You’ve written lyrics but they sound cheesy and amateur. Some lyrics are so bad you can’t even finish the song… why bother when the lyrics sound terrible, right?
Listen, it’s normal and totally fixable, so let’s lose the amateur lyrics and level up your lyric writing so you’re proud of the songs you write!
First, stop worrying! Songwriting is a journey and every songwriter goes through this stage. The first songs you write won’t be great even if you think they are. With each finished song, you can learn and improve. Eventually, you’re writing powerful song lyrics that move people and make them want to hear what you have to say…
At its simplest, your lyrics sound cheesy, bad and amateur when they’re:
- too predictable, or
In this article, you’ll learn how to:
- Identify the cheesy sections in your lyrics,
- Fix your amateur lyrics, and
- Stop writing bad lyrics in the future.
Let’s get your lyrics fixed!
How Do I Know If My Lyrics Suck?
If you’re just starting to write lyrics just assume they aren’t great (yet!). It’s part of starting out. You haven’t written enough to be good at it yet. However, you can still write cheesy lyrics even if you’re been writing for a while.
Start with what I call the Awkward Test:
Read (or record yourself reading/singing) the lyrics. As you listen and read your lyrics sheet, notice anytime you feel awkward. Whether it’s the lyrics sounding awkward or you feel uncomfortable (this might feel anywhere from “that sounds blah” to “wow, that’s painful”) mark these lines for future editing.
What Do Bad Lyrics Sound Like?
First, check for repetitive lyric rhythms, using the same regular rhythms in every line. Taken to an extreme, your song will sound like a nursery rhyme. Variety in your lyric rhythms creates interest as your audience tries to predict what comes next.
A second lyric fail is using weak rhymes. This includes clichéd rhyme pairs and using only perfect rhymes, both are too predictable and bore your listener. Another common mistake is using broken grammar to force a rhyme word to the end of the line. This distracts your audience from your lyrics and your message. These rhyme crimes and their solutions are explored in depth in 3 Common Rhyme Mistakes.
What’s the Point of My Lyrics?
What is the song about? If you can’t explain your song in one sentence, your audience won’t be able to figure it out either. Keep it simple, because a song is only long enough for one main idea. Anything more confuses your listeners. I prefer to start with the title or big idea. It keeps me focused so I write strong lyrics faster.
- Choose some of your favourite songs and summarize each of them in a single sentence.
- Examine some of your own songs and summarize each one in a single sentence.
- Choose a big idea for your next song before you finish writing the first song section. You can also start writing from a title, or write the chorus first to help you focus on the central theme you’re exploring in your song. Keep it simple!
What Do My Lyrics Mean?
Songs, as with other forms of art, are meant to transform how your audience feels. Your song is successful if your audience experiences joy, sorrow or any emotional reaction. When you don’t affect anyone’s emotions the song falls flat and nobody appreciates it.
Your song should create an emotional journey for your listener. As the song progresses they experience the tension between a few different emotions during the song. This tension creates contrast that makes your song interesting. A single emotional state gets stale without change or contrast.
When your audience experiences a transformation during the song they’ll want to hear your song again and again.
- Choose a few of your favourite songs and describe the emotional journey in point form for each song.
- Examine some of your best songs and write down the emotional journey you created in each song.
- Decide on the emotional journey you wish to create when you start your next song. It’s okay to change the journey if you get better ideas while you’re writing.
Leave Something to the Imagination
Did you ever talk to somebody that didn’t know when to stop talking? It’s not just annoying, but you start tuning them out. You’re too polite to tell them, so you don’t really listen to anything they say and then you avoid them in the future. Don’t let your songs “talk too much!”
In songwriting this often happens when you’re providing details to set the scene and describe the action. Don’t try to explain everything or you’ll seem to be disrespecting the intelligence of your audience.
When someone listens to a song, they form mental pictures inspired by the lyrics. By imagining, they create their own meaning and understand the lyrics. Balance how much you have to tell them with how much they fill in themselves.
Lyrics with interesting imagery, metaphors and other figurative language are more compelling than explicit description.
- Listen to a few of your favourite songs and notice how much you’re told in the lyrics compared to how much you infer and imagine on your own.
- Start a list of powerful lyric lines and imagery in your favourite songs. Make note of what you like and use some of these ideas in your own songs.
- Say it Simpler: Choose a song section of a song you’ve written and parse the lyrics. Summarize the entire section in a sentence, then edit the lyrics and remove anything that doesn’t fit. You can also parse each line, removing every word possible without losing the meaning.
- Rewrite it Differently: Choose a song section you’ve written and pick a weak line. Rewrite the line using different language or imagery so you say the same thing with fewer words. At first, ignore the rhymes and rhythms and just find a new way to say the same thing. Once you’ve found something great, rewrite the rest of the song section in the same way and use the best rhymes you come up with.
Don’t Be So Predictable
Pop songs and instrumental music use patterns. When you can’t hear patterns you interpret it as noise. If the patterns are too predictable the song is boring. Songwriting patterns should balance predictability and surprise to be interesting. Learn to notice and control your songwriting patterns to level up your lyrics and music writing.
Notice the patterns you create in the rhythms, in the rhymes and in the music you write. Then decide when and how to break those patterns to keep it from becoming too predictable.
Clichés are another way to sound too predictable. A cliché is a phrase used so frequently it loses its power. Unless you find a way to use the cliche in a new way it usually comes across as weak or lazy lyric writing.
Contrast between song sections is another key to creating an interesting experience for your audience. This includes, changes in emotional state, lyric content, lyrics rhythms, rhymes and rhyme schemes, chords, and chord progressions.
- Write lyrics using typical pop song structures. You’ll only confuse your audience if you try to create a “unique song structure.” Don’t try to reinvent fire until you’ve mastered the basics of song structure.
- Don’t use the first rhyme you think of! Your audience will think of it too, and they’re bored when you give them exactly what they expect every time. Brainstorm many possible rhymes and use the most promising possibilities for your lyrics. Use both perfect and slant rhymes in your song.
- Examine your own songs for rigid lyric rhythms. I’ve critiqued countless song lyrics that sound amateur because the lyrics have the same rhythmic pattern in every line. Change these rhythmic patterns between each song section and even within a song section so your audience doesn’t get bored and stop listening.
Bonus Action Step: Write a Bad Song
Liberate yourself and unleash your inner songwriter by intentionally writing a terrible song. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write an awful song using obvious rhymes, clichés and ignore every piece of advice you’ve read in this article. It’s liberating because you don’t care so you stop censoring everything you think!
Your Lyrics Won’t Suck Forever!
Songwriting is a journey. Everyone starts as a beginner, writing lyrics that sound amateur. Finish songs and develop your own songwriting process to improve your songwriting craft. Study successful songs by professional songwriters, learn more about the mechanics of songwriting, co-write and incorporate songwriting advice into your songwriting practice so your songs improve even faster.