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  • Writer's pictureHugh at ZephyrHillMusic

Behind the Lyrics: Building a Super Songwriter

This is the last in the series of ‘Behind the lyrics’ and so this month I’m presenting you with a super songwriter by building one from all the great elements of the writers I have been looking at over this series.

Let’s start with how you get an idea for a song - this is the brain and the head of the song;

Maren Morris - talks about having your songwriting antenna up; being attentive to the world around you and being ready to receive great ideas from unlikely sources. Remember her song ‘Bones’ came from a conversation with an estate agent talking about a house.

You might be in a bookstore and see a title which would make a great song, it could be a phrase someone says in a conversation or from a film, it might even be taking a well known phrase or cliché and twisting it to make it unique.

The next set of features create a lot of movement, so they act like the limbs:

Keith Urban  and Tamara Stewart - both exhibited great examples of Word play. Remember the tongue twister from Keith of:

“I am who I am, I just miss who I was when we were”

And the brilliant visual line from Tamara:

“Only a coward will gaslight a woman, strike a match just to watch her scream”

We move onto another essential grammatical tool - metaphors

Bailey James with the Crow representing her brother and Catie Offerman - I just killed a man.  It’s a strong method and works very well in country music

Miranda Lambert uses another creative tool - we get a personification in her song Waxahachie, giving the place so much character and emotion it becomes living and breathing.

A song needs a heart, how does it make you feel?

Karley Scott Collins - keys into nostalgia which continues to be a powerful topic for lots of songs.

Following on from that idea the use of strong imagery / name & place checking is in lots of songs and was in our example from Carrie Underwood. It brings familiarity which builds connection with the listener.

These next tricks do a lot of hidden work so they act like muscles:

Alliteration, vowel rhymes - are the engine and the mechanics of the song, and when constructed well, make the song strong, but more importantly make the listener comfortable.  

It’s not always actual words doing these things.  From Kelsea Ballerini we learn that vocalisations can sometimes be more hooky than a lyric.  Sounds that sound like words can become a great musical hook. It’s easy to always want to fill space with lyrics, and that can sometimes work against a song being effective.

We should not think we have to be this super songwriter all by ourselves too.  We can and should call in our rhyme fighting crews to collaborate with us.  Especially people who think differently from you, because they push your own creativity further.

Finally we should remember that great songs don’t always fall from the stars or arrive neatly packaged as you wake from a dream.  Most often great songs are not written but re-written.  It’s always about writing better songs, and not writing one lyric and assuming it's great and can never change. It's about not being afraid to take something apart to build it back together stronger

Lori McKenna says it like this, which I find is a great summary for the whole craft of songwriting, with the goal of writing better songs every time you sit down to create.

“I’m always writing the same song, but finding different ways of writing it”

If you’ve enjoyed this series I encourage you to access the Spotify playlist that accompanies it.

Written by: Hugh Webber


Hugh has over 20 years experience as a songwriter and creative collaborator; personally mentored by Kinks frontman Ray Davies, a year at the London Songwriting Academy, and with songs placed in film and TV. Find out more here.

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