One of my songs is beginning to shape up quite well. I have a lot of trouble writing lyrics : just writing is fine, but a fine piece of writing won’t necessarily make a fine song.
I’m primarily a melodist, because I think melodies are what drives the emotions in a song, meaning you won’t necessarily interpret the same words the same way if they’re sung with a different melody. But I’m also very particular about lyrics, because I want them to compliment the melody, not betray it. Finding that balance is a constant duel.
Main difficulty is length : sometimes, you want a particular feeling or idea to be conveyed by three little notes, because the rest of the melody might feel inadequate ; if for example your whole song is quite intense and melodramatic, and it has those three ironic little notes that sound like they don’t really belong, talking about despair during the whole song would quickly become overly lyrical and involuntarily parodic, you want to save the idea of despair for that little passage where it feels right and more subtle. Problem is : you can’t describe this feeling of despair in less than six words, if one of them is missing, then it’s not the same feeling anymore. To utter those six words, you’d need eleven syllables, and you’ve only got three notes !
That’s one of the reasons why I love the English language so much : it has so many short words, plenty of monosyllabic words that I can fit into my songs in the most natural way. We have some great songwriters in France but I’d say most of them aren’t melodists : they’re just singing old-school poetry. They can be talented singers, but to me, they’re just singing text on top of music that was arranged to fit into the text. It’s a nice way to listen to a text but I don’t find it very interesting musically. I’m not fond of songs that are just a succession of verses (a lot of folk music sounds like that to me), the singer says whatever he has to say while the music repeats itself, and then, when he’s done, the music stops. I see music as a narrative, if you just add verses repetitively, to me, there’s no suspension of disbelief, you realise you’re just hearing a person sing, and I think you shouldn’t : a song should take you some place else, and you have to be careful with rythm. And even if you’re finished with the lyrics, the music should go on if it feels like it should, and you might keep using your voice in a strictly instrumental way.
Not only does English have shorter words but they’re also more malleable : English has ten times more words than the French language partly because you can just take an adjective and make a verb out of it, or you can glue two words into one word quite naturally, you can make beautiful word like “undisturbedly” with just a few affixes (as a matter of fact, I think “indérangément” would sound awessome in French, but it doesn’t exist). With English, you don’t have the notion of gender that sometimes (for me anyway) gets in the way when you’re making metaphores and you don’t want them to come off sexualized ; you can remain vague if you want to, because “you” can be plural as well as singular, masculine as well as feminine, it can even just mean “one”, and you don’t have to choose between “vous” and “tu” like in French, which I find terribly down-to-earth and unpoetic : you should be able to address people directly whoever they are. English words can be ordered in many different fashions without making your whole phrase sound weird or incomprehensible ; if you want to turn a French phrase around, you often have to add grammatical words, which isn’t optimal when you’re trying to be concise. And if you miss a specific French word, there’s often an equivalent that sounds just as crunchy because English has so many words of Latin origin !
My main difficulty with English when writing music is that regarding pronunciation, words aren’t as flexible as in French ; we French put tonic accents one phrases, but not so much on words ; provided your melody is long enough, you can fit all the words you want in it and they’ll be recognizable ; that’s not always the case in English. I have the example of a song in which I wanted to say “delicate” ; all I needed was three notes but the rythm was tricky, it went like “deli- cate”. That’s a problem because the second syllable is supposed to be really quick in that word, almost like you’re saying “delcate” ! If you spend a second too much on the “li”, then the word is hard to catch for the listener. I’ve never come up with that kind of problem when writing a song in French. Anyway, since my musical culture happens to be almost exclusively anglophone, the choice isn’t too hard for me to make :).
So there’s usually a very long gap between the time when I find a melody or chords that I like and the time when I find satisfying lyrics. Since my songs aren’t really stories anyway but rather descriptions of feelings, what happens most of the time is that if the feeling I want to describe has too many nuances that don’t fit in the song due to that length problem, I just keep the missing words somewhere in my head so that they can be recycled into another song, the tricky part being that they might take on a different resonance if the other song is more cheerful/dramatic/whatever. So, like I said, it’s a constant duel ! That’s why very few of my song lyrics in progress start at the beginning : they’re usually “middles of songs” waiting for orphaned words from another song to glue themselves to wordless notes :). So what’s on the paper rarely looks like an actual text, but rather like a giant brainstorming with fields of circled and crossed off words and plenty of arrows. The reason I’m glad with this one song’s progress is because the unexpected happened : I found a beginning that surprisingly compliments the middle I’ve been stuck with so far (and so does the middle compliment that beginning) ! Chances are I’ll keep tweaking the whole thing around soon enough but being as pathologically perfectionist as I am, I consider this a pleasant progress. Now I just have to find something to put after the middle :). 2 years ago