Complicated lyrics

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by Ancestor, Oct 16, 2011.

  1. Ancestor

    Ancestor Contributor

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    Apr 3, 2005
    has anyone ever written lyrics that tell a cool story but trying to get them to work as a melodic vocal line is impossible?

    i guess that being a writer i'm sort of a frustrated librettist, but it seems like something should work! i was listening to something i recorded awhile back and the music was cool and the lyrics were cool but mixing the two ruined both (at least imo).

    you'll notice i don't include death vocals, since you can usually pop those in pretty much anywhere and they'll work, probably due to all the overtones.

    i was just wondering what everyone's thoughts were about how to write melodies for lyrics.

    or do you never write a lyric before the melody line?
  2. JamesM

    JamesM The Armada

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    May 29, 2010
    I just remember when writing lyrics that less is always more.
  3. DaveFSJ

    DaveFSJ Well-Known Member

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    Oct 15, 2011
    Western Australia
    My lyrics to my melodies hardly ever make sense when I first write them, I then go back later and change the words. Works 90% of the time for me.
  4. KingAenarion

    KingAenarion Resident Studio Nerd

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    Dec 2, 2010
    Sydney Australia
    I've always found converting lyrics into melodies to be somewhat simple.

    Writing the melodies themselves is something I find easy as someone who is a natural musician and a natural improviser. I just sing lines that sound good in my head.

    Generally thematically you can use musical contours to follow the thought patterns in the lyrics. When the words are saying something powerful you use classic tension building, of which there are many possible solutions. Some are just wrong. If you're building to the climax of a song, you tend to go higher rather than lower. You don't move in scale thirds if you want to quickly build tension the kind of things that feel natural to the lyrics.

    I always find that I need to hear a whole song at least once before I can write melodies so that I can get a general idea of where things are going.

    In terms of rhythm that can be a whole different kettle of fish. That's just about syllables and working out what to shorten, what to gliss or pass over, what to cut altogether, what to melisma etc

    I actually tend to like to write Lyrics BEFORE I write the music. If I have the lyrics written, I already have a basic form and structure. I also have a mood for certain parts of the song.

    For example, my band is currently finishing off writing for a pseudo-concept album. The theme is "reasoned Insanity" and is a whole collection of thoughts and ideas based around the notion of whether insanity is in the eye of the beholder, whether we all harbour those darknesses and oddities in our psyche and are just better at hiding them then those we deem insane.

    I wrote ALL the lyrics before I touched the music. What this has meant is that in the darker moments we can bring the music right down in tempo, pitch arrangement and we know that it's coming. I can then do the same with the vocal melody without ruining what the rest of the band is doing.
  5. Explorer

    Explorer He seldomly knows...

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    May 23, 2009
    Formerly from Cucaramacatacatirimilcote...
    I can write an amazing story, but with hugely complicated phrasing which doesn't sound like natural speech.

    This is an important point. How much are you trying to cram in there?


    It sounds like you need to change either your word phrasing to fit the melody, or your melody to fit the phrasing. I've worked with people who were 100% committed to what they had written right out of the gate, and who wouldn't consider altering it, leading to strange melodic contours and odd rhythms.

    When I'm writing, I will write out what I want to cover, and make an attempt to make it both conform to some rhyme scheme and sound like natural speech. I've got a ton of rhyming dictionaries if I'm not near a computer, but if I have the option of online access, I use WikiRhymer. I also use a thesaurus to get ideas on alternate words which can give me a better rhythm.

    And then I come back to it. I might record it into a tiny recorder I carry with me, singing it and changing it on the fly if I'm out walking downtown or through a shopping mall (or wherever), seeing what fits naturally. Unless there's some amazing stuff that comes out immediately, the material always benefits from working it over more than once and editing it, tightening it up, removing stuff that doesn't move it forward, and so on.


    The other thing which struck me was that it sounds like you recorded music and vocals in isolation, instead of working on both together. I normally work up a rough demo as a blueprint, just voice and guitar or voice and keyboard. If a demo of this sort sounds good, then you have a solid foundation of chord progression and vocals. If it's weak, then you're basically going to be propping up that weak structure with gimmicks, and never addressing the problems directly.

    I don't know what kind of music you're writing, but getting into the habit of writing a lead sheet, with lyrics with melody and chords, helps one really map out a song's structure (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, so on).

    Good luck!
  6. ArrowHead

    ArrowHead Regular

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    Dec 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    If you're trying to tie everything together with rhymes, 1 line per riff, etc... it can be very difficult. However, I tend to write my lyrics as prose, and then separate and phrase it as the music dictates.

    If you're trying to hold to a pattern or rhyme scheme, a thesaurus can be a wonderful thing. Also be flexible, and willing to say the same thing a different way to adapt your lyrics to the music better. Especially if the story is the important thing for you.

    Also, sometimes weaving in spoken word or samples can help tell a story. Operation Mindcrime comes immediately to mind.

    And finally, DON'T sell the listener short. Sometimes a lyricist can be bogged down with a need to over explain or cram too much dialogue into their lyrics. Sometimes some metaphors and vague descriptions coupled with the right melody is enough - we can figure out what you mean from there.
    KingAenarion and Ancestor like this.

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