Anatomy of a great lyric


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This blog post was contributed by Connie Harrington, Songwriter & Co-Owner of THis Music, Nashville, TN
I’ve written songs since I was 13 and still sometimes I feel like I’m just starting to figure how to write lyrics.
It evolves, music evolves - but for the most part, there is still a “craft” to it that I revere. Nothing is more satisfying to me than “getting a lyric right.” Words are powerful and when chosen wisely fueled by inspiration, they can be eternal.  So I do not take words lightly.
I suppose the best advice I can give to aspiring songwriters is to be honest.  Tell the damn truth.  It’s usually always the most interesting.  Painful, personal, funny, shocking, heartbreaking, whatever - tell the truth.  Even if it’s a made-up story, tell the truth about how you’d feel in that situation.
Focus on what YOU do well.  Don’t chase what others do well.  The beauty of co-writing is bringing complimentary skills to the table.  Each writer is unique and has a well inside of them no other writer has. Examine yourself and determine what your greatest writing strength is and hone that skill. 
Be succinct.  Pro writers make “simple” look simple but saying a thing precisely with words that rhyme, are well-crafted, commercially viable and that hopefully possess a poetic artistry that defies time…well, that’s no easy task.  That being said, if you’ve written a song for your family or something – by all means, feel free to have as many verses and choruses as you want.  If, however, you’re trying to write a song with hopes of it being commercially recorded, be aware of how long it’s taking you to say what you want to say.  A song is a three-minute movie, not a novel.
As far as song structure goes, follow your gut and do what you feel is best for the particular song you’re writing.  It’s a case by case basis.  Many songs are best delivered in the old faithful verse/chorus/verse/chorus /bridge/chorus form but don’t get stuck in a rut.  There are hit songs that start with a chorus, songs that have the hook at the end of each verse, songs with no bridge just a repeated chorus or a third chorus with new lyric in the back half – do what serves a particular song best.  I’ve only written one song in my lifetime that had no chorus at all, just four verses only.  Most would say “that will never work,” but I won the Billboard Songwriting Contest with that song…so go figure.  
I will say one thing about bridges…if you’re going to have a bridge, make it great, make it the highlight of the song if you can, not just some “Here’s a minor chord…and some yada, yada information to stall until you can get back to the chorus.”  Swing for the fence.  If YOU don’t look forward to the bridge in your song, chances are no one else will either.
There are many aspects to the anatomy of a great song and a great lyric – more than can be covered in a single blog entry, but regardless of style or genre, I feel the lyric can be “written well.”   I sometimes chuckle to myself when a new writer gets impatient in a co-write if the lyric isn’t finished by 1 or 2pm. “Why is this so hard!?” some of them ask.  And I’m thinking “Hell… only a handful of people in the world successfully write songs for a living!  You didn’t exactly sign up for…Easy.”  
Don’t be lazy.  If you feel you’re on to something great, stalk that song.  If not, let it go and start a different one perhaps or finish it and get it out of your system.  You learn with every song.
And that thing in your chest…God it hates to hear “no” but let that word challenge you to write better.  You will hear it a lot so make it count for something good.  One of my favorite lines I’ve ever written is in a song that has never been recorded, “Hope is a fighter you can’t kill and it’s alive and well in me.”  What’s alive and well in you?  Perhaps that’s what you should write about…

Connie Harrington
Songwriter & Co-Owner of THis Music, Nashville, TN
Song Credits:
"I Got The Boy," "I Drive Your Truck," "Mine Would Be You,"  "Girls Lie Too," "Every Other Weekend," "She Only Smokes When She Drinks," "The Breaker" and newly released singles, "Caught Up In The Country," by Rodney Adkins and "Askin’ For A Friend," by Devin Dawson