Art of Songwriting


New member
Just a little post here. Does anyone feel that the level of songwriting in general is falling? I was kind of thinking of the music scene in Singapore these days and i find a huge disappointment in the listening habits of many musicians. Honestly, from reading the forums and from meeting many musicians in Singapore, i hear many comments like "**** is the best band. The drummer's double bass non-stop, the guitar playing double tapping, notes going like 240 bpm, bassist harmonics all over and the singer's range is amazing." How many posts have you all seen on which says something like all those (or begs for people to teach them all that)!

Personally, i feel little for such bands. If a song says nothing, i feel nothing towards the music or song. And definitely, the songwriting does a lot. These days lyrics are so direct, they might as well spell out every letter for you. (yup. just like the children's song a-b-c-d....)

Here's a little comparison of three great bands which i like and three contrasting lyrics.

e.g of a good love song lyric
Yellow - Coldplay
"You're skin, oh yeah you're skin and bones,
turned into something beautiful.
You know, you know i love you so"

Not too indirect, but lovely all the same.

e.g. bad love song lyric
Southern Girl - Incubus
"We'll behave like animals
Swing from tree to tree
We can do anything
That turns you up and sets you free"

Not very VERY bad but the line "We'll behave like animals swing from tree to tree" makes me want to puke... or at least not listen to this song! The rhyme also seems forced... tree and free... *suppressed smile*

and here's another

Miss you love - silverchair
"I'm not, not sure. Not to sure how it feels
to handle everyday. And i miss you love"

Sounds like another typical love song? But no. Actually its an anti-love song. For further description of the song... goto This would probably be an example of a very subtle lyric which has a great feel when read in context.

Of course, not every musician is out to send a message or is as admittedly uptight about songs have meaning like me. But i always feel that songs were written to tell people a story or message and i personally set this standard for myself... else, why would i want to listen to a song which tells me nothing but teaches me technique? Shouldn't i just go to a teacher if i wanted that? or a jam track? I've also heard comments that there's no market for such music anymore cos everyone just wants to sing a long and no one actually wants to analyse lyrics... comments?

Just wondering if there's any like minded musicians in Singapore out there. I've heard Tiramisu, and i think they are one of the bands in Singapore who are actually trying to say something with a subtle message (e.g. take over the world). Ronin... alright. But i consider them trying a little too hard. (I'm not bashing them) I feel Electrico is really one band which managed to mix the two together, and create pop friendly yet sophisticated lyrics (e.g. fabled angst machine) though not all their songs do that.

Personally, i feel annoyed with lousy songwriting these days. The worse thing is everyone seems to be accepting this! For example, i'll never listen to something like dreamtheatre for a long time cos i can't feel anything! Except maybe for the great musicianship involved.

Therefore to sum up this mini-article of mine. Here's some great bands, with great lyrics and great songs.
1. Nirvana
2. Silverchair (neon ballroom onward is more sophisticated and the better of the lot. Diorama especially!)
3. Coldplay (friendly... X n Y was a bit disappointing. Chris Martin really forced many lines together)
4. Radiohead (psychedelic stuff)
5. Smashing Pumpkins (very difficult stuff here!)
6. Rage Against the Machine or System of the Down (political messages)

Well... i think Kurt Cobain (one of the greatest songwriters and i would say musicians of all time) summed it up best in "In Bloom"

"Here's a world who likes all our pretty songs
and they like to sing a long and they like to shoot his guns
but they dont' know what it means when i sing"

My two cents. I look forward to hearing all the views from the softees!
i haf to admit there's tt little something abt some gd songs with make me hold them in contempt....well that's just me..honestly speaking..i never liked some hits like smoke on the water, hotel cali just to name a few...
words may mean alot but please dun put down musicians just cos we are amazed by a players stuff. i recommend u listen to the song [altitudes] by jason becker. just listen to the intro. some things just cant be put into words. another fantastic number would be [valley of eternity] by marty friedman. i do agree that most of the music out there nowadays has little listening quality but den there are some of us who see to the invisible 'lyrics' the guitar player weaves in his playing and tt my fren is to me a song.
Look at some of GnR lyrics!

I know this chick she lives down on Melrose
She ain't satisfied without some pain
Friday night is goin' up inside her...again
Well crack the whip
'Cause that bitch is just insane
I'm serious

....and the punchline of the song :

She's pretty tied up
And you can ride her

So much for song lyrics but damned the music is goood!
lyrics are not a song without melody. Without melody they are just poetry or spoken word monologues. However, a song can exist without lyrics and just melody. Sigur Ros' () is hopelandic (gibberish made-up words) and I could still feel the songs.

I do agree that lyrics can make or break good melodies, because people are more comfortable and used to hearing words come out of a singer's mouth. However personally I've never regarded a lyricist as a real songwriter unless he/she writes the melody as well.

I thought I would read a discussion on songwriting but when I clicked on the thread, the talk is just mainly about lyrics.

I'm a singer-songwriter myself and I play the guitar, and I'm not one of them technical wankery addicts by the way.
same, madmonkey. I was expecting to see something about the whole songwriting process and you guys are bashing bad lyrics...:( it's not easy to write a good song. and song lyrics very often can be meaningful if you don't limit your scope just to rock songs and alt rock like GnR and Coldplay. Michelle Branch and Dido songs are good too, for example. Drops of Jupiter by Train is not bad. The Beatles had plenty of meaning to their songs. The only band I've ever come across whose songs have close to no meaning is Simple Plan and certain other pop-punk bands.
Try Delilah by Bumblefoot. Great song... Here's the link, right-click and select "Save Target As". Here's the lyrics:

Lady Delilah - she enslaves me
I'm bound and chained by her lies
One look in her eyes and she breaks me
And I fall down like rain
As the wind sings her name

Oh, Delilah…
I was the strongest man alive
Till you came along - my Delilah

She deceived me but believe me it was alright
To touch her lips was to kiss the blades of her knives
Why do things we know are wrong feel so right?
Worth a lifetime of pain
For one night to sing her name

Oh, Delilah…
I was the strongest man alive
Till you came along - my Delilah

Well I'll never be the same
Cause that girl - yeah, she's to blame
How could I love again
Since she took my heart away.

And then someone said her name
And I tore at my flesh to dull the pain of the sound
And ripped from the chains and the walls came down
And I lay covered and bound

And I called out her name…

I was the strongest man alive
Till you came along - my Delilah
have a listen to songs written by Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bernie Topin who writes all the lyrics for Elton John and Tim Rice , lyricst for Andrew Lolyd Webber , These are the people I respect . There are many many more great lyricst, take your time to find more about the greats before you think the newer guys are your hero :)

yup. I have no heroes muaha. only respect for the wonderful people who can express themselves through song and words set to music.
Hello, i agree to lots of the posts. For example the one by penta-tonic about songs and how melodies do affect the emotion and speaks more than words. I guess that's why a tune like "Always with me, Always with You" by satch can actually be pretty popular. Cos it says so much with just enough (notes).

purplehaze>>i really respect stuff from people like bob dylan, john lennon.. people who really spoke about the times and society too. i think that's one of the things i respect and seriously look for in songwriters. that they have a good message to convey and use their musicianship to spread important messages to people. There's too little songs which speak of important things anymore. (just listen to POPULAR hip-hop these days. sex, sex and more sex anyone?)

ictoros>> axl rose is a pretty good songwriter too! (e.g. estranged. i would say november rain is pretty good too. and i would say, i liked dust and bones! at least they made it really funny.)

Anyway, sorry to disappoint those who were looking for songwriting tips on this post. And i'm not bashing any bands out there. Would just like to hear more musicians and their take on this. We have the freedom to like whatever we want and showing my preference for something does not mean i hate everything else! Thanks for all the replies thus far.
Coxon said:
e.g of a good love song lyric
Yellow - Coldplay
"You're skin, oh yeah you're skin and bones,
turned into something beautiful.
You know, you know i love you so"
And that dosent sound like a typical love song?
i guess not many people really take the lyrics so seriously.
Almost everyone know the song californication by rhcp, and to a certain extent, most of these people like that song. But how many of them actually knows what the song is talking about?
same for smells like teen spirit, i kept hearing people yelling mosquito!, albino! mulatto! Well how many of these people acutually knows what the hell they're yelling?
penta-tonic said:
i recommend u listen to the song [altitudes] by jason becker. just listen to the intro. some things just cant be put into words. another fantastic number would be [valley of eternity] by marty friedman..

Vaiyen said:
what do the lyrics of Teen Spirit mean anyway?

It was Cobain's way of yelling out at the crass commercialisation of music culture by mtv.

Ironically this was the song that made Nirvana an MTV icon...
First time I heard it, I thought it was "entertain arse". :(
Oh well, I guess there are those which convey the message or emotion of the song with just musicality, or those with lyrics and those in between kinds.