How do Songwriters Fit Lyrics to Music?
This is a question often asked by lyricists and by those interviewing songwriters. How does it all fit together and what comes first? The music, or the lyrics?
Each songwriter has their own approach and technique and it may not be a simple answer.
A starting point
Songwriters often sit down with a guitar or piano and start playing with musical ideas or a set of chords. This might go on for quite a long time before they attempt to put a melody over it. Finding an inspirational nugget of music is not always easy.
So how do songwriters fit lyrics to music?
Some musicians/songwriters get a full set of chords and a song structure complete before adding any melody. They want to be organised and feel confident about the song. Working this way allows them to be sure how many lyrics are required.
Others start with the melody right away. As soon as they've hit their first chord or set of notes, the melody starts forming. They like to find their way through the song by experimenting with music and melody at the same time, figuring what sounds best together and changing as they see fit, on the fly.
In either case, as the melody is formed, the musician might use any simple set of words to get things going, which helps the songwriter form a more solid melody. At this point, they are just dummy words, there to serve a purpose and not meant to be the final lyric.
At this point, I should mention sylllables. Many songs have patterns and repeated rhythms that can be helped along by a consistent structure when it comes to words. Having matching amounts of syllables in each pattern (normally one line in a song) makes the song flow better. This is an important aspect of any lyric and shouldn't be overlooked.
A high quality word flow is another crucial feature of any song. By word flow, I mean how the words roll off the tongue. For example:
'She tried to wait for the right time' has lots of t's throughout and doesn't sing very well. A throughtful lyricist might thing about the vocalist and make it eaiser to sing. This line could be changed to 'She paused for a brief moment'.
Completing the story
Once the songwriter has a full picture of the song, with its chords, melody and composition formed, along with the lyrics in either dummy form or serious form, they can think about the song story. Does it all fit together and form an interesting narrative?
They will probably need to do some edits here to make sure the story grabs the listener's attention. They will need to get in contact with the lyricist to change anything that needs editing.
If you are a lyricist, ask the songwriter if you can hear the track as it currently sounds. That will help you move forward.
As a lyricist, you may have lots of songs already written, but they will probably need adapting to suit the musician/songwriters way of working. If you are in the process of collaborating with other musicians and lyricists, ask them how they prefer to work. It could save a lot of time for you and them.
This will help you make the necessary edits and teach you better techniques for future lyrics.
Of course, no song is really complete until a vocalist is able to sing the finished song from beginning to end. Some other problems may arise once this happens and therefore more changes may be required.
It's a constant flow of trial and error, but don't be disheartened, all the great songs are formed in this way and songwriters the world over are doing just this: working hard to craft a great song. Maybe you wlll be next?