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niki's avatar

Should I never be afraid of writing and experimenting with my own lyrics?

Asked by niki (699 points ) March 30th, 2009

As a musician/songwriter, this has always been my biggest problem.
When I hear & see great (even near-perfect) lyrics such as The Beatle’s , Queen’s , Led Zeppelin’s , even from today’s musicians such as Muse, Jason Mraz ,
I’ve always felt that somehow my lyrics just sounded so ‘weird’ (not in uniquely “good way”, i guess), or ‘incoherent’, or not having good-rhymes, etc; and thus, can never be on par with those talented songwriters i mentioned above!
And the problem is, whenever I started to write my own lyrics, and trying just to Be Myself, I often found myself comparing with these great artists, and their genius lyrics lines! and then, it depressed me again.
And this is what often made me afraid of writing my own lyrics, even experimenting with it.
Because I always find that my own lyrics often lacking in this, or that. Basically, not being confident on myself.

Is this thought wrong?
Or should I never be afraid of writing and experimenting and coming up with my OWN lyrics, no matter how bad my first efforts would be ? rather than not finishing a single lyric, because I kept telling myself that I suck at writing lyrics ?

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15 Answers

Wine3213's avatar

I say be yourself. If you try too hard to to sound like someone else, people will know. There’s nothing wrong with taking hints from other great songwriters, but in the end, you shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself.

Zen's avatar

Nope.

ninjacolin's avatar

my opinon is that YES, you should be afraid.

the world has enough shitty art. we only need more good art. you shouldn’t be afraid to write.. just please don’t make another hit of utter crap to further contribute to the polluted well of inspiration that so many have access to already via Britney Spears and all those ridiculously atrocious writers of POP music.

My suggestions:
Find someone who can critique your writing who knows how to tell you that you suck when it’s appropriate.

Study other good lyrics. Try to recreate exactly similar lyrics as other good writers. Emulate the style of others. Come to understand their way of interlaying good words so that they are beautiful and poetic and right. Figure out what makes them good. Then take all your influences and make your own piece having followed the wisdom of ways of great artists before you.

qashqai's avatar

Be yourself. Try hard, hit the road and then keep getting better.

ninjacolin's avatar

:)

but waste no time. start today. write lots and evaluate it thoroughly and often.
it’s only through practice that you can ever get better at whatever you wish to do.

Pol_is_aware's avatar

I’ve had trouble writing lyrics myself. I think the easiest way to get better is to just write a lot of lyrics. No one ever started out writing perfect songs, hell, some of the Beatles’ early hooks were “I want to hold your hand,” and “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah.”

Try not to think of it as putting yourself out there; Think of it as homework: a practice that needs to be done. It’s really just as practical as any other skill, you have to learn, once you overcome that feeling that you’re putting your reputation on the line every time you try to write a song.

It’s also good to look up some tips on song writing, or just trying to figure out what it is that you like about the songs you like.

If all else fails (This is what I did to get started) just write purposefully horrible lyrics.

alossforwords's avatar

If you love writing music and lyrics, compose away. Maybe Edward Hopper didn’t think that he could paint compared to Van Gogh, but the world is better for his work. The same is true for you. Create something from the heart and you could save someone, inspire them to write. You could help music to evolve.

You are your own worst critic.
The Beatles wrote nonsense to find the melody and then rewrote their songs when inspiration struck.

Good luck.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@alossforwords – Yes. That’s how it was.

@niki – Don’t worry, just write. Paul McCartney is a perfect object lesson. Yesterday started as Scrambled Eggs:

“Scrambled eggs,
Oh, baby how I love your legs.”

Genius, right? Not! He played the melody without proper words for months. Paul later said: “I remember mulling over the tune ‘Yesterday’, and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea… da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and yes-ter-day, that’s good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It’s easy to rhyme those a’s: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there’s a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and ‘b’ again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it.”

cwilbur's avatar

Remember that the lyrics you hear in a moment may have taken months or years to get right. The thing you need to be afraid of is not writing the lyrics in the first place, but of being so attached to them that you’re unwilling to change them.

fireside's avatar

I think you should be aggressive.
B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E

In other words, there are plenty of bad lyricists too.
Do what works for you and don’t try to compare yourself with others.

If Ringo had held off, we would be out a couple of good Beatles songs.

dalepetrie's avatar

@niki – being afraid is your biggest roadblock…I hope I can help give you perpsective.

First of all, Rock and Roll music has been around since the mid 1950s (longer than that really, but the start of the “rock era” was technically 1955, even though you had some songs that were really rock and roll far before then, and that doesn’t even count the blues). So, you’re looking at a universe of 54 years. And in that 54 years, rock music has produced a few thousand acts who have had hit singles and albums, tens of thousands who have made a go of it, despite lack of chart success, and likely millions of folks who have tried their hand at songwriting. And for all those efforts, we have produced one Beatles, one Queen and one Led Zeppelin, 3 artist who would appear on just about anyone’s top 10 of all time (out of the millions who have written songs).

So, what you’re saying to youself is, “if I’m not as good as them, I’m not good enough.” Well, that kind of drive can bring you far in business, but in art, it’s self defeating. Now, if you want to be a pop star and sell a lot of records, that’s actually not even necessarily a “talent”, that’s more of a “skill”...crafing pop songs is something that CAN be taught, and in fact, before the Beatles came along, that’s how most popular music was made, folks sat in studios all day crafting pop songs that sounded good, but don’t say much. Today, any idiot with a Mac can do that, and in fact with sampling, you don’t even need to know how to play an instrument to craft a top ten single.

That’s not to say that no pop has any quality to it, certainly there are pop stars who are both talented and skilled, and certainly there are rock stars who are both talented and skilled, but with pop (which in and of itself is short for “popular”, the emphasis is on skilled, and with rock the emphasis is on talented). And consider that while you can train yourself to be more skilled, you can only wish to be more talented.

The hard, no holds barred part of what I have to say comes now…you either are talented or you are not, and if you are, there is a VERY INFINITESSIMALLY SMALL chance that you are as talented as any of these artists, who arguably represent the best of the best of 50+ years of innovation and artistry.

Imagine for a moment a world where every talented person stopped themselves from writing music if they didn’t think they were as good as the Beatles. Admittedly, not everyone in the world likes the Beatles believe it or not, but if you were to ask 1000 artists at random to name their top 3 influences, I would be willing to bet you that over 700 of them would list the Beatles in their top 3. Of the 300 that were left, if you were to take each of their 3 top influences (another 900 artists), I’m willing to bet that over 800 of those people would have the Beatles in their top 3, and you’d probably have over 950 people from the original list who were indirectly influenced by the Beatles. And I guarantee you that almost every one of those 100 left would have been influenced, and you’d end up with every single one of those 1,000 artists having been influenced by the Beatles by no more than 2 degrees of separation. I’d bet everything I own on those numbers, even though I pulled them out of my ass.

So it’s literally lunacy to compare yourself to the best of the best. And really, it’s a fundamental flaw in the approach to songwriting. Because if you really are an “artist”, what SHOULD matter to you is that you come up with something that as a stand alone piece you are proud to have created. THAT is the ONLY way to make good art. Art that is made in the pursuit of being as good as something else is ALWAYS inferior, because the artist is no longer working to satisfy their personal muse.

This is why when bands have their day in the sun, then go through a bunch of crap and 10, 20 years later put out a new album, that new album NEVER measures up to the original work. Because in the early days, that band was undoubtedly making music they wanted to make, to satisfy their muses. Years later, they are trying to re-capture what they once had, they are not working for their own creative satisfaction, but for the satisfaction of measuring up, and therefore the music is not as heartfelt or true to who they are, which makes it less believable and less powerful.

Consider again the Beatles as they are an execellent jumping off point for this discussion. Why were they so popular? Why is their influence so widely felt? And why did the music they made as solo artists never manage to measure up to what they once had? It’s very simple really…when they started out, they were 4 guys who wanted to make rock and roll music on their own terms. So they wrote their own songs and did not look to the studios to give them hits to record. And though they were young, lacking in life experience, and had no frame of reference to really say anything of more importance than I wanna hold your hand, or she loves you, yeah yeah yeah, they felt what they wrote, and they had that brilliant pop sensibility. In a way, in their early days, they were much like Michael Jackson 20 years later…very skilled at what they did, enough so they were essentially pop stars, but they were somehow transcendent of the “pop” genre, because they also had artistic talent.

But enter the late 60s, the summer of love…the Beatles became essentially a different band. Even their greatest hits albums were broken up into 1962–1966 and 1967–1970…and the reason for that is that in late 66, they really started to express themselves creatively. Some might say it was the summer of love, the whole music scene became more political and bigger than any one band, but yet, the Beatles were never really a hippie, summer of love kind of band…they didn’t really start singing about putting flowers in their hair and trying to love one another right now. Now others will say that’s because of the spiritual Eastern influences and their experimentations with LSD, but to that I say, these things simply opened their minds to being more free about how they felt they could express themselves.

But the one thing that really mattered more than anything in my opinion is when they met Bob Dylan. Dylan was and is a poet, and he can turn a word like no one else. And Dylan told them (at a time in both history and their own personal maturation when they were receptive to hearing it), that he LOVED their music, but that they didn’t really SAY anything. That’s when they started to speak through their music…to make what was already perfect pop with genius shining through to the surface, and turn it into full fledged artistic expression through pitch perfect rock and roll. No one but this group of 4 guys has ever had both the talent and the luck to achieve anything of this nature since. And when they broke up, Lennon remained a great artist, he said what he wanted to say through his music, but he was not a pop star any longer. McCartney was a natural born pop star, but he had NOTHING to say…he wrote (and still writes) sappy love songs, that’s his forte, but he alone is not a great “artist”. Harrison and Starr were both talented and each had acquired some pop finess, but neither measured up to the genius of Lennon/McCartney, and as such, each had high and low points. But individually, even the Beatles themselves could NEVER be as good as the Beatles were collectively.

And that’s what you’re trying to do when you naysay your own work, is to say to yourself that it’s not worthy if it’s not as good as the best thing ever to come out of musical expression. Think of how silly that sounds. But keep in mind that their path to being so great was to say what they wanted to say, in the way they felt comfortable saying it. And everyone who has ever been really good (in terms of quality, regardless of whether they were popular or not) since them has done the same thing…they’ve been themselves.

Jeruba's avatar

Never be afraid. What’s the worst that can happen if you hold back? What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t? Never be afraid.

Blondesjon's avatar

I agree with @Jeruba. Never be afraid. Failure only hurts when it’s in relation to your internal organs.

Jack79's avatar

ok, you got a good point there Niki. It is actually why I have stopped writing. As I answered in another question of yours, I used to write songs by the dozen. I have slowed down to a standstill in the last decade, because I feel I have nothing original to say anymore. When I started off, I had not heard (or not noticed) all those really great songs, so I was writing with the enthusiasm and talent of a teenager, but very little technique. As I grew and also had to pick songs for albums and public performance, my posterity started becoming an issue. The quality of my songs obviously increased, since I had the experience and ability to solve minor problems that could arise. But my inspiration dropped, and, everytime I heard a great song, I’d regret I didn’t get to write it first, compare it to some of mine and feel ashamed, and feel that all my efforts all these years have been in vain. I have written more than 700 songs, including a couple of catchy ones, but I have not offered the world any truly great songs, so what’s the point?

Sorry I didn’t really have an answer there. I guess the only thing to do is ignore everything else that has been and give it your best shot. Sometimes you may surprised at what people may like. My favourite song from my latest album went unnoticed, but another (average) song I did not expect became a hit. So you never know.

Poser's avatar

@dalepetrie Great answer.

The best song I’ve ever written might—might—possibly have the potential to be a marketable song. I don’t consider it as good as the artists you mention (well, maybe Jason Mraz), but I love it nonetheless. The reason is because it said exactly what I wanted to say. I was true to myself, and it came out better than I could have hoped.

But there were a lot of songs that I considered crap that came before it. As with anything, practice makes perfect. It takes practice to learn how to say something that works. Write crap and eventually, you’ll write something you love.

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