The CLIMB is a podcast produced by Brent Baxter and Johnny Dwinell dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists gain leverage in the music business. Now part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network, The CLIMB provides insights, advice, and conversation to help you better understand the new music industry. This post is excerpted from The CLIMB podcast, Episode #125, “Seven Things Every Lyricist Should Know.”
In “Seven Things Every Lyricist Should Know,” award-winning hit songwriter Brent Baxter explains that “Realizing these points has really helped me in my songwriting career to get my head right and keep it right. If you are a lyricist, or if you also write melody but you think your strength is more lyric, this is for you. And if you’re a melody writer who works with some lyricists, this is for you so you can play camp counselor to your lyricist friends. This is more mindset stuff, so this will be helpful no matter what your thing is.”
Seven things every lyricist should know
1) You are a specialist
You are a songwriter. Writing lyrics is a valuable skill and the people who matter know that good lyrics matter. If you think or act like you’re not worthy, people will assume that you probably aren’t. You don’t want to be arrogant, but you do want to be confident. You’re not just a lyricist, you a specialist, and there’s value in that.
2) Pick your co-writers carefully, because lyrics are only half the song
If you’re a lyricist, you do need a co-writer. But I can tell you from experience, it’s a terrible feeling to take an idea or a lyric that you love into a co-write and have somebody slap on a sub-par melody. You do want to be mindful and careful. If you’re a lyricist, you’re not going to sit in a room by yourself and hammer out a hit song, but you’re not going to sit in a room with a mediocre writer and hammer out a hit song, either.
3) Bring in ideas that let your co-writers shine
Each of your co-writers is going to have different strengths: one may write killer traditional country songs, another might write great female pop country. Where am I going to take my “cry in my beer” ideas? To the guy who writes great “cry in my beer” country songs. Let your co-writers do what they’re great at.
4) Give respect to the melody
I used to not care too much about how a line sang, as long as they got my words in there. That was proof of my arrogance and my inexperience and my songs suffered as a result. You need to understand and appreciate the importance of a melody. If you want a song to get sung, it has to sing. It’s not all about the melody, and it’s not all about the lyric: it’s all about the song. The lyric and melody.
5) Show up with multiple song ideas
If you’re writing with a seasoned pro, they’re expecting ideas from you. After all, they can probably write a great song without you, so what do they want from you as a lyricist? They want your ideas. That’s why you’re in the room. And if you’re a younger writer, they want the language you use. They want to hear how the 20-somethings are talking. It also shows that you don’t just have one idea.
6) You don’t always have to write your idea
You’re responsible for showing up with some ideas that are worthy of being written, but that doesn’t mean you have to shoehorn your idea into what’s being written that day. We’re in the service business. If the service that day is to help your co-writer write their idea, ’cause it’s just a better idea or something that’s really in their heart and you can work on something that really means something to them, that’s something to consider. I look at it as a bonus: I brought my strong ideas to work on and we worked on something else… I still have all my strong ideas to work on the next time I have a co-write!
7) The melody writers are just as scared of you as you are of them
People who can create great melodies out of thin air might be a mystery to you. They are to me. I don’t get it, that’s not how my brain works, it’s not a skill-set I have. But I’ve learned it runs both ways. I write with people and they’ll ask, “where do these words come from?” “I don’t know, where do your melodies come from?” The thing is you each have something that the other person needs. It’s beautiful when it works together.
These are the seven main points, but you’ll get a lot more insights hearing Brent and Johnny banter back and forth point by point. Check it out!
The CLIMB is a podcast produced by Brent Baxter (award-winning hit songwriter) and Johnny Dwinell (owner of Daredevil Production) that is dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists like you gain leverage in the music business because that’s what you’re gonna need. It’s not just about your talent – you’ve got to bring the business, and that’s why it’s called “The CLIMB,” it’s an acronym that stands for “creating leverage in the music business.”