Albert Man

Lyrics are boss

Too often lyrics are dismissed as not being important. It’s all about the tune, the riffs, the energy, the performance, the arrangements isn’t it?

Matrix hates lyrics

Don’t be like Matrix, he doesn’t like lyrics, he only likes pun-based sound bites.

I was in the “lyrics, who cares” camp for a while myself – I’d have happily given a monkey a crayon and put the resulting scrawl to music. But over the last few years, I’ve come to realise that lyrics really are important. I no longer consider them the chore I used to, better still I enjoy writing them. If you have bad lyrics, chances are you’re going to have a bad song.

Enough monkeys with enough time will write the complete works of Shakespeare. 1 chimp with a crayon in an afternoon wont.

Enough monkeys with enough time will write the complete works of Shakespeare. One chimp with a crayon in an afternoon won’t.

This post isn’t offering much in the way of lyric writing tips or rhyme pattern advice but takes a look at some songs (including my own) and the effect they may be having on mankind as well as some general ramblings. A future post will cover how I tackle my lyric writing specifically, offering tips and advice.

Why are lyrics so important?

You have to make an emotional connection with your listener – they need to relate to your song. Music is extremely powerful when it comes to evoking emotions, put great lyrics to a great tune and you’re on to a winner.

My last blog post “Is there a secret formula to songwriting?” breaks down a song into its component parts. You need to have all of them working in harmony for a great song, that includes the words.

Make people cry

I’ve been told that my song “Hold on to your love” has brought a tear to the eyes of a couple of people I know. I guess the chord progressions and piano part could be considered quite emotive, but let’s face it, if I were singing about different flavours of ice cream, rather than love, I don’t think anyone would really connect too well with the song. As a songwriter, you want to make people invest emotionally, so if you make them cry then you should be happy.

Love makes the world go round

Singing about love doesn’t offer a quick solution however. Love songs have been around for centuries and have to be the most written about subject in songwriting: being in love, falling in love, heartbreak etc. From Johannes Ciconia’s “O Rosa Bella” written in late 14th century Renaissance Italy right through to Sam Smith’s “Stay with me”. Just because most of us can relate to love doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to get it right. In fact because the market for love songs is so saturated, getting a song about love to actually stand out in the crowd is a lot harder than getting people to show an interest in your song about ice cream.

Who says there’s no romance in a song about ice cream. This one get’s me every time.

Clichés ruin lives

It’s also very easy to pollute a love song with clichés – this is taking the easy way out so don’t be lazy and work hard to avoid it. Hearing a cliché in a song to me is like sucking on lemons right after eating a broken glass sandwich. So let’s refrain from doing it and help commit the word “cringe” to the far recesses of the English language.

Have a listen to “Fill You Up” by Nelson from the early 90’s Album “After the Rain”. Listen to the words, it’ll have you wanting to tear your ears off, burn them and bury the ashes at sea in an impregnable lead box. Tears yes, but the tears that come from children’s nightmares.

This album was a huge success, but this song is a multiple offender regarding clichés. I’ve cherry picked some of the humdingers and responded accordingly:

  • Empty feeling
    (AM: Must have skipped breakfast)
  • Waitin’ forever
    (AM: With a life expectancy of around 80 for your average Californian, this seems rather unlikely)
  • It’s you against the world
    (AM: 1 vs 7 billion, Chuck Norris likes those odds)
  • I can take you to heaven
    (AM: He’s going to kill her?)
  • Make you come alive
    (AM: So, he’s already killed her and has some rudimentary witchcraft training?)
  • Now is the time to open up your wings and fly
    (AM: She’s a mutant, I didn’t see that one coming)
  • Don’t you give up on dreamin’
    (AM: Eat fondue before bed)
  • Follow your heart
    (AM: Or use Google Maps)

A tree, some ghosts and a chainsaw

I’m not sure all my lyrics relate to people all the time. I wrote a song, in the not too distant past called “Catcher in the Rye”, where the title lyric is used as a simile to describe the protection offered by a haunted tree to the ghosts that dwell there. The tree is under threat from a road contractor intent on cutting it down and the song’s middle 8 section (see Songwriting, is there a secret formula? for definition) offers a slight twist in the tale resulting in a happy ending.

Now I know what you’re thinking, unless you’re a haunted tree who’s been there done that, you may struggle to relate. Thinking about it I don’t really know what I was on either, maybe if I wanted to write a children’s book I should have just done so.

I’m not sure if the story can be used as an analogy for something that us humans could relate to or whether there’s some moral to the tale regarding loyalty or friendship, I didn’t really think about it that deeply. I like the song regardless but let’s face it people may struggle to connect with it emotionally, let alone pick up what the hell I’m going on about.


You need to get the right balance – finding a halfway point between the cliché-ridden “Fill You Up” and the I-need-an-explanation “Catcher in the Rye”. Writing genuine and honest lyrics is the way to go. This is my opinion of course, who am I to come between a man and his desire to write a cliché heavy lyric about his love of chocolate ice cream.

As mentioned I will go into detail about how I write my lyrics offering advice and tips in a future post.

If you have any feedback or questions, just let me know, either on here or through Facebook or Twitter.

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Songwriting, is there a secret formula?

‘Say Something Loving’ Out Now!

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Motown had a songwriting formula which produced hits for years in the 1960s. Stock Aitken Waterman’s hit factory in the 1980s and early 1990s also found a formula for writing great songs with commercial success.

Stock Aitken and Waterman

Stock Aitken & Waterman in their heyday. They say money don’t make you happy but look at their little faces.

Having a formula or methodology for your songwriting isn’t like having the secret recipe for Coca-Cola, you still have to be a decent songwriter to write a good song. This post isn’t about what makes a song great but more about my process, how I write a song and it’s component parts. So at the end of this post you will have a better insight into the approach I use for my songwriting but reading about it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t write songs worthy of the Eurovision reject pile.

Piero & The Music Stars

Making the cut: Piero & The Music Stars are responsible for the worst entry in Eurovision history.

As with anything, hone the craft by writing lots. They say 10,000 hours makes you an expert at anything so if you write for just 1 hour a day it’ll only take you 27 years to write a great song?! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have a few good songs under your belt that you’re happy with, so let’s just perform and record those for the next 5 years. Try writing a song a week or at least one a month, good or bad, it doesn’t matter, the more you write the better the songs will become until you find yourself writing mostly good songs with the occasional great one thrown in.

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

If “Melody” were a chicken and “Lyrics” were Humpty Dumpty then the egg-faced wonder always wins (except when he’s performing his falling-off-walls party trick). So there it is, write your lyrics first then put them to a melody.

Chicken or egg

Melody carries the lyrics. Humpty Dumpty, showing the chicken who’s boss.

Of course that last statement isn’t necessarily true, there are many approaches, this is just my preference after experimenting with songwriting for many years. With this post I do hope to inspire any KFC’s lovers out there to try the egg salad first though before heading straight for another family bucket.

Let’s get one thing straight, you can’t actually break a song down into just two components. I did this 1. In order to use the chicken and egg analogy resulting in an more engaging heading for this section and 2. Because the most common question I get asked about my songwriting is “Do you write the words or the music first?”.

Breaking it down

A deconstructed song in my opinion has 4 components.

  1. Lyrics (The words, the story)
  2. Melody (The tune that the words follow and the one you tend to hum)
  3. Chord progression (The framework that holds the melody)
  4. Structure (How the song progresses and changes over time)

Some people may argue that instrumentation or arrangement is a 5th component, but I’d consider that production. In this post we’re simply talking about the song itself and not a particular arrangement or recording. So one vocal and one accompanying instrument such as piano or guitar.

My preferred method

There is nothing to stop you using any one of the aforementioned components as a starting point.
My preferred approach to songwriting, which works well for me, is to start with the lyrics as mentioned. For me however lyrics and structure go hand in hand.

Lyrics and Structure

Lyrics & Structure taking care of business.

First things first

Get a concept, a title, an idea, a story you want to tell and try to come up with a unique angle. Without this you’ll end up with a run-of-the mill love song full of cliches.
As soon as you have an idea, jot it down. I create a Google Doc on Google Drive every time I have an idea and they all live in a folder called “Song ideas”. Name the doc the title of your song, or if you don’t have a title yet give it a meaningful title based on your concept at least.


I have a song structure I tend to use as my preferred starting point.

My preferred song structure:
[Intro] [Verse 1] [Pre Chorus 1] [Chorus 1] [Verse 2] [Pre Chorus 2] [Chorus 2] [Middle 8] [Chorus 3] [Outro]

Hopefully everyone knows what a verse and chorus is. The pre chorus (sometimes called a bridge) is just a section of music that builds into the chorus and the middle 8 (also sometimes called a bridge) is a musical shift in the song which breaks the monotony and adds something new both lyrically and melodically. Sometimes I slip an instrumental in between the middle 8 and the succeeding chorus and sometimes I just ditch the middle 8 and replace it with an instrumental, I may also double up the last chorus. So, as I say the above is a starting point. What determines whether this structure changes comes later in the process when I start writing the music side of things.


I use the starting-point structure mentioned above as the foundation for my lyrics. It may look like a lot of component parts and therefore a lot of lyrics. This isn’t actually the case as all my pre chorus’ and chorus’ are the same so I only have to write two verses, one pre chorus, one chorus and one middle 8. The outro is usually just a repetition of the last bit of the chorus or an instrumental so I don’t worry about it too much at this stage.

Chord progression & melody

So you have your structure and your lyrics down, now to add the melody and supporting chord progressions. I’m a keyboard player and a bad guitarist so tend to write my songs on a keyboard. There are classic chord progressions which could be used as a starting point such as the “Money chords” as demonstrated by The Axis of Awesome fellas.

I don’t tend to go with any fixed patterns and usually just start trying a few chord combinations and singing a few melodies over them using the lyrics I’ve written.
It’s during this process that the lyrics may change quite a bit if they don’t quite fit a desired melody you want.

The main reason I like having lyrics to work with is that I find you end up with more interesting melodies. This is because you have a set word and syllable count which you have to fit into a certain chord progression and bar length. Just humming a melody over a chord progression may not result in the same melody achieved by using pre-written lyrics.

I work quite linearly starting with the verse, then the pre chorus and then the chorus. I’ll always work out the middle 8 last if I end up having one.

The home stretch

Once you have your complete set of lyrics based on a finalised structure which houses decent chord progressions over which the melody sits, you’re getting close to your final song. There are a few other things to consider though before your work is done and you unleash your masterpiece to the world.

Record a rough demo: This is primarily for yourself. If you use Logic, Pro Tool, Cubase, Garage band etc. – great, record a demo. If not, just record it on your phone. This will let you review it more objectively. It’s very different listening back to a song compared with playing it live and trying to critique it. It should help you realise which bits work, don’t work, where it drags on for too long etc.

Get up to speed: Play the song with a metronome at different beats per minute (bpm) to find your preferred tempo.

Push your vocal limits: Find the best key that suits the singers voice. I always shift the key in semitone increments until the highest note in the song is pushing my upper range. This is easy if you are writing on a keyboard as you can transpose the notes easily until you find the right key. Then, it’s just a matter of relearning the song in the new key.

Don’t be a drag: Always test the length with a stopwatch. I personally always hope to end up with a song length between 3 minutes and 3 minutes 30 seconds. It obviously depends what you’re after but keep it in this range if commercial success is your end goal. Anything up to 4 minutes 30 seconds for me is acceptable too. Between 4 minutes 30 seconds and 5 minutes, and I start to get nervous. Over 5 minutes and I have to start making changes. This is just my preference, though songs played on radio stations tend to be between 3 and 4 minutes long in order to be commercially viable, anything longer would need a radio edit so try to keep it in the low end of the 3 minute range.

If you need to reduce the length try:

  • increasing the tempo (so long as it isn’t detrimental to the feel of the song, just push it to its upper boundary)
  • removing sections such as the middle 8
  • reducing the instrumental length to fewer bars
  • cutting out an entire verse and chorus (if you get desperate)

Get feedback: Play it live or play a demo to try out on friends, partners or better still people you don’t know too well who may perhaps be more honest about it.

Practice makes perfect: If you intend to play the song live, practice it to the point where the lyrics and playing come naturally without you having to think about what you’re doing.

Final note

There is lots more to say about finding inspiration, lyric writing, song structure and chords progression which I couldn’t fit into this post. There will be future post covering these in more detail.
Please leave comments about how you write your songs, it would be great to hear.

If you have any feedback or questions, just let me know, either on here or through Facebook or Twitter.

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