Melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there
Old 2nd October 2013
  #1
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Question Melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there

So I came across an interesting quote from Ralph Murphy, "the melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there."
Which I subconscious suspected and never articulated. I knew lyrics were important, but just the way it was said made it an aha moment for me. So I went and reimagined some songs and I thought this idea really really jives with me.

Just an example to share::

So here is the chorus to Katy Perrys Roar


I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar



Which I whimsically rewrote

So I sat on the porch and-I, wondered, How did I come with
This life that I'm blessed with It must be your will oh lord
my saviour, saved from the fire
This life that I'm blessed with It must be your will oh lord
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
It must be your will oh lord



Now singing in my head with these words to the same production makes the chorus seem slightly uneventful (colourwise since there is less metaphor) and more exclusive (as in fewer people could relate). Which could also explain why religious songs never tend to be successful no matter how great the production and melody (exclusitivity). While the phrasing seems to fit and words might fit the feel.... it to me seems less of a hit

Is the importance of lyricism often too downplayed if thought about in this way? As the glue that keeps the person listening.

The "yes I can relate to this, this is about me or about something I know or understand.",
or
"your message doesn't put me off enough that I will stop listening".

The latter for example, if we take everyone favourite artist of the moment Ms Swift, who I think has some great melodies, but others would (because of the nature of the topics) rather hurl in a airbag?

Has anyone else conciously thought about it this way? Or not agree?
Old 2nd October 2013
  #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stclair View Post
Is the importance of lyricism often too downplayed if thought about in this way?
Well yes but you used an extreme example of word substitution so it makes it seem like lyrics are the most important thing. But in pop music, the music and melody is the main hook and the lyrics are used as rationalization to like the song even more.

The melody persuades the emotional reptilian brain into liking the song and the lyrics let the logical brain rationalize why it's ok to like it.

When Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit the radio, listeners were calling in asking about it even though they didn't have the printed lyrics in front of them. We all know Kurt Cobain is the most unintelligible singer so it couldn't have been the lyrics that got people hooked on the song.

Quote:
or
"your message doesn't put me off enough that I will stop listening".
It's this 2nd aspect of lyrics that needs to work correctly for mainstream pop. You can't go extreme in any direction and substitute ANY words. E.g. you can't substitute "yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away" with "scrambled eggs, all my bacon seems so burned today" but you can can get away with a lot of lyrical lines that public will accept. If Paul McCartney wrote the line as "yesterday, all my summers seemed so far away" I'm sure he could have rewritten the rest of the song's lyrics to be consistent with that change in topic and public would have still liked it.

There were songs released in USA and Italy that had same melody but the lyrics were different topics (not just different translations) and they went to #1 on the charts in both countries.

When Michael Jackson sang a concert to a sold out stadium in Tokyo, those Japanese kids aren't going to know what all those English lyrics mean.

A lot of folks believe a song's impact is 50% music & 50% lyrics. I say it's more like 90% music & 10% lyrics. This is not true for folk, country, or rap, but for mainstream pop, the music is the main driver to get people hooked in.

Quote:
Has anyone else conciously thought about it this way?
I think about it all the time and I always try to convince cowriters to pay more attention to the music than the lyrics. The lyrics are usually fine, but the underlying music is boring and lackluster. Nobody cares about lyrics when the music is bland. Give them a reason to pay attention to the lyrics ... music & melody is that reason.

Here's an interesting thread with non-English songs:
What's your favorite song sung in a language you don't understand?

There's some good sounding stuff in there that hopefully convinces people that lyrics are not as important as some make it out to be. People don't read and recite poetry as often as listening to music.
Old 3rd October 2013
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Melody first always. The words next , generally they indicate some objective "quality" and give cues as to where the production goes and "genre sound" you choose. Btw, your lyrics are lame not because of the content but because they are an unimaginative cliche of the genre and read false (I dont believe you basically) and the listener has to hear a degree of appropriate "autherticity" from what they are hearing. Write about what you really feel, devotion & conflict etc etc, dont be a fake. mewithoutYou are the best possible example of this.
Old 3rd October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Well yes but you used an extreme example of word substitution so it makes it seem like lyrics are the most important thing. But in pop music, the music and melody is the main hook and the lyrics are used as rationalization to like the song even more.

<-snip->

There's some good sounding stuff in there that hopefully convinces people that lyrics are not as important as some make it out to be. People don't read and recite poetry as often as listening to music.
"the melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there."

I don't think the quote really disagrees with what you saying, we assume a good melody. You are invited in; the melody is interesting so you accept the invitation and take that step in the door. So the melody needs to be there first, given that....
You hang around a bit then you hit the chorus and they start praising the lord, then you might go hmmm this is not for me and leave.

Now the reason you leave might be several reasons, usually I think the causes are emotional, which is where I might be disagreeing with you there about the lyrics hitting the logical brain. Sure it does, but that's part of the natural process to understand what is been communicated.

But we can't disregard the fact that words are powerful, words can trigger strong emotion in people once the message has been parsed and communicated. At best it is something that strongly resonates with us or at worst contempt and disgust, (or feel nothing which might be considered a bigger failure in an evocative sense), depending on the individual, context of the lyric etc

Things like 9/11, fcuk, nigga alone will cause a reaction (or not at all), assuming it does, it's not because they are logically thinking it
“ok he said nigga, I should be offended, now I am feeling offended”
but because their life experience with what it means to them in their own context, given the context interpreted.

Also to be honest I don't see how the example is exaggerated at all, just showing how by strength of lyric how the song has changed. A religious pop song could believably have lyrics like that, and I’ve heard a few good religious pop songs. Of course exaggeration is just to help highlight a point, but I don’t think this is too crazy.

Perhaps in your circles people aren’t emphasizing the melody which is a problem in it’s own. In the few songs I hear that have ‘invited me in’ (so I like the music), the experience with lyrics have sometimes put me off (I'm mostly talking about "internet music" here). I assume these are cases where someone has a beat and then decides to half hazardly slap some words and hope for the best. Sure it might work, they might be just ok enough to be a placeholder and not hate it. But let’s do better; let’s make this into a relatable and interesting anthem people would like to sing into a shower head. Put icing not feces, or flower on the cake

As for my own experiences with foreign music, I’ll quickly say that I derived my own message from the song, and sometimes when I found the translation I found my imagination was better. If we like the music and don't understand the lyrics then we probably imagine a story to go with it.

But yes melody must be good first and foremost.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Winny Pooh View Post
Melody first always. The words next , generally they indicate some objective "quality" and give cues as to where the production goes and "genre sound" you choose. Btw, your lyrics are lame not because of the content but because they are an unimaginative cliche of the genre and read false (I dont believe you basically) and the listener has to hear a degree of appropriate "autherticity" from what they are hearing. Write about what you really feel, devotion & conflict etc etc, dont be a fake. mewithoutYou are the best possible example of this.
Yes there are reasons why a song may not sound genuine, clichés are not always to blame, I’ve accepted that clichés are a useful in the own way i.e. that they are quickly digested, I no longer to stubborn not to use them (judiciously).

If you’ve followed the thread on Katy Perry’s Roar there was a bit condemnation about this, but the audience has felt that at worst it did not distract them from the feeling of the song at best it augmented the emotion.
But I know what you mean, I’ve seen lyrics that are clichés, lack metaphor, details, or story. Besides that there are also technical reasons why lyrics don’t feel genuine.
Old 3rd October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stclair View Post
But we can't disregard the fact that words are powerful,
That's right. Great words are definitely powerful. But great underlying music is even more powerful than great words.

Lyrics are very very important but in pop music, music is even more important than the lyrics.

Quote:
But yes melody must be good first and foremost.
If more people could internalize that, the overall songs would be better. I agree with the Ralph Murphy quote because he gets it.

Quote:
Perhaps in your circles people aren’t emphasizing the melody which is a problem in it’s own.
The tendency to emphasize lyrics over music during song composition is everywhere. Even on this gearslutz forum, there are more threads about lyrics critique rather than chords/melody analysis. This happens because lyrics are made up of words and typing gearslutz posts are also made up of words and therefore, it's just ridiculously easy to use words to talk about more words. So we have folks refining rhyme schemes or text imagery etc but the underlying music is too bland for people to care.

You have this unfortunate paradox where the easiest thing to discuss on a songwriting forum (lyrics content) is the least important. All the word wizardry effort is wasted because the boring repetitive music never persuaded listeners to pay attention to it.

Another reason songwriters overestimate the importance of lyrics is because they confuse them with vocals. Lyrics are a different topic from vocals texture and I've discussed the difference at length in a previous post. Vocals are very important. In a finished production, vocals are more important than lyrics. Vocal performance could be equal to the importance of underlying music.

For pop music, the first priority should be to get the music sounding sensational and compelling:
  • Does the underlying music have the hooks and ear candy to make foreign non-Englisher listeners like it?
  • Does the underlying music have the impact so that even if English listeners who don't even understand the words you're singing, they'll still call the DJ and request it again?
Once those 2 bullet points are in place, you then worry about putting the best high quality lyrics on top.
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Old 3rd October 2013
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I see the OP's point, but I don't think this is a tenable rule of thumb. There are a million ways a song can draw in a listener. A lot of artists writing popular music figure out ways to sneak in something for the enjoyment of the minority to which they belong (the minority being anyone who thinks critically about music).

Take Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" from the Breaking Dawn soundtrack. The chorus is obviously the focal point of the song's identity. It's easy to digest and the lyrics are vague enough to be empathetic to the average listener.

Pay attention to the verses, though:

"A Thousand Years"

The way she shrugs off 8-measure periods for 6-measure periods and messes with the scansion of the lyrics rockets this song up my playlist. It's such a small thing that makes all the difference for me. The lines fall into each other with her unorthodox phrasing, and she composes that idea out to make it apply to the periods too.

So sure, melody can entice and lyrics can entrap. However, treating that like a rule is eschewing the synergy of songwriting for an assembly line mindset. That can only take us so far.
Old 4th October 2013
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
I see the OP's point, but I don't think this is a tenable rule of thumb. There are a million ways a song can draw in a listener. A lot of artists writing popular music figure out ways to sneak in something for the enjoyment of the minority to which they belong (the minority being anyone who thinks critically about music).

Take Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" from the Breaking Dawn soundtrack. The chorus is obviously the focal point of the song's identity. It's easy to digest and the lyrics are vague enough to be empathetic to the average listener.

Pay attention to the verses, though:



The way she shrugs off 8-measure periods for 6-measure periods and messes with the scansion of the lyrics rockets this song up my playlist. It's such a small thing that makes all the difference for me. The lines fall into each other with her unorthodox phrasing, and she composes that idea out to make it apply to the periods too.

So sure, melody can entice and lyrics can entrap. However, treating that like a rule is eschewing the synergy of songwriting for an assembly line mindset. That can only take us so far.
And there was me thinking it was just a cheap, less melodic (and massively inferior) rip-off of Paramore's The Only Exception...
Old 4th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
And there was me thinking it was just a cheap, less melodic (and massively inferior) rip-off of Paramore's The Only Exception...
Hahaha! You know, it's really funny how you mention "The Only Exception," because I love that song's melody. The thing that keeps that song from being fantastic in my book is its very "squareness." The song builds really powerfully, but the lyrics somewhat plod along for me.

Not to mention that although Paramore's melody is more dynamic and tied to an edgier chord progression (because go subtonics), I prefer the simple interlocking euphony of Perri. Despite its static (and somewhat staid) quality, it's far more potent than the melody from "The Only Exception," but to each his own.

Anyway, unless I'm missing something in the grapevine, I'm gonna push back a little and posit that "rip-off" is too strong a word in describing the similarities.
Old 4th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
The way she shrugs off 8-measure periods for 6-measure periods and messes with the scansion of the lyrics rockets this song up my playlist. It's such a small thing that makes all the difference for me. The lines fall into each other with her unorthodox phrasing, and she composes that idea out to make it apply to the periods too.
I think that's a lot of it ---( I just used this song for a wedding video) I am sick of it btw ha ha ...

In any case, the best stuff we do should appear effortless. Its a real hill to climb to get there. Its performance, and its production. So after you have the best lyric or melody, (or both) and can strum it without effort on the guitar or piano, that's when you throw it in the DAW and figure out how to exploit those juicy parts you wrote for maximum effect.
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Old 11th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stclair View Post
Is the importance of lyricism often too downplayed if thought about in this way? As the glue that keeps the person listening.
So long as lyrics remain unintelligible in popular music I don't think it's possible to downplay the importance of "lyricism" (sic) too much!
Old 14th October 2013
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
That's right. Great words are definitely powerful. But great underlying music is even more powerful than great words.

Lyrics are very very important but in pop music, music is even more important than the lyrics.
..............
If more people could internalize that, the overall songs would be better. I agree with the Ralph Murphy quote because he gets it.
................
You have this unfortunate paradox where the easiest thing to discuss on a songwriting forum (lyrics content) is the least important. All the word wizardry effort is wasted because the boring repetitive music never persuaded listeners to pay attention to it.
An interesting observation, although I'm not sure whether people really believe lyrics are more important. But you are correct in saying that is by far the easiest thing to discuss. But while it's discussed often I'm not sure whether that means it's necessarily elevated more then melody/harmony. It may just mean just that, lyricism is easier to talk about and understood and thus overrepresented in discussion content. I don't mean to sound like lyrics is more important, because you can't keep someone one in a place where they are not.

But actually I think I got bushwacked into defending the importance of lyrics. My take away message from Murphys quote was to see the purpose of the two elements in songwriting and how they fit together. Giving each element a purpose, describing it in that way was a real aha moment for me. This may have been obvious to some people or not at all, or like myself had it dwelling in the back of their head subconsciously. It was stupidly profound to me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
I see the OP's point, but I don't think this is a tenable rule of thumb. There are a million ways a song can draw in a listener. A lot of artists writing popular music figure out ways to sneak in something for the enjoyment of the minority to which they belong (the minority being anyone who thinks critically about music).
............
So sure, melody can entice and lyrics can entrap. However, treating that like a rule is eschewing the synergy of songwriting for an assembly line mindset. That can only take us so far.
Yeah that cadence is pretty smart too, whether that was intentional or not, it does make it quite floaty. That's part of the rhythm of the melodic line so still considered an element of the music/melody I suppose? Rhythm probably fits in with music more then lyrics in the strictest sense, although the consideration of stress position to me also fits in with lyricism.

Ultimately I don't think it's a rule of thumb more like an observation, of which I think is generally true, which is what I was wondering if other people introspectively agreed with.

Funny enough your comment about the assembly line songwriting, I think was it also Murphy who said something along the lines of "let your heart say what it wants then let your mind refine it?"

Anyway in essence I was thinking it but, hearing ralph Murphy articulate what I kinda had brewing in my head just helped me as a songwriter.

"So this is what a well thought lyric can do, here is a purpose for doing so, we are hanging these pegs for people to hang their coats onto and for the reason for melody is reason x."

You could just brain vomit then apply some thought to it after the fact or start with clear direction either way works for pop music I suppose. I leave the details for how we make the music inviting or writing lyrics that make you stick around for another discussion.

Again I don't think it's a rule I think it's just a great observation of what naturally is. I guess it does limits creativity in a sense if we consider how people operate.
Old 15th October 2013
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Well, that channels Hemingway: "Write drunk; edit sober." People are far better at transmuting material than creating it. Songwriting is synergistic in that any given work demands different proportions of different attentions. Good writing must stem from a willingness to give those attentions rather than from a clockwork control of the workflow.
Old 15th October 2013
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
... assembly line mindset...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
Good writing must stem from a willingness to give those attentions rather than from a clockwork control of the workflow.
Imo, the "assembly line mindset" and "clockwork control of the workflow" are not accurate characterizations of the ideas stclair is discussing in this thread.

This is really more about being (more) aware of some non-intuitive and under-represented ideas so that the final song composition has the high points it needs to be appealing.

Many times, (pop) musicians have a lower threshold in their brain for what passes of as "musically interesting" and can't self-diagnose why their song is boring. One reason they are oblivious to the blandness: the lyrics they wrote are "already beautiful and compelling" which redirects their priorities from the bland music.

"My lyrics tell a wonderful story."
"My lyrics have this great overarching concept and depth."
"etc"


Well, maybe all that is true. However, they don't understand that listeners don't hit the replay button unless there are compelling music hooks to let all the brilliance of the lyrics sink in. Songwriters can't expect audiences who live outside the songwriter's brain to love the song (because of lyrics) unless he composed a good musical path to let it happen.

My experience is that amateur songwriters invest more in lyrics than chord/melody/harmony hooks. It's a totally separate concept from worrying about "cookie cutter songwriting." On the contrary, really getting meaty, seductive hooks can really inspire better lyrics (prosody & synergy) which is the opposite of formulaic writing.
Old 15th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Imo, the "assembly line mindsett" and "clockwork control of the workflow" are not accurate characterizations of the ideas stclair is discussing in this thread.

This is really more about being (more) aware of some non-intuitive and under-represented ideas so that the final song composition has the high points it needs to be appealing.

Many times, (pop) musicians have a lower threshold in their brain for what passes of as "musically interesting" and can't self-diagnose why their song is boring. One reason they are oblivious to the blandness: the lyrics they wrote are "already beautiful and compelling" which redirects their priorities from the bland music.

"My lyrics tell a wonderful story."
"My lyrics have this great overarching concept and depth."
"etc"


Well, maybe all that is true. However, they don't understand that listeners don't hit the replay button unless their are compelling music hooks to let all the brilliance of the lyrics sink in. Songwriters can't expect audiences who live outside the songwriter's brain to love the song (because of lyrics) unless he composed a good musical path to let it happen.

My experience is that amateur songwriters invest more in lyrics than chord/melody/harmony hooks. It's a totally separate concept from worrying about "cookie cutter songwriting." On the contrary, really getting meaty, seductive hooks can really inspire better lyrics (prosody & synergy) which is the opposite of formulaic writing.
I have to admit that my contributions to this thread have been divergent from the original topic. I didn't mean to assert that stclair's view of songwriting was narrow, but I still wanted to universalize the discussion to include other parts of the Song. In the case of meticulously crafted pop music, it's easy to substitute lyrics and go "look how much worse it is without good lyrics!" I can't speak to how forgiving we'd be toward the same lyrics in a different melody.

I'm being insufferably contrary because I'm a weirdo who has the opposite problem from the one you describe amateurs having (though I am, hopefully only temporarily, an amateur myself): I just tossed a bII and Fr6 into a song. I did it near a shortened meter, and I'm concerned, from an aesthete's point of view, that it sounds a bit soul-crushing. (The melody is even on the fifth of the equivalent Ger6 during the Fr6.) I'm cycling through alternate progressions, and production decisions that might exacerbate or alleviate that aesthetic, and I'm not even sure it's a problem in the first place, because the (very) primordial lyrics I have written down are meant to be oppressive.

I confess an arrogance in this matter; I know exactly what you mean when you mention lower thresholds for what is musically compelling. Many amateurs I know write to "exorcise" their emotions. They slap their metric poetry to a chord progression and call it a day, thinking that the meaning of the song is all that matters. This is actually an example of what I meant when it comes to the "assembly line." Amateurs looking for guidance writing songs have a tendency to turn to the "method" too faithfully, ignoring synergy between the elements of the work during its creation.

I suppose it's okay if they're amateurs, but these types of songs are analogous to paintings done from the heart with only a cursory knowledge of what makes visual arts tick mechanically. Art without craft. And craft feeds back into art, and you have to wonder whether they are often the same thing. As you said, "On the contrary, really getting meaty, seductive hooks can really inspire better lyrics (prosody & synergy) which is the opposite of formulaic writing."

I brought up the Christina Perri song because I don't know a better example of a song whose quality seemingly comes from that one "silver bullet" of a decision, even though other factors are obviously in play. That early turnaround of the musical period is synesthetically euphoric, and even though its applicability is held up with synergy and prosody of all elements, to me it's the keystone to the song's success. (Obviously, anyone can argue that the song is terrible; this is just my aesthetic opinion.)

-----------------------------------------

By the way guys, I'm learning a lot from this discussion. My world lights up when this thread shows up in my control panel.
Old 15th October 2013
  #15
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Ok, I understand your comments better.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
I brought up the Christina Perri song ... (Obviously, anyone can argue that the song is terrible; this is just my aesthetic opinion.)
I just listened to the C Perri song. It sounds fine. Imo, I think the "unorthodox" phrasing that you like mostly comes from the 6/4 time signature. Songs in 3/4 or 6/4 will often have that waltzing and lilting undercurrent that lends itself to syllables getting stressed on and off the accent beats.
Old 15th October 2013
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Sorry if I'm overstating that song's pedagogical value. :P
Old 15th October 2013
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Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
Sorry if I'm overstating that song's pedagogical value. :P
Not at all. I can't think of any original demos submitted for gearslutz critique with that time signature. Exposure to different things is good.

I just looked up the song on wikipedia... and one excerpt says:

"She uses her voice to a great effect sounding almost as if we were sitting with a friend who chose to speak to us in a song instead of everyday speech patterns."


To me, I think it would help people if the wiki (that reviewer Bill Lamb from About.com ) explicitly pointed out that songs that are not common-time 4/4 lends itself to that singing pattern. But that's my opinion so I won't go and edit the wiki page. Ha.
Old 16th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
I just looked up the song on wikipedia

I just looked up pedagogical
Old 16th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Not at all. I can't think of any original demos submitted for gearslutz critique with that time signature. Exposure to different things is good.

I just looked up the song on wikipedia... and one excerpt says:

"She uses her voice to a great effect sounding almost as if we were sitting with a friend who chose to speak to us in a song instead of everyday speech patterns."


To me, I think it would help people if the wiki (that reviewer Bill Lamb from About.com ) explicitly pointed out that songs that are not common-time 4/4 lends itself to that singing pattern. But that's my opinion so I won't go and edit the wiki page. Ha.
I have to check myself periodically to make sure that I'm not always writing in swing/compound meter.

The average listener is more aesthetic than he/she usually realizes. I'm currently reading Jimmy Webb's book, Tunesmith, and he mentions early on that his lyrics were read like poetry over the radio, and how terrible they sounded. Yet people, as stated by stclair, talk about lyrics.

Honestly, I think it's an accessibility thing. People can talk about how they relate to lyrics; can you imagine talking about music using only words from the vernacular? It's mighty clumsy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by brockorama View Post
I just looked up pedagogical
The editor-in-chief for Grove Music Online was one of my mentors my senior year of college. I like my fancy words, haha.
Old 16th October 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kierkes View Post
The editor-in-chief for Grove Music Online was one of my mentors my senior year of college. I like my fancy words, haha.
Hey, different strokes....just please tell me you've never used it in a song? lol
Old 16th October 2013
  #21
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Faith Hill sang a very famous song with the word "centripetal"

I always have to look that word up because it's easily confused with "centrifugal".

In any case, the physics nerds rule the airwaves with their science lyrics.
Old 16th October 2013
  #22
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Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
In any case, the physics nerds rule the airwaves with their science lyrics.
Has there been a worthy successor to "She blinded me with Science" ?

Thomas Dolby was my fav geek Muso
Old 16th October 2013
  #23
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(R.I.P.)

And no, but I plan to, just to spite you.
Old 17th October 2013
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stclair View Post
"the melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there."
I like a set of lyrics that match the melody so perfectly that you can't separate one from the other without losing something. They both draw you in.
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Old 17th October 2013
  #25
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Armchair psychology time for fun and profit.

Which one of these examples shows where the lyrics match the music in such a way that the listener would see an uncorrectable loss if the words were removed? (In this case, "uncorrectable" means no other lyrics would work because it weakens the song.)

(If it's not obvious, the underlying melody is identical in all 3 cases)

Code:
"a-b-c-d-e-f-g"
 C C G G A A G

"twinkle twinkle little star"
 C   C   G   G   A  A   G

"Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman"
 C   C    G G   A   A G
Which of the 3 lyric lines has achieved perfection of prosody?

Or has none of them achieved it and there is yet to be a future unspecified lyric in a future language that will finally marry the lyrics to "C C G G A A G" that will be viewed as inseparable?

Would the answer of an American child be different from a French one? Why?

Is assessing the relative weights of impact between lyrics and melody distorted by repeated listening and familiarity of the song?

A common wisdom is that lyrics are 50% and music is 50% of the impact. In other words, they are equal in impact. How do we apply that to the 3 examples above? Would it be reasonable to divide the 50% lyrics 3 ways like this?
alphabet song lyrics: 16.6% (1/3rd of 50%)
twinkle star lyrics: 16.6%
French mommy candy lyrics: 16.6%
This same melody is also the basis of a German Christmas song. Therefore, the percentages could be less. Or do all lyrics in the 3 versions get 50% which adds up to 150% impact?

There are countless examples of various lyrics (in various languages) overlaid on top of one melody.
There are hardly any examples of totally different melodies applied to one poem.
Does this disparity of substitutions throughout history reveal anything about how our brains process the music and lyric components of a song?

Do the examples illustrate the concept of this thread? "the melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there."

Lyrics are important, yes. But which lyrics, about which topic?
Alphabet lyrics?
Astronomy lyrics?
Mommy and candy lyrics?
Or Christmas lyrics?
Old 21st October 2013
  #26
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Hmmm… all these percentages? This is not a zero sum game.

It seems like we are working awfully hard to say lyrics aren’t as important as many songwriters think. I suppose that’s a legitimate point of view, especially when it comes to certain Pop and Dance music. But that’s unfortunate for me, because I might like Pop and Dance better if the lyrics were better.

For the kind of music I want to listen to… and the kind of music I want to write, lyrics are critically important.

I think that many songwriters spend a lot of time focusing on lyrics is because it’s the most difficult part of the song to do well. That is counter-intuitive, because nearly everyone knows how to write words, but only small percentage know how to create music. But for me, coming up with a catchy melody and a catchy groove is a lot easier than coming up with good lyrics.

However, this doesn’t in anyway discount the importance of the melody, music, groove, etc. Again, it’s not a zero sum game.
Old 21st October 2013
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cap'n Spanky View Post
Hmmm… all these percentages? This is not a zero sum game.
...
However, this doesn’t in anyway discount the importance of the melody, music, groove, etc. Again, it’s not a zero sum game.
In several (but not all) ways of looking at it, it is a zero sum game.

Copyright assignment and percentage of royalties is zero sum for the song. If 2 songwriters consist of 1 melodymaker and 1 lyricist to finish the song, the split might be 50%/50%. That's zero sum.

It's also zero sum from the perspective total work effort. There's a finite amount of time to work on a song. If it takes 30 hours to complete one song, 25 hours may have been spent on composing chords, licks, and melodies and 5 hours on lyrics. Whatever the breakdown happens to be, it's also zero sum. The finite constraint would only go away if a songwriter finds the finds the fountain of youth to live forever.

Given these real-world boundaries on songwriting, it seems reasonable to tease apart the music component from the lyric component and see if there is any insight to be gained by analyzing them separately. I think it's reasonable to consider one component more important than the other to help self-diagnose problems in songs.

Quote:
It seems like we are working awfully hard to say lyrics aren’t as important as many songwriters think. I suppose that’s a legitimate point of view, especially when it comes to certain Pop and Dance music.
Yes, the prioritization is mostly relevant to pop & dance. The other genres of folk, country, rap, and church hymns are different.

Quote:
But that’s unfortunate for me, because I might like Pop and Dance better if the lyrics were better.

For the kind of music I want to listen to… and the kind of music I want to write, lyrics are critically important.
You are what I call a "music geek" or to be more precise...a music geek creator. I was emphasizing how mainstream music gets accepted by average music consumers.

In other words, your opinion is "correct", but it's also irrelevant .... because people like you (the participants in a songwriting forum) don't represent typical consumers.

Imo, a lot of the demo submissions already have decent enough lyrics. Yeah, some could use more text imagery, or originality, or inventive metaphors, or whatever literary sophistication. They could improve the palette of words, sure.

But the mediocre words are already better than the lyrics to "Kung Fu Fighting" which went to #1 in dozen countries and "Pina Colada song" which also went to #1. The main problem with the demo songs is that the underlying music is boring. This is the component of the song that songwriters are not self-diagnosing. Those #1 songs with cringe-worthy lyrics had enough music hooks and licks to overcome the throwaway lyrics. But the amateur music has mind-numbing boring chord progressions with bland melodies and that is the biggest problem.

Quote:
I think that many songwriters spend a lot of time focusing on lyrics is because it’s the most difficult part of the song to do well. That is counter-intuitive, because nearly everyone knows how to write words, but only small percentage know how to create music. But for me, coming up with a catchy melody and a catchy groove is a lot easier than coming up with good lyrics.
I disagree with this. I think you could find more people to write a new and original set of rhyming verses to "C C G G A A G" rather than compose a new original melody (that's catchy) to the words "twinkle twinkle little star...how I wonder what you are."

I think people spend more time on writing (or discussing) lyrics because they are unaware of how important music and melody really is. Or, they haven't gained the composition skills to craft compelling musical parts.

The idea can't be stressed enough: it's the music melody & vocals that will seduce the listeners' brains into accepting your lyrics.

If anyone still doesn't believe this, try reciting 15 minutes of poetry (a.k.a lyrics without any music) at the next open mic instead of performing 15 minutes of music with words. Hint: the audience didn't come to listen to word recitals.

I think part of the disconnect in these types of "lyrics vs music" discussions is the tendency to interpret the advice as "lyrics aren't important." That's not what is being said at all.

If it helps to say it a different way: Write your best lyrics -- and then refine the words to be deeper, more complex, more emotional, more vivid, etc. OK, now that you have amazing lyrics you're really proud of, compose the underlying music to be 10X more compelling than your awesome lyrics... because the music + vocal performance is what the average listener will grasp onto and make them it the replay button over & over and buy your song.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #28
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Armchair psychology time for fun and profit.

Which one of these examples shows where the lyrics match the music in such a way that the listener would see an uncorrectable loss if the words were removed? (In this case, "uncorrectable" means no other lyrics would work because it weakens the song.)

<----------------snip>

Do the examples illustrate the concept of this thread? "the melody draws you in and the lyrics keep you there."

Lyrics are important, yes. But which lyrics, about which topic?
Alphabet lyrics?
Astronomy lyrics?
Mommy and candy lyrics?
Or Christmas lyrics?
Hohoho nice one Mr West, what is the purpose of a song?

In my opinion there is no magic combination of music and words, no 'perfect prosody'. Herein lies the art and creativity, a piece of song music by it's lonesome tends to be open, if you will, like a Rorschach test even if written to a story in mind can and will be reinterpreted by another curious mind. Can we say good music evokes feelings i.e. inspiration, yearning, moodyness, wonder. These feelings are abstract, an open canvas' in which we can further imprint messages on to, to direct, modify and immerse. Also bear in mind prosody goes hand in hand with intention, what is been communicated?. So if we say for song x I want to deliver this story with this feeling, and the lyrics and music works together to do this then we have what Pattison might describe as song prosody. That's not to say that you can't achieve prosody with out intention it's just that something coherent was unintentionally communicated through some dumb luck or the listeners imagination

In your examples I would say the 'best song' would be twinkle star because it communicates more coherently along with the tone of melody then the other options. The french and ABC version might as well be gibberish and would have little value if it wasn't for the inclusion of the human voice. The opportunity to evolve the song beyond it's whimiscal melody has been missed at best. We could 'just as easily' put some creepy murder lyrics and change the 'song' so it sounds more ironic and it could work just as well.

Relevantly Murphies quote doesn't define percentage of importance but the role each part plays. Like a foundation and roof, both are required. However if by percentage you wanted to be less rhetorical and say how much time should spent given limited resources then it makes sense the priority should be spent on the tune (as opposed to say care). It's like a question regarding the designing of a car, percentage on wheels vs engine? The answer dare I say? Both are needed for different reasons but for a unified purpose. 1000hp engine on square wheels?



[EDIT] This was written before your latest post
Old 22nd October 2013
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stclair View Post
In my opinion there is no magic combination of music and words, no 'perfect prosody'.
Totally agree!

Quote:
Can we say good music evokes feelings i.e. inspiration, yearning, moodyness, wonder. These feelings are abstract, an open canvas' in which we can further imprint messages on to, to direct, modify and immerse.
Yes, the underlying music is "abstract" and the lyrics make it more concrete, more meaningful, more immediate. Lyrics amplify.

But in pop music, there's something very special about just having great underlying music and a great vocal performance. Examples I've used before:

Michael Jackson's sold out concerts in Japan and Brazil. The only components of the song these people have to latch onto is the music and MJ's voice. The "lyrics" are nonsense gibberish to them. Nevertheless, the songs are catchy.

Nirvana "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hits the airwaves. Remember that this was 1991 before the internet with lyrics websites and the album liner notes to Nevermind didn't have the printed lyrics. Listeners bombarded the radio stations to replay that song even though people couldn't make out what Cobain was singing. It's his angry rebellious vocal performance and the killer riffs. Those components sold the song to the masses long before any lyrics could be spelled out exactly. If music and lyrics had equal importance, the listening public would have withheld judgement on that song until the exact lyrics were publicized. History shows listeners and album buyers didn't wait.

The 1955 song "Louie Louie." I've never met anybody who knows the lyrics to that classic song. Understandable because the verses are hard to hear and words are unintelligible. They do know the melody though.

Thousands of examples like these show the mindset of the mainstream pop music buyer don't place the same weight on "great lyrics" as the songwriters do. How can lyrics be so important to the degree that's often claimed if average listeners don't even know what the words are? It's because the listeners' ears can still hear a human vocal singing something. And as stated before: "vocals are not the same thing as lyrics".

Quote:
Relevantly Murphies quote doesn't define percentage of importance but the role each part plays. Like a foundation and roof, both are required.
Murphy's quote doesn't specify importance but I went ahead and explicitly stated that pop music is more important than pop lyrics as a public service announcement.

Quote:
The answer dare I say? Both are needed for different reasons but for a unified purpose. 1000hp engine on square wheels?
Yes but to map your analogy to songwriting.... I haven't heard any songs submitted here where the lyrics were so terrible, and the words so hideously non-functional -- that they were equivalent to the incompetence of square wheels.

No... it's almost always the underlying music that's underwhelming. On the other hand, when the music is sensational, people will find a way to like the lyrics. There are a ton of pop songs people cherish with very pedestrian lyrics. That's because lyrics (the actual words) are overshadowed by great vocal delivery and great music. The genre of pop music is very forgiving of exact lyric content. Decades of pop music has shown this to be true.

Anyways, I think we've been mostly agreeing but just saying things differently.
Quote
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Old 22nd October 2013
  #30
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All I got say is... underestimate the importance of lyrics at your own peril
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