Every aspiring artist – whether a poet, composer, graphic designer, etc. – is familiar with the tyranny of the blank page. Where and how does one begin? Where do you find inspiration and motivation?
An earlier blog post provided tips for composing music. This post will focus on specific aspects of songwriting. Because of the intersection of written word and music, there are a variety of key elements in writing a successful song. Different listeners will focus on different aspects – one listener may focus primarily on the lyrics, and another may focus on melody and harmony. It is helpful to keep in mind what aspects of your song will resonate with a given audience. You may decide to deemphasize harmony and focus on clarity of lyrics to better convey a story. Or, you may decide that the words aren’t important, and instead you want to provide an awesome aural experience, which complex harmony and counterpoint, like in more complicate choral music. These are all acceptable.
The lyrical content is entirely subjective – personal stories, poetry, nonsense syllables meant only to sustain sonorities. In many cases you will want the lyrics sung as naturally as if they were spoken – this way, the content is clearly articulated and delivered. The music does not detract from the understandability of the words. In other cases, the clarity of the words is less important. However, it is important to keep in mind the experience of the singer at all times. Phrasing must suit both the music and the words, and the words must be set to the music carefully to allow the singer to breathe and sing naturally.
Setting the lyrics to music can be at once fun and challenging. What is the relationship between the two? Sometimes there may not be an obvious one, or there may not be one at all. The songwriter may just really like a particular melody, and there is no connection between that melody and the lyrical content. In contrast, the words could dictate the shape of the music. In the Baroque era, composers shaped music in a way that mirrors the intended emotion associated with a lyrical passage, according to the prevailing aesthetic theory known as the ‘doctrine of the affects.’ Happiness, for example, would be expressed through upward motions and large intervals. Sadness, in contrast, would be accompanied by downward passages in the melody.
These are some ideas you may wish to use as you begin writing songs. What are other ideas that we may have missed? Let us know!