As a songwriter, nothing is more rewarding than the prospect of writing lyrics that resonate so deeply with listeners, that not only do they memorize them but actually sing along. Singable lyrics are no happy accident. They are often the result of hours upon hours of deliberate brainstorming by professionals who’ve spent years mastering the craft of connecting with audiences through language and notes. Below are several strategies taken from the consensus of award-winning songwriters like Louis Bell and Charlie Puth that you can start implementing to help take your lyrics from amateur to world-class.
Start by Singing Your Melody
Before anything, flesh out your arrangement and create a melody that pairs with your chords like bread and butter, ensuring that all of your notes belong to your desired scale and that they fit a given range (alto, soprano, etc). It should go without saying that if you’re not compelled to sing to your own melody, nobody else will either. Creating a singable melody is about connecting with your listeners’ emotions- and a sense of connection to your own emotions ought to be your compass when it comes to navigating your melody. These don’t have to be words initially- just start by scatting some syllables to make sure you have a consistent flow. If something doesn’t jive or achieve the emotional effect you desire, shift some midi around until you get it just right.
Have a Lyric to Work Toward
Decide where in your melody the title of your song or overall punchline belongs. Once you know where you’re going, it becomes a lot easier to think up lyrics that help you arrive at that destination. For example, if I was writing ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ by Bruno Mars, I’d start by deciding which series of notes the phrase, ‘locked out of heaven’ belongs to and then building the rest of the chorus lyrics around that. The most important phrase of your song deserves priority when it comes to your melodic real estate and the emotional character thereof. Remember, songwriting is about storytelling- the subject of your song is arriving to some sort of conclusion or epiphany and it’s your job to take your listener on that journey no matter what the subject matter.
Use Literary Devices
Metaphor, alliteration, rhyme, and repetition to name a few. Literary devices are found all throughout poetry which many songwriters are unsurprisingly inspired by. Alliteration, even in subtle amounts, can help connect your lyrics in such a way that they roll off the tongue and thus become more singable. Elton John’s ‘Sad Songs (Say So Much),’ Eric Clapton’s ‘Bell Bottom Blues,’ and ’Maybe It Was Memphis’ by Pam Tillis are just a few examples of phrases that repeat words beginning with a common consonant. Repeat a lyric verbatim if the urgency of its tone warrants. Just be wary of overusing any of these tools. Too many perfect rhymes could detract from the character of your song. And metaphors that fail to harken back to one central theme or evoke common imagery can easily overcrowd the palette of your lyrics.
Play with Symmetry
Take the time to vary your phrasing in an order that you find catchy. Do any of your phrases pose a question to which another phrase answers? Have you considered answering one question with another question? These are all ways to elicit a sense of call-and-response which can single-handedly make almost any lyrics more participatory. The possibilities are as endless as your creative license but it’s up to you to decide what kind of symmetry best suits the melodies you’ve created.
Broaden the Scope of Your Lyrics
Perhaps the most pragmatic key to making lyrics more singable is broadening their scope of meaning to appeal to a larger potential audience. Over-specificity can wipe the emotion out of your lyrics because it can be too direct. Oftentimes, we communicate as people indirectly and through sub-text, which means there’s something innately more human about employing this mode of language in our songwriting. Experiment with ambiguous lyrics that can take on a number of meanings and therefore apply to more listeners. The more listeners connect, the more listeners will be singing along with thoughts of how your lyrics apply to their lives.