A lot of times songwriters neglect the relationship between their melody and lyrics. Ideally melody and lyrics should go hand in hand, but sometimes when writing a song, we tend to lose sight of this without even realizing it.
Your melody can separate from your lyrics in a few ways, but in this article I want to talk about the length of your melodic and lyrical lines. When the length of your lyric is longer or shorter than that of your melody, your message can get lost.
A good example of this happens in the song "Live Like We're Dying" by Kris Allen. The lyrical lines of this song (in the verse anyway) aren't aligned with the melodic phrases. Let me show you what I mean, so we can see how it's affecting what we hear.
Here are the lyrics for the first verse:
Sometimes we fall down, can't get back up
We're hiding behind skin that's too tough
How come we don't say I love you enough
Till it's to late, it's not too late
The message is clear, in four lines of lyric. Be bolder in life. Live like you're dying. Good Stuff.
Now let's HEAR the words. Check out the first verse in the beginning of the video on YouTube. You can hear it here:
Is this what you heard?
Sometimes we fall down
We're hiding behind
How come we don't say
I love you
Till it's to late
it's not too late
So what reads as four lines on paper, got chopped up into about eleven small lines in the song. Normally, this would be fine, if each of those eleven lines were a phrase on their own. But the problem here is that they're not.
They're four lines cut up to be eleven, so the words would fit into the melodic idea. And now we're left with a lyric that's not singing to us. We hardly notice the words, because we don't recognize the phrases the way we would be if they were spoken to us. Singing is just an exaggerated form of speech, after all.
Let's look at how these lyrics are sung again, and imagine what it would sound like if someone said this to us...
Sometimes we fall down [pause]
can't get [pause]
back up [pause]
We're hiding behind [pause]
skin that's [pause]
too tough [pause]
How come we don't say [pause]
I love you [pause]
Till it's to late [pause]
it's not too late [pause]
I'd say five of those pauses actually belong. That's less than half. This pattern continues throughout all the verses in the song. The problem is no one speaks like that (except maybe William Shatner). The only time you may speak sentences like that would be if you were, in fact, dying. So live like you're dying, but don't phrase like you're dying. Unless of course, you don't care whether or not you're lyrics are connecting to your audience.
It would be like if I walked up to you and said "Hey, how are [pause]... you doing [pause], today?"
Now don't get me wrong... I love this song. And it IS a hit, after all. The reason it's a hit is that in hit songs, melody is king. This song has a great, singable, memorable melody. No question about it. But the lyrics are losing steam because of their placement in that melody. They don't align with the melody.
Had those eleven lines been eleven short phrases that each worked on their own (kind of like the last two lines), we'd be okay. But they're not. It's four lines of written lyric stretched out to eleven lines of vocals.
Hit songs can get away with having less than stellar phrasing of lyrics, because the melody makes them a hit. However, if you're an unknown artist (at least for the time-being : ), you want to increase your odds and make ALL aspects of your writing shine.
And if you want to make your killer lyrics shine, make sure their phrases align with your melody, so people will hear them the way they're meant to be heard. Experiment with this concept and most importantly, have fun with it.
Discuss this article in our Music Forum.
About Anthony Ceseri
Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi's Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry.
Realizing this kind of information isn't readily available to most songwriters, Anthony founded www.SuccessForYourSongs.com as a way to funnel the very best advice to songwriters and performers all around the world.
Anthony's writings appear as examples in the book Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises For Finding Your Voice by Pat Pattison, an acclaimed lyric writing professor at Berklee College of Music.
For more information, please visit successforyoursongs.com
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