In this lesson, we are going to talk about a simple and effective trick to help you writing meaningful, coherent and understandable lyrics. This trick consists in asking yourself three questions:
Who is talking? Is the singer talking about his own life or is he the narrator of a story?
To whom? Is the songwriter talking to an audience or to a specific person?
And why? If a person says something, it should be for a reason. What motivates the singer to speak? What is the purpose of a song? You should constantly keep those three questions in mind during all the writing process. If you find difficulties answering them, there are risks that your lyrics are unclear or at least, that the song could deliver its message in a better way. Not only you, but also the audience should be able to answer those questions after listening to the song.
Who is talking and to whom? The point of view.
The two first questions if put together give a concept called the point of view. There are four possible points of view for a song, let’s see them now:
He loves her: third person narrative.
The singer is external to the story, it is the less intimate point of view. A great use of it is to have an omniscient narrator that knows what the characters don’t know. Example: He loves her, she loves him. He thinks that she doesn’t care about him and is living tomorrow. They will never be together.
I love her: first person narrative.
The singer (“I”) is part of the story and talks to the audience.
You love her: second person narrative.
I like this option because the singer put the audience in the spotlight instead of himself. It is a great choice for giving an advice or delivering some empathy. This point of view is not used very often by songwriters. It gives you an opportunity to be original.
I love you: Direct address.
It is the most intimate point of view. “I” and “you” are in direct conversation. and probably the most common one.
“Why?” the most important question.
The song should have a clear purpose, it could be The reason could be that the singer feels an overwhelming emotion that he or she wants to externalize…
I am so sad that you left me.
I am so happy that I met you.I made a such a big mistake in the past, I will regret it for the rest of my life.
…or maybe the songwriter wants to know something…
I want to know why you did that to me.
…or to tell something…
I want to tell you that I regret.
I personally use this rule for every song I write. Since it is common to start a song by writing some nice lines without any context, it helps me define what the song is really about.
I made the mistake when I was a teenager to write a song that changes its point of view. The beginning of the song talks about a girl using the third person (she) but in the second verse, I directly talking to her (you). It would have been fine if it was done in an elegant way and on purpose, but it wasn’t. I didn’t notice that the point of view of the song was changing. I didn’t really make sense and made the whole song confusing. Let’s now see illustrate this trick with an actual song. My favorite example is She loves you from The Beatles.
The lyrics are clear which make the 3 questions easy to answer, the point of view is a mix between third person and direct address which makes the song more original. Let’s analyze the beginning of the song:
You think you lost your love,
Well, I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of,
And she told me what to say.
She says she loves you…
The two first lines tell us clearly what is going on.
1st line, we learn that the message is addressed to “you” and the thematic is love, more precisely the person that “you” love
2nd line: we learn that “I” is the subject, the one that “you” love is “her”. “I saw her yesterday” teach us that we are in a real-life situation, in a musical scene. The lyrics are not an abstract monologue about love. and “I” know “her”.
We understand quickly and clearly that it is about somebody helping his friend that struggles with his relationship by telling him that the one he loves still love him. We just don’t know if this scene is biographic or fictional but it doesn’t really matter.
Who is talking? the narrator. To who? he’s friend, a central character that struggles with his relationship. Why? Because the narrator learned yesterday that the girl still loves his friend.
The 3 questions rule and the choice of the point of view are only one small aspect of the art of lyrics writing but they are a great starting point since they give a frame to express your creativity.