If you’ve already got music in mind for a song, but don’t know what lyrics would fit with that music, read on—these tools will help.
What Does it Sound Like?
Knowing what genres the piece sounds like can help give you a sense of direction. Does the music sound like blues mixed with industrial music? Think about what themes, worldviews, and attitudes tend to be reflected in the lyrics of blues and industrial music. Research it and look at examples, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the genres.
Once you’ve got some grounding in the lyrical themes that tend to appear within those genres, you can bring your own experiences and unique vision to create within that framework. You can also deviate from the norm within a genre, of course.
Connect the Dots
Play the piece of music over and over, letting it wash over you and saturate your consciousness. Focus deeply on it. Close your eyes. Allow the music to spark images, impressions, and thoughts—jot any of these down, even if they’re little isolated fragments, even if they’re just adjectives for how the music sounds, even if they seem irrelevant.
These initial impressions will add up, and hopefully at some point you’ll suddenly make a connection between them and the way forward will become clear.
Finally, if there’s already a vocal melody provided, you can fill it in using any words at all. Just start listing phrases without censoring them, no matter how silly, inappropriate, or nonsensical they are. Sing them out loud. Allow yourself to be completely ridiculous and try every possibility. Eventually you’ll come up with an idea that you can at least begin to work with, and reshape to suit your tastes.
Until that happens, though, feel free to make ridiculous noises, make up your own nonsense words to fill blanks, or spew out little stream-of-consciousness fragments until something sticks. Make sure you record this crazy process, or write down the good lines at least!
You can also write a complete lyric using somebody else’s melody as inspiration. To lift the melody and use it in your own final product is plagiarism, so don’t go that far—instead, just use the melody as a kind of mold that you use to shape a totally new lyric.
Once you’ve written the all-new lyric, you can compose new music or call on a collaborator to do so—using a collaborator is great in this case, especially if you leave them in the dark about what song you used as inspiration.
There are several advantages to using a ghost melody:
- It allows lyricists to write to music on their own.
- Writing to an existing melody will cause your new lyric to inherit the form and structure of the original song. Even when you set the lyric to entirely new music, that structure remains intact, underpinning the whole creation, giving it shape. Think of it as a vessel—the cup is the same, but now it’s full of wine instead of milk.