Lyrics and the indie-arty-farty


Songwriting gurus




In regarding those songwriters who consider the music and melody more important than the lyrics, I’m guilty as charged. This partly stems from my tendency to listen and be moved by the music first –the beat, harmony, flow of the melody etc, rather than focusing on the words. And yet I’ve met people who tell me they instinctively listen to the lyrics first and get involved in what the singer is saying. Perhaps the world can be divided into two types of people –those who listen to the music first, and those who focus on the lyrics first.


Another thing to consider, of course, is genre. Back in the day I was a bit of a Smashing Pumpkins fan. When the music was up loud, I couldn’t really distinguish all the words, and even when I followed  the lyrics on the sleeve, I didn’t really understand what a lot of them were about. Granted, you could look at them in a literary fashion, like poetry, and I liked that because I majored in English lit. Take one SP song for instance, “Rhinoceros”:

Planned a show
Trees and balloons
Ice cream snow
See you in June

Could have known
I would reveal
Should have known
I would conceal your way

She knows, she knows, she knows
She knows, she knows, she knows
How’s it
She knows, she knows, she knows

Colors show
After the moon
I should go
See you in June
Your way

Open your eyes
To these must I lie?

There are things to speculate from the lyrics –the imagery of a show in Winter with snow and balloons… A circus? Entertainment park? A gig? Is it a symbol of something? A setting? And we have to further speculate who ‘she’ might be and what she might know. But they’re also so aloof, and you really need to listen to the music for the whole experience.

I’ve liked lyrics like that, because I’m the product of a liberal arty-farty education, where ‘grammar’ was outlawed  -but I digress. This is why the book I’ve discussed on this blog recently, (Successful Lyric Writing) impacted me a lot because of it’s  functional and practical approach to lyrics –but it really comes with a different mindset: pop music.

And underlying the mindset of pop-music creation is the task of making your music as accessable as possible to the masses, so learning the techniques that allow your lyrics to be appealing, relatable and emotionally impacting is important.

But in this day and age, the boundaries blur between pop and indie/alternative. Ever since Nirvana topped the charts, they really became pop music, i.e., ‘popular’. The Smashing Pumpkins didn’t do too badly either as far as commercial success is concerned.

So, what’s the point of it all? Maybe some commercially successful music is all indie-arty-farty, and maybe some of it is superficial ‘sexed up’ tripe, but there’s  still the aspiration by bands and songwriters  in many genres to write a really good pop song. Because a really decent, well rounded pop song –one that lasts the decades, is hard to write. Let’s face it, The Beatles may have been rocknroll but they also wrote great pop songs that outlast generations (and their songs are frequently held up as examples in the book as well).

And I’ve decided, even from an indie perspective (and many of my lyrics are aloof and abstract) that this book has a lot to offer.  You can still write something more ‘poetic’ rather than just a typical ‘hey baby’ love song, but consider the impact it will have on listeners, how deep they can become involved in the lyrics and look at the alternatives in form, view time frame etc… It’s handy to be conscious of these things.


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