Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Danger Of Critiquing Lyrics

There are tons of songwriting forums on the net. Trust me ~ Try doing a Google search sometime. I'm not saying there are tons of good songwriting forums. (By the way, if anyone knows of a really good one, please let me know.)

These forums are places where folks get together to mingle. Someone will post their lyrics for review, and the rest of the folks proceed to rip them to shreds:

"Oh, it would be so much better if you used 'the' instead of 'a'."

Or, someone will have a nice turn of phrase, and someone will respond, "That doesn't make sense. Can't you just say, 'Jane went to the store'?"

I rarely read posted lyrics. Frankly, it's about as much fun as drinking a can of Diet Coke that's lost its fizz.

I guess the main problem I have with reading lyrics is, they just tend to drone on and on. I'm sure, with music added, the experience would be much more enjoyable. And I'm not criticizing other writers. I don't like reading my own lyrics.

That's not to say that I
never like lyrics. If someone is a really good writer, it certainly makes me want to hear the song.

But, aye, there's the rub. There'd better be a song to go with it. Otherwise, it's just a poem. And I'm not a poetry fan. Most of that stuff is just too precious for me.

But I have digressed once again.

The problem with critiquing lyrics is that they're out of context. I bet there are a million hit songs with words that either don't make any sense, or really say nothing at all. But the songs were still hits!

As a lyricist, I hate to say this, but the words are generally the
least important component of a song. There are obvious exceptions to this rule. Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, Don Henley are a few exceptions that readily come to mind.

But most songwriters aren't poets (and in this instance, I mean "poets" in a good way).

Imagine if someone on one of those songwriting sites posted lyrics like this:

You see I’ve been through the desert
On a horse with no name

It felt good to be out of the rain

In the desert you can remember your name

’Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain

La la la la la la la

Or this:

I am, I said

To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair

People would be like, "Ohh-KAY! Have you ever thought of taking up a different hobby?"

(My theory on that last one is, it was late; Neil just wanted to go to bed, but he had to come up with a last line first. "Okay, dammit. 'Not even the
chair'! Good enough!")

So, while I still think it's important to at least write words that make sense, don't limit yourself.

Don't write, "Jane went to the store", unless that's the vibe you're going for. It's okay to dress up your words, even if the "experts" don't get it.

And the words have to fit the music! Didja ever try to put music to something that was the length of a novel? Edit, people! And Don McLean, I'm talking directly to you! Yes, I know it was a big hit song, but eight and a half minutes??

Don't be so in love with your words that you can't bear to part with any of them. There's nothing wrong with short, concise lines. In fact, they're easier to put to music.

Lastly, if you insist on posting lyrics on a songwriting forum, take the feedback for what it's worth. Consider the source. If these guys were hit songwriters, they wouldn't be hanging out on internet forums.

I am, I said
To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

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