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Why don't intelligent lyrics sell?
Old 18th June 2007
  #1
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AlexLakis's Avatar
 

Why don't intelligent lyrics sell?

Why is it that 95% of all popular and successful songs have trite, sub-par lyrics with minimal artistic merit?

Is the pop market really that shallow? Do people just not want to think or be bothered by the problems of the world when they're listening to music?

Is it possible to be "pop" and also be "thought-provoking?"

Sure there are examples, but they are the vast minority.

Is it really just that hard to write good lyrics and still write catchy, poppy melodies? I mean, Bad Religion does it and they don't get squat, even tho their music has fit the bill for the pop circuit perfectly for the past 8 years or so at least (instead they're "overshadowed" by rip-off bands like Blink-182.) Dexter Holland of The Offspring wrote several albums filled with great, thought-provoking lyrics, but what gets played on the radio? I'd say it's all in the marketing, but in some cases, the marketing has been there and still...nothing...

Probably just reading too much into things again, but still...what gives?
Old 18th June 2007
  #2
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popmann's Avatar
I think that's pretty simple.

A) the music is usually not equal.

B) people aren't really intelligent.

C) often it's a very odd combination--catchy music and literary, informed lyric

I think there are definately exceptions. John Mellencamp has done well his whole career finding a good balance between the two. But, let's look at SheDaisy--love'em. Pop hooks for MILES...gorgeous sound...tight arrangements...but, now imagine lyrics like someone like Michael McDermott would write juxtaposed over their sacchrine lovely sound...? Which I guess adds a "D"--people like me really aren't bothered by mediocre lyrics if everything else is in place. Sure, everything else equal, I'd like all lyrics to cut to the bone with honest confession and detail...but, everything else is rarely equal when someone puts so much into lyrics. And it is, IMO...called "music" for a reason.
Old 18th June 2007
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexLakis View Post
Why is it that 95% of all popular and successful songs have trite, sub-par lyrics with minimal artistic merit?
Because people want lyrics they can easily connect to, without doing a lot of thinking. I think a general rule for pop, is this: If you wouldn't say a line in an everyday conversation, don't put it in the song. There's a way to do this and still sound clever. Alanis Morissette's "Oughta Know" is one of the best example of straightforward, simple, yet clever lyrics.
Old 18th June 2007
  #4
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rootsandruins's Avatar
 

intelligent lyrics

Look at the Decemberists or the Weakerthans or Sufjan Stevens or even Death Cab for Cutie. They all have been making incredibly catchy and intricate music for years with completely intelligent lyrics and they all more recently could be labeled as "Pop."
Old 18th June 2007
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by popmann View Post
I think that's pretty simple.
And it is, IMO...called "music" for a reason.
True, but "music" is also comprised of "songs". This is a good....actually great topic that will not get too much discussion, unfortunately! I think about and discuss this quite a bit with friends, peers and acquaintances. The most acceptable answer that I usually get is that most people just want to listen to a song to have fun/cut loose/'rock-out'....whatever...you get the picture.

As a lyricist and songwriter, this bothers me. As a fan of rock music, I completely get it. There's nothing i love more than, every once in a while, CRANKING The Lemon Song to 11 and forgetting everything else. That wouldn't/couldn't happen if the lyrics were complex, thoughtful and meaningful.

There is definitely a time, place and audience (albeit a small one) for lyrically centric songs. That is my target audience. I no longer have an illusion that my songs will attract huge crowds of wild fans, with girls tossing their clothes on stage. The best that we can hope for is a 'cult-ish'/underground following of sophisticated 'listeners'!
Old 18th June 2007
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexLakis View Post
Is the pop market really that shallow?
Yes, I'm afraid so.
Old 18th June 2007
  #7
Overseas lots of pop songs are hits in countries where English is not commonly spoken or understood. They may not understand the words but like the rhymes and sounds.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Old 18th June 2007
  #8
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I'm overseas and listening to Prefab Sprout's lyrics on SteveMcQueen yesterday was quite a riot ...
Old 18th June 2007
  #9
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XTC was the first counter-example that sprang to mind here.
Old 18th June 2007
  #10
l....Love the thread topic.For me as a producer I would frequently get singers of bands 'fessing up' to writing pure BS lyrics. That were either so vauge or nonsensical they even THEY had no idea what it was supposed to be about. SO..... I would steer them in the direction of the 'dummed down' no hidden meaning style lyrics in the rock/pop charts. Just to get the damn song recorded....But that was only because some of these people just didn't seem to have the artistry to do that Shakespear / Dylan - double / tripple word play stuff. Cluelessly they were turning up to make a recording with lyrics that they KNEW meant pretty much nothing......
Old 18th June 2007
  #11
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Dumb de dumb dumb

If you don't dumb it down to where the label exec's can understand it, they won't put the money or the push behind it, because they can't see it making them money. You have to be an established artist, meaning critically acclaimed or on the forefront of a new movement going pop (meaning $), to be able to get it by the label's "experts" . They obviously think they are smarter than the general public, and if they don't get it, how could the buying public?. It is sad to have heard the words, personally, out of more than one major exec , and a few indys, that a record needs to be dumbed down to get the staff behind it. No push= no radio, no endcaps, no big store circulars = no sales . It is left for the people seeking intelligent lyrics to find it themselves.

Oh and BACKSTREET FOR LIFE!!!!!!!fuuck
Old 18th June 2007
  #12
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Guys, stop trying to get me to move to Europe!

And, I think, for the record, we have the first reference to "The Weakerthans" on Gearslutz (good band!)

I completely understand the need for "the complete package." A song can't just have intelligent lyrics. Obviously, stuff from The Offspring's self-titled album didn't get radio play because the production was sub-par. Still, I'd rather listen to that than "Enema of the State" any day. I can't connect to that. And I'm definitely not one of the smartest guys around.

My question is also calling out the artists, not just the fans. Is it that hard to write a poppy song that doesn't insult my intelligence to listen to? Don't they want people to think they're good lyricists?

I mean, don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for everything (I can't figure out if Billy Shears' latest hit "Dance Around" is one of the worst or best songs I've heard in a while.) But as a general rule, I would think that it wouldn't be any skin off of anyone's back to occasionally write some meaningful lyrics to go in front of their latest pop submission...
Old 18th June 2007
  #13
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There aren't too many Roger Waters floating around out there, are there?

That being said, listening to pop music most people would rather think about dancing or getting laid or driving a cool car, rather than all of the world's problems. The news media is doing a great job not letting us forget about the issues we face.

The Beatles released so much gibberish that people still love today, much of it made no sense at all...but Lennon / McCartney had a way of bouncing lyrics off of each other that just made for good songs. They delivered good messages in many songs too though.

Christian rock seems to be enjoying a big spike in growth, obviously there is a message there beyond catchy lyrics.

War
Old 18th June 2007
  #14
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Feel My Ubiquity
Old 18th June 2007
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warhead View Post
There aren't too many Roger Waters floating around out there, are there?
There's about 6.6 billion too few of them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by warhead View Post
That being said, listening to pop music most people would rather think about dancing or getting laid or driving a cool car, rather than all of the world's problems. The news media is doing a great job not letting us forget about the issues we face.
I mean, I understand if you're writing electronic club/dance music. People go to the club to get laid. If you're singing about anything other than getting laid, it makes you wonder. But all this "punk" music that's been so popular, and indie rock...there's plenty of room for meaningful lyrics there, but it just seems that either the artists don't want to put in the time and effort to write them, or the good ones aren't "getting thru congress" for some reason.

I hear ya, Jules, I've had to go thru the same thing. Going thru it right now again, actually. It's a shame, because the music is pretty good too...

XTC rules, by the way. thumbsup
Old 18th June 2007
  #16
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i mean with alot of today's music, it almost takes talent to write some of these song's you hear that are so bad and stupid. Your hear them and are like "WHAT" how the hell did they ever even think to write something like that.
Old 18th June 2007
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexLakis View Post
There's about 6.6 billion too few of them.



I mean, I understand if you're writing electronic club/dance music. People go to the club to get laid. If you're singing about anything other than getting laid, it makes you wonder. But all this "punk" music that's been so popular, and indie rock...there's plenty of room for meaningful lyrics there, but it just seems that either the artists don't want to put in the time and effort to write them, or the good ones aren't "getting thru congress" for some reason.

I hear ya, Jules, I've had to go thru the same thing. Going thru it right now again, actually. It's a shame, because the music is pretty good too...

XTC rules, by the way. thumbsup
I have to say the new Linkin park is pretty good. Listen to the song's. They really talk about alot of real matters.
Old 18th June 2007
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HIGHENDONLY View Post
I have to say the new Linkin park is pretty good. Listen to the song's. They really talk about alot of real matters.
Has anyone else heard that mp3 that's been floating around for a while of 2 linkin park songs panned in stereo that line up perfectly. same chord progression. same tempo. "rapping" comes in at the same time. the drum beat and guitar sound are just a little different. i can't take their music seriously. it's made to sell. not to listen to. nickelback included.
Old 18th June 2007
  #19
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Have you seen that movie, "Idiocracy"? That's why.
Old 18th June 2007
  #20
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Part of the problem may be that we're talking about kids barely out of their teens writing the lyrics in many cases; how "intelligent" (by which you may mean "worldly") can anyone honestly expect them to be -- they're pretty shy of life-experience, you know?

I've always admired the high literacy demonstrated in Chris Cornell's lyrics; "The Day I Tried to Live" is a great philosophical tome boiled down to a 4 minute song, f'rinstance.

Another possible issue is that many people conflate "intelligence" with timeliness from a current affairs/cultural standpoint; however, these things tend to get dated and not age well. The alternative is to write about "timeless" subjects, like love, angst, alienation and all the rest of what makes up the hit parade (and pretty much always has).

Many years ago, I read that a reporter had asked Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran why the band didn't write any "serious" songs, to which he replied, "The Clash has been doing that for years, and no one's buying their records." Obviously, by comparison to the blockbuster worldwide sales DD was racking up, he couldn't have been more correct. Until "Should I stay or should I go", which tends to prove the point, doesn't it? (For the record, I'm a fan of both Duran and the Clash, so don't shoot the messenger).
Old 18th June 2007
  #21
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The vast majority of people don't want to think about what the lyrics to a song mean, even as they're singing along.

I think mostly people involved in music, writers, some artist and a few other people here and there will try to figure out what the lyrics are saying.

My S.O. asked me to record a cover of a particular song that she was listening to a lot.

"That's a pretty sad song, you're sure you want me to do that one?"

"Sad?"

"Yeah, haven't you listened to the lyrics?"

"Well, you're not supposed to listen to the lyrics!"

There you go.

John
Old 18th June 2007
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rootsandruins View Post
Has anyone else heard that mp3 that's been floating around for a while of 2 linkin park songs panned in stereo that line up perfectly. same chord progression. same tempo. "rapping" comes in at the same time. the drum beat and guitar sound are just a little different. i can't take their music seriously. it's made to sell. not to listen to. nickelback included.
Are you saying that if any garden variety nickelback tune is added (say, center-panned), that it'll line up with the linkin park songs?

that would truly be alarming! almost like there's a formula for pop/rock songs or something...
Old 18th June 2007
  #23
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This is dated and oh so 1999, but that Korn album, "Issues" was pretty strong, I thought. Yeah, the singer was totally immersed in the psyche of alienated junior-highschool angst, but his lyrics actually spoke very well from that perspective and hit the issues out of the park.

What I thought was even more intense about that LP was how the band, which was never more atonal than on that album, managed to express the emotion and intention/ideas of the lyrics through the structures, melodies, sounds and especially the dynamics of their performance on that album.

The band and producer on "Issues" had lightning in a bottle; even the hyper-compressed/distorted mix by O'Brien had a salutory effect given the message content. It's not what people think of first when considering "intelligent" music, but it's worth checking out.
Old 18th June 2007
  #24
mee
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The only reason why "pop" and "mainstream" music is known for being cheesy/easy and not intelligent is because their arn't many well known famous pop artists these days that can write intelligent songs that are also commercial.....

I want to change that...

We can truly change pop/mainstream.....it doesn't have to be a bad thing....and it doesn't have to be known as a "sell out"....

Don't we all want to be successful?....to reach the masses in a positive way?

I think its what you write/how well your live show's are...what you bring to the table and how much your music/persona/over all message is effecting our evolution...
Old 18th June 2007
  #25
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get over it... there's plenty of smart music out there that works -- it's tue that pop often means lowest common denominator (like the whole world that drinks diet soda with their fat ass burgers), but great, intresting, creative lyrics and music are all around us -- juana molina, connor oberst, david byrne, talib kweli, mos def, krs one, some ray lamontainge, etc. etc. etc. -- find the good stuff and love and support it...
Old 18th June 2007
  #26
JPM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rootsandruins View Post
Look at the Decemberists or the Weakerthans or Sufjan Stevens or even Death Cab for Cutie. They all have been making incredibly catchy and intricate music for years with completely intelligent lyrics and they all more recently could be labeled as "Pop."
Yeah, there are plenty of "indie" bands and artists writing great "pop" tunes with intelligent, clever, and challenging lyrics. For incredible everything, check out:

http://www.myspace.com/chriskozaband (this is not me BTW)

Dumbed down lyrics bother me too but I kind of say to myself, who cares? People can make whatever kind of music they want and record labels can keep supporting those kinds of artists but I don't have to listen to that stuff. These days there are endless listening options from which to choose. Are the good ones delivered to our door step? No, you have to search. But that's the beauty of all his indie and lesser known music is that you can decide for yourself based on how something sounds independent of popular opinion, videos, image, charts, radio play, etc.

We all know that big name and popular don't necessarily equate quality. So why is it we often hold the big label artists up as some kind of standard and then complain when it doesn't meet our expectations? We just need to look elsewhere.

JPM
Old 18th June 2007
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexLakis View Post
Why is it that 95% of all popular and successful songs have trite, sub-par lyrics with minimal artistic merit?

Is the pop market really that shallow? Do people just not want to think or be bothered by the problems of the world when they're listening to music?

Is it possible to be "pop" and also be "thought-provoking?"

Sure there are examples, but they are the vast minority.

Is it really just that hard to write good lyrics and still write catchy, poppy melodies? I mean, Bad Religion does it and they don't get squat, even tho their music has fit the bill for the pop circuit perfectly for the past 8 years or so at least (instead they're "overshadowed" by rip-off bands like Blink-182.) Dexter Holland of The Offspring wrote several albums filled with great, thought-provoking lyrics, but what gets played on the radio? I'd say it's all in the marketing, but in some cases, the marketing has been there and still...nothing...

Probably just reading too much into things again, but still...what gives?
two words
John Mayer, excellent intelligent lyrics that connect with people
Old 18th June 2007
  #28
thinking doesnt sell. also thinking typically doesnt w h o r e it's self out for big budget marketing gimmicks.

Quote:
"You know, when I'm done ranting about elite power that rules the planet under a totalitarian government that uses the media in order to keep people stupid, my throat gets parched. That's why I drink orange drink."
-- Bill Hicks
Old 18th June 2007
  #29
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rootsandruins's Avatar
 

Linkin Park Songs

I'm sure this is pretty well worn territory, but:

Here's the link to the 2 linkin park songs panned L and R that line up perfectly.

http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~paymer/...y_the_same.mp3

Not only do they sound the same, but their songs "look" the same too:

Hometracked - All Linkin Park songs look the same

And just for fun, here's 2 nickelback songs panned L and R too:

The Web****e :: Nickelback
Old 18th June 2007
  #30
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No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public.
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