Posted by: Corey | January 20, 2012

How To Write Lyrics 3 [Lyrics Are Not Poetry]

Often when people first start writing lyrics, they equate good lyricism with intricate lyricism. They take an approach to it that’s more like poetry. Song lyrics and poetry do have a lot of similarities, but they are NOT the same thing.

Something to avoid is that pitfall of making things too complicated and too wordy. When you’re dealing with the medium of song, it’s really easy for things to start sounding convoluted. I’ve mentioned before that I personally like lyrics that are really direct, even to the point of almost being TOO simple. The kind that if you read them on a page, they wouldn’t look like anything special; but in the context of the song it just fits.

And even if you like vague, cryptic lyrics- you’ll often find that the actual wordings and phrasings are still very concise. They just evoke something bigger for your mind to chew on.

The reason I recommend this direct approach is as follows. In poetry, your words have to create the emotions AND send a message. You need to appeal to the senses, create feelings, be descriptive- all with words. But with a song, you have music to provide emotion, which renders the lyrics’ main job to be conveying a message. Adding in too much fluff sounds very transparent and pushes the listener away instead of engaging them.

Now, of course there are appropriate times to use literary devices and flowery language. And my rule for when to use them can be summed in one word: sparingly. Once you’ve got the mindset of keeping things concise, then you can add in a little bit of these other elements. And a little goes a long way.

And if you don’t want to take my word for it- John Mayer did a lecture at Berklee about how a lot of songwriters will say something like “The knight, clad in blazing white medal- (who is I) has only words of longing for his muse. The love of all his days.” as opposed to just “I love you.” I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t there (a friend told me about it), and this of course is an extreme exaggeration, but you get the point. Would you be more moved if someone said the first sentence to you, or the second? I’m guessing if someone tried that first one you’d probably just stare at them for a couple seconds and then walk away in dead silence. Even though it’s awesome, it sounds like comedy, rather than a heartfelt confession.

A band that strikes the balance perfectly, to me, is Smashing Pumpkins. Look at the lyrics to “Today”, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s mostly comprised of some of the simplest sentences you’ll come across, but in a few sections the wordings get a little more intricate (such as at “Pink ribbon scars”).


Here’s a video I made on the topic:


Alright that wraps up this blog post. Feel free to drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts!



  1. […] And here’s the next blog post: How To Write Lyrics 3 [Lyrics Are Not Poetry] […]

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