How to Write Non-Visual Lyrics – Part 3

Staying with “Wolves”, in the chorus, the singer tells us about how she found the love she hopes she’s finally found. She sings about running through wolves, running through jungles, visiting dark alleys, and seeing the dark side of the moon along the way. While she doesn’t expect us to believe that she did those things literally, the poetic language used conveys how deeply she was feeling.

Symbolic and abstract lyrics

Not every song has to feature lyrics that make sense or that are literal. Many Leonard Cohen songs, for example, are symbolism heavy. Hundreds of artists have recorded the standard “Hallelujah” and it’s been performed on X-Factor, American Idol, and even at the Olympics. It’s also been played at numerous religious services, weddings, funerals, and, of course, in the film Shrek. The lyrics allude to love sex, music, biblical stories, and more, and is open to interpretation. Despite the ambiguity, however, even when coupled with Cohen’s wonderful melancholic melody, the song conveys powerful emotion.

When KT Tunstall explains the meaning behind her self-penned song “Black Horses and The Cherry Tree”, she tells us that the song is about fate, listening to your heart, gambling, and having the courage to fight through the bad times. The likelihood is that a very small number, if any, listeners understood that but rather they connect with the uber-catchy melody, the backing track, and the vocals.

Some don’t even make sense

In such songs as The Beatles classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (Lennon and McCartney), age Donovan hit “Mellow Yellow” (Donovan) and a whole host of other songs from the psychedelic era, the songs didn’t make sense and yet still managed to contribute to the idea of taking the listener on a sonic acid trip.As evidence has shown in the hits mentioned above, songs that contain non-literal lyrics can be hugely successful; it’s just that they heavily depend on the melody to engage the listener. An artist rarely records a song with abstract lyrics unless they have written it themselves. One thing to note is that it’s rare to find a country song that includes non-literal lyrics.

The words in a song aren’t typically written by adhering to a single approach. A lyric might primarily employ the technique of blatantly stating how the singer feels but it may also include a couple of lines of imagery.

In summary

No matter which of the above techniques we use, our words need to stand out from those songs that came before. We need to draw in the listener and give him or her a reason to fall in love with our song. If we write for other people, the lyrics need to be better than those that the artist (and his or producer) could write or co-write. By using the above techniques and tools, like assuming a fresh perspective, using metaphor and simile, hyperbole, abstract imagery, and poetic language, we can write engaging non-visual lyrics that connect with the listener.

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