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On Writing Lyrics With Meaning

all songs have a meaning, in this case I’m talking about lyrics which address big issues.  Ideas like free will, mass manipulation, racism, war, terror, cynicism,self doubt, improvement or faith.

Powerful ideas change the world

Freedom, Injustice,  Narcissism, Discipline, Power, Authority, Superstition, Sexuality, Indifference, Obedience, Nationalism.  All concepts that people have wondered about for a long time, and considered from many, many angles.  By stepping into the world of your own thoughts and beliefs you can write lyrics that change the world.

I’m not a big listener of Bob Dylan, but his lyrics are extremely powerful and have been hugely influential in their time and ours.  Songs like “The Times They are a Changing“, “Hurricane” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” reflected how Dylan viewed the world, and undoubtedly changed the world.  There are also many ways to play with meaning and interpretation for example Growing On Me by the Darkness.

Song plots can get extremely complex when you get to bands like tool who write songs about the eternal constant phi – a number that recurs throughout nature, but the underlying meaning they try to convey is that our nature is inescapable, like we are trapped in a foregone conclusion.  Parabol/Parabola

The message I seem to be finding recently around the place is that few artists write about big issues anymore. The anti war movement of the 60’s, the punk revolution, the rebellion of rock and roll.  The last modern song I can think of was Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” way back in 1995.

Unique ideas make for unique lyrics

I’ve recently been watching alot of George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Bill Maher.  One of the messages they put out there is that American citizens are losing all their privileges of freedom and are too comfortable to do anything about it. George Carlin calls it ‘circling the drain

What’s special about these 3 is that the message they convey is incredibly compelling and powerful.  It’s the same as the punk rock, the 60’s protest songs and Rage Against the Machine.  The only difference is the method of sharing the message.

It doesn’t have to be a message of outrage or apathy, it doesn’t even have to be a massive issue with every song, but write about what you really feel strongly about, and bring back that spirit of power in your songs.

The number one song on the day I started writing this was Louder, and the meaning is… bullshit.  I guarantee you this song will be completely forgotten about in 2 months.  Compare that to Blowin in the wind, Sweet Child of Mine and Candle in the Wind, songs that are powerful enough to change the way you think, songs that lasted lifetimes even to this day.

Some songs have even changed my life, and I’m sure you can relate. A big one for me was Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

Writing this way adds new depth to your lyrics, hope to hear them soon.

7 reasons to write music on your own

Before I begin this I’m not saying you should always write alone, because working with others an important part of being a musician. Though there has to be some time where you develop progressions, riffs and your own sound as an individual.

1. Music you write is YOURS

If a band splits up and they wrote all the songs together, who gets to play them after they split? the answer is usually no-one.  If they’re playing a song that is majority yours and you break up guess what, it’s still yours to play again!

2. You have control over everything

Great music has the words and music in sync.  If there’s a group of 5 involved there are 5 viewpoints on how the song should sound, but if there’s one person calling the shots on everything there can be more of a definite direction on what’s happening in the song and when

example Kevin Moore – Space Dye Vest

This was a song written for Dream Theater by ex-keyboardist Kevin Moore and brought into the studio as a fully finished song.  Mike Portnoy said the song was 100% Kevin’s and has become a legacy for Dream Theater fans.

3. You’re forced to work through your songwriting weaknesses

If you have song writing walls and you rely on everyone else to climb over them, what do you do in your next project, when the new group cant help you.  If there’s something you really struggle with, do some research and find out why that might be.  Look for new ways to try it and persevere, it will be worth it

4. You can play to your strengths

I find when I’m jamming with people the person most suited to my style… is me! you can come up with jams in the rhythms you’re good with and the styles you’re most proficient at.  I can have a great Lydian/Mixolydian jam to just playing between the I and II chord, or I can mess with a pitch axis and a droning bass note underneath, something that other members may get bored by jamming to.  You can write and play with harmonies without having to teach the theory to another guitarist.

5. You can spend time on more complex parts to get them right

I got interested in the idea of pitch axis, which to me is quite tough to immediately jam on with a band.  Trying to write a middle section with lots of time signatures, or playing with chord voicings can get very time consuming to get them just right.  work on them on your own till you have what’s happening really solid, then when you take it to the band you have a clear picture of how the song goes including rhythm, melody and feel.

example: Not Of This Earth – Joe Satriani

A great example of the pitch axis theory, where rather than being based around a key the music is based around a single note, this means the chords can switch over E and play in various modalities eg E mixolydian, dorian, aolean while still sounding in key and really interesting

6. Ideas you come up with on your own can be a great starting point when playing with others

There’s nothing worse than jamming with a group of people when no-one has anything to play.  For that I always have a few chord progressions or jams that I can pull out whenever we want to jam.  The great thing about pre-scripted jams too is that you can spend time getting the coolest chords beforehand, and  the more you jam it over time the more ideas will sprout naturally.

7. You develop your own sound as a musician

When you write with a group there is a tendency to come up with generic riffs and lines.  We’ve all been in a mindless jam that goes nowhere and sounds completely the same as hundreds before.  To get a unique sound with other people you need to come up with a unique sound on your own.  This is a whole topic in itself.  Allan Holdsworth used to try and imitate a saxophone on guitar to develop his style, Vai will spend hours playing with a sound he’s never heard before to develop his style, Vangelis twists knobs on his synthesiser.  Whatever your instrument is, find ways to differentiate yourself, in every way you can