A lot of song writers seem to think that music is an intellectual sport. They seem to think that if they can say something really deep or witty that their music will connect with the audience. The problem is “intellectual ” lyrics alone can’t connect because music is not an intellectual game, it’s an instinctual one.
There is something about music that drives us to move our bodies, even though when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. For example, imagine a night club filled with people dancing to music. Seems normal right? Now imagine being an alien observing that night club with a high powered telescope but one that couldn’t hear the music. You as the alien would be wondering, “what the heck are those people doing?”. The reason is because music moves us in a way that we cannot verbalize. I have no idea why I nod my head to the drums and bass like I do, I just do. Even my 1 year old daughter will throw her hands up and bounce her butt up and down when she hears her jam. It seems almost innate.
So how do we translate this instinctual feeling into our song writing? Easy. Put away your pen and paper (or phone) and start recording first and then write the lyrics after. Huh? What?! In hip hop, rappers have been using this technique for a while. It’s basically “freestyling”, which means sing whatever comes into your head for a few bars (it could even be gibberish) and stopping when you mess up and starting again. The idea is to mold a song like you would a piece of clay, except that your vocal sounds are like the imprints in the clay. Just like a potter takes their time to get each part of the clay looking perfect, the song writer should make sure each vocal sound sounds perfect and fits the beat.
In other words, the purpose is to find words, flows and phrases that naturally go with the beat first and then fill in the gibberish with actual words. I was reading an interview with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon where he described using this exact same process for his brand of indie folk, so it’ definitely not something that’s just for rappers.
The reason this technique works so well is because you are using your instincts first and then using your intelligence second. Remember the best way to create art is to always start from your gut instinct and then use your brain to organize it, not the other way around.
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