I have always found writing lyrics to be a comprehensive art. You build upon what you have already learned and you never stop learning. What is great lyrically is relative, no matter what you write there will always be people who like and dislike it. When it comes to other peoples opinions, use what you can and disregard the rest.
Critics are for music buyers not music makers. Art cannot be truly judged only interpreted. That being said lets get on to step 1...
Step 1) Write until you bleed- Seriously, the more you write the better your writing will get. Experiment with different styles, write from different viewpoints, try to express different emotions that you usually don’t find yourself writing about in your lyrics. Try keeping a journal and writing about the events of the day, your dreams, your emotions, whatever…just practice your writing and your skill will improve.
Step 2) Use Everything - When your writing lyrics don’t get hung up on how you hate the world or how you love your wife or girlfriend. Come on man, you can only milk that cow so much. Content and inspiration is all around you. Life experiences, depression, sadness, anxiety, joy, the first time you had sex, the first time you got thrown in jail, the time you and your friends got caught stealing at the 7/11 when you were kids, your friends themselves, family stories. Bottom line, use everything. You have to step outside of your comfort zone to improve.
Step 3) Study writings and lyrics that impact you - No I did not say read or listen to. It’s more than that. You have already done that. Now you need to study those works. Ask yourself why you like them. What specific lyric attracts you to that song? Was it an attitude or a feel? Did you personally relate to a certain phrase? Did you find yourself drawn to the raw emotion and sincerity of the lyrics and the way they were sung? Think about what makes you personally like a piece of writing. By studying writers who you have enjoyed and who have touched you with their writing, you will better learn how to write and how to affect others with writing lyrics yourself. Because in the end that’s what it’s all about. In the end, I want you as the listener to feel what I, the writer feels. Honesty alone will not do it. It takes a combination of sincerity, wordplay and charm to touch others with your words.
Step 4) Think about the music - A good friend of mine always says, “Kam, sometimes you have to dance with who ya brought.” I always loved that and it’s really true in a lot of cases. When your writing lyrics before you write the music or after the music has been written, you have to respect the nature of that music. The music and the lyrics want to be connected, they were meant to be connected. That is good song writing practice.
For example, lets say I’m writing lyrics for a song that seems sleek and refined musically with a crisp tightness to it. I try to think about what kind of emotion that is sending out or how I might personally be taking it. If I feel confidence and attitude coming from that music then I am going to try to write lyrics that convey confidence and attitude. It’s not easy, it takes practice. In the end when your lyrics and your music are both sending out the same vibe, people feel that power whether they personally relate to it or not.
Step 5) The Words you use - Think about the words you use when your writing lyrics for a minute. Some words are very overused. “Love” for example. The average everyday person has been so exposed to words like love, hate, or feel, that unless the word is used in a clever unique way, when people hear them in a song they tend to just mentally sort of skim over them. If that happens you fail to connect lyrically.
If I say:
I love my girlfriend
(who cares, probably didn’t even hear you sing that)
I love rat poison
(I got your attention by using two words that don’t usually get used together, love and rat poison)
I have a taste for her tonight
(It’s interesting because instead of using the overused word “love” I used the phrase “have a taste for” and ended it with “tonight” which is kind of implying that tomorrow I might not feel that way. So the listener might think…“hmm whats this all about?”)
I have an eye on your girlfriend and my fingers are itching
(It’s strange and a little wicked, but it’s not boring. As a listener I’m not hearing something I’ve heard a million times before and I might want to actually listen to this.)
These are just a few examples to get you thinking about wordplay and how you come across to a listener. I’m not saying use shock and awe with your words all the time. What I’m saying is that if your trying to write a song about how you felt when your favorite dog died, your goal is to make the listener feel the way you felt through your song. To do that you have to grab their attention with words and make them believe you by pushing the right emotional buttons.
Get a thesaurus. Play around with some of the overused words in your writing. You know which ones they are. The generic ones that get thrown around all the time in everyday life. Don’t fill your song lyrics up with crazy 3 dollar words that alienate the listener. Your looking for just a few that will wake someone’s brain up.