There’s nothing worse than pouring your heart out on the page for hours and weeks writing a song, only to have confusion in your lyrics. Your listener cocks their head at your lyric like a puppy at an embarrassing bodily noise.
When listeners misunderstand what your lyrics say, it steals time away from the coming lines. It weakens your song.
You can Prevent that from happening in your songs. Just watch out for these five lyrical banditos.
1. Home-made words.
Is it just us? Or is the rate of new words getting a teensy-weensy bit out of hand? Between gaming. Texting. And the urban dictionary exploding just because people are trying for Gold Medals in the Olympic sport of word creation, Google searching is getting a work out.
A recent conversation with a young lady informed me, there are even words created based on miss spellings on online gaming and text messaging.
“They’re becoming a thing,” she tells me.
Well, maybe they’re becoming a thing, but they should stay out of your song until they don’t get a WTF reaction.
It’s cool to keep up with the latest trends. And, there is something to be said for writing into the curve of a trend. But make sure listeners aren’t stuck on one word, scratching their head while the rest of your song rolls by.
2. A character out of thin air.
Years ago, a buddy and I wrote a song about Texas. A fun little tune about Texas pride and how the singer would never leave the Lone Star state.
In the bridge we wrote in some lady named Louise. Just a one liner.
There were no characters anywhere else in the song. She stood out like a breakfast belch at Sunday morning prayer.
It didn’t take long to realize the lyric confused everybody. So, we gave Louise the stage hook.
3. Regional phrases in a global song.
My daughter, a university ESL instructor, texted me today realizing she had just e-mailed a native Chinese Gen Z student telling her to, “Stay tuned.”
My daughter confessed her student wouldn’t understand that phrase.
I used the phrase “cut cross grain” in a recent article. My New York born, and long-time Floridian, friend said she didn’t understand the phrase. She thought it must be a Midwest thing.
There’s a fun and helpful podcast called A Way with Words. The two hosts, Grant and Martha, take calls from people about phrases they heard or use, and where they come from.
I’m always surprised. People will ask about a phrase I swear everyone knows. Until I find it’s exclusive to my little region of the globe.
So be careful not to put regional words in a global song.
Is it just us or are you confused by…
“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen”
–Stairway to Heaven (Robert plant)
Love the, now classic, tune. It was one of my first fingerpicking tunes I ever learned on guitar, but the lyrics are a bit out there.
Led Zeppelin got away with it because of their up-and-coming notoriety and hooky guitar work.
Still, it’s a good idea to write lyrics that Google won’t display:
Other people asked… What do the lyrics of Stairway to Heaven mean?
If you want us to get what you’re saying in your song on first listen, write something that makes sense. Steer wide from cryptic mumbo-jumbo.
5. Lyrical Bleeding.
Did you know The Eagles singer, Glenn Frey-rest in peace, had two butts?
It’s true. I swear on a stack of guitar chord bibles.
He admits it himself. Right in the song Peaceful Easy Feeling. He said…
“This voice keeps whispering in my other rear.”
See? Told ya so.
Oh wait. I get it. How embarrassing.
He was singing, in his other ear, not other rear.
At Acoustic Tunesmith, we call that lyrical bleeding. Where one-word bleeds into another and… Poof! It becomes a different phrase.
Like the song The Dance, a great song, I love it. But not sure why Ida had to mis the dance.
She did. Garth Brooks said so.
“I could have missed the pain
But Ida missed the dance”
Wait a finger-picking minute. He was trying to say, “I would have missed the dance.”
I get it now. It’s a contraction mistaken for someone’s name who isn’t even in the song.
Sometimes they bleed together where you hear a different word or phrase, and sometimes you haven’t a clue what you just heard.
It took me years to figure out what Dan Seals sang in England Dan and John Ford Coley’s song: I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.
“I’m not talking ‘bout moving in.
And I don’t want to change your life”
He puts the emphasis in the wrong place in the two-word phrase “moving in.”
He sings, I’m’ not talking ‘bout moVIN in.”
Every time that song came on and that part came up, I cocked my ear to the air waves like that puppy trying to understand what he was saying. I finally had to look for the written lyrics.
Use these five simple checks to eliminate any confusion in your lyric, and keep your listener on track with your song.