halfway through a verse and then…nothing. My brain just gives out on me. I end up struggling with a half-written song for months because I just can’t seem to come up with any more lyrics.

Sometimes lyrics come easily. And sometimes they don’t. And that’s when it’s most helpful to have a lyric plan.

When I'm struggling with lyrics, I usually go through these questions to come up with a basic outline of the song. This helps me stay focused when I have no idea what to write or what to say.

What is the overall idea of the song? What are you trying to say?

Don’t just repeat the one-line-hook for this question, really dig deep. Write a few sentences about what you’re trying to say with your song. Think about the main idea you want your audience to take away from the song.

The reason this is so helpful is because when you’re in lyric-writing mode, you’re focusing on a million different things at once: rhythm, rhyme, flow, etc. It's easy to lose sight of the main idea of the song when your mind is in so many different places.

So try explaining your song in normal language. No poetry, no music, no pressure.

What is the purpose of each section?

Let’s assume your song has the form verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. (You can tweak this for different forms.)

Here are the basic functions of the each section:

  • The chorus should contain the main idea of the song. It should be the most memorable part of the song – the part that you want your listeners to walk away humming.
  • Verse 1 should introduce the context and the tone of the song and set up the first chorus.
  • Verse 2 should add more information that makes the chorus even more powerful.
  • The bridge should be contrasting from the verses in some way: lyric rhythm (ex. faster paced lyrics), number of lines, introducing a plot twist, more repetition, etc.

Now take a sheet of paper. Divide it into 6 sections and write a few sentences about what you want to say in each section of the song. (OR download the lyric planning worksheet over in the free resources section!)

Are there any off-topic lyrics?

Now once you’ve written the sections of the song, go through and make sure none of your lyrics are off-topic.

When I say “off-topic," I mean lyrics that don’t contribute in any way to the overall theme of the song. That doesn’t mean they have to be spelling out “this is what the song is about,” but they should in some way support the topic of the song.

Say you’re writing a sweet song for your mother about how much you appreciate her. One verse might be about a specific memory of going to the park with her. Another verse might be about how she fixed your hair before your high school prom. Even though you’re not specifically saying “I love you mom!” you’re showing it through stories. So those verses would not be off-topic.

BUT if you wrote the bridge about playing in the woods with your brother and how sweet those memories were, too, it would dilute the main idea of the song.

What you would need to do is either re-write the chorus to change the main idea of the song to “family memories” or rewrite the bridge to be more focused on your mother.

NOTE: There are genres and certain styles of writing where off-topic lyrics are acceptable. Because rap music is so heavily focused on clever wordplay, rhyming, alliteration, flow, etc., the main idea of the song is less of a focus. Genres like pop, rock, and country are more theme-centered songs.

So next time you're stuck with lyric writing, try using a lyric outline to help keep you focused and know what to write about.

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