Lyric craft

Ask questions and get answers about how to make music in any particular way. Hardware or songwriting or whatever.
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Jim of Seattle
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 8:48 am

AJOwens wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 6:19 am
And since we two like to refer to our own songs, and since you too sometimes submit instrumentals which get no respect around here, some of the reviews for my instrumental The Thirteenth Moon also tried me. Maybe you'll understand.

There are a couple of lines with irregular rhythms, but mostly they use the same Seuss-like meter. The way they are spoken sometimes obscures the regularity.
Uh oh, this was going to be a relatively brief response post, and I got all high-horsey and long-winded. Consider it a blog post.

I wasn't a-feared of submitting instrumentals, as long as I knew myself I was only writing it within the fight week, and that I was indeed inspired by the title. Long ago there was a fight called Step Up in which we were given like two days. I wrote an instrumental and got dinged for it, but I learned from that experience that I could write very quickly if I was writing in this noodley style. I used the same technique for "Get a Life" and "Man Speaking German".

As for the lyrics, let me just repay the snarkiness :-) by pointing out that there are indeed syllabic irregularities there. "Why when I have a <word> song and am able" needs that extra <word>, "guitar strap" is one syllable too many, the "classic" line is syllabically wonky, and the first two lines of the song don't fit. But honestly, it all comes pretty close, and you paid way more attention than a lot of folks do.

When i'm working on a song, I will rewrite and rewrite individual lines for days, turning phrases around and saying the same things different ways, until it flows just right. I will agonize over ands and buts and thes. (One big reason I don't submit more songs to song Fight, actually.) I'm not tooting the horn here, I'm just saying it's something I wish people would notice more about good songs - that the lyrics are good for their craft and not just for their sentiment or imagery, and often even instead of it. A teacher once told me that when you're writing a lyric and have to choose between a great line and good craft, to always sacrifice the great line for the craft. People won't know the great line that isn't there, but they will notice poor craft. At least subconsciously. This rigor came from musical theatre, where of course instant audience comprehension of a lyric is paramount, but it applies elsewhere.

I can never understand it when someone goes to the trouble of writing and recording an entire frickin song, and doesn't make damn sure the lyrics can be understood. Why have them there if the listener can't make them out? I so don't get that. Not like every song has to be Sondheim, but we're verbal creatures, and when we listen to a human voice we instinctively want to comprehend the words, and when we can't there's a dissonance that's hurting the song. (Of COURSE there are a million exceptions to this, so you can take your outraged fingers off the keyboard right now. I'm speaking in generalities.) Elton John is a great example. Many the joke has been made at his expense that his vocals are too hard to comprehend the lyric, but I think he could have worked a little harder on that. The band New Pornographers, who write fun catchy songs I like, have this bizarre trait, (intentional?) of repeating a line in their chorus that I can't make out. They sing it over and over and I'm always like "What are they saying there?". So weird.

I was thinking about this last night after having noticed this issue in a lot of songs in this fight. "Got to Get You Into My Life" was playing, and I noticed how the lyrics don't have any fantastic lines or images or anything, (and who listens to that song for the lyric anyway?) but they flow so great, and they're clean, they don't draw undue attention, and easy and fun to sing, and syllabically fit perfectly.

When lyrics don't fit the music, they draw negative attention to themselves and undercut the flow of the tune (and for nerds like me, are red flags for laziness). A poorly-fitting lyric says to me "This line is more important right now than the flow of the tune", and so rarely is that actually the case, unless the song's style calls for it. Jim Tyrell certainly knows how to write a lyric, yet he chose NOT to adhere to that kind of discipline in his "Silent Pipe", an exception proving the rule.
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You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by AJOwens » Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:26 am

Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 8:48 am
it's something I wish people would notice more about good songs - that the lyrics are good for their craft and not just for their sentiment or imagery, and often even instead of it.
That's an interesting take, but it begs the question of how you define "craft." Why does craft require absolute adherence to the meter? Could there not be craft that allows the meter to flex, that plays with it artistically? What do you make of say, Bob Dylan's "Serve Somebody"? Crap lyrics? What about Eminem's "Lose Yourself"? Not that I'm claiming that kind of accomplishment. But if I do play a little with the meter, say by leaning on "song" instead of cramming in some bouncy awkwardness like "when I have a good song," or allowing an introductory extra syllable and then leaning on "does" for "Why DOES my guiTAR" etc., could that be craft of a different type, the craft of employing metric irregularities intelligently? Not that I ever thought of it that way, but one could make the case that this is a perfectly legitimate thing in modern songcraft.

I guess all I'm saying is if you're not impressed by lyrics just because they don't adhere strictly to the meter, you may be missing out on other things that are going on.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:02 pm

AJOwens wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:26 am
Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 8:48 am
it's something I wish people would notice more about good songs - that the lyrics are good for their craft and not just for their sentiment or imagery, and often even instead of it.
That's an interesting take, but it begs the question of how you define "craft." Why does craft require absolute adherence to the meter? Could there not be craft that allows the meter to flex, that plays with it artistically? What do you make of say, Bob Dylan's "Serve Somebody"? Crap lyrics? What about Eminem's "Lose Yourself"? Not that I'm claiming that kind of accomplishment. But if I do play a little with the meter, say by leaning on "song" instead of cramming in some bouncy awkwardness like "when I have a good song," or allowing an introductory extra syllable and then leaning on "does" for "Why DOES my guiTAR" etc., could that be craft of a different type, the craft of employing metric irregularities intelligently? Not that I ever thought of it that way, but one could make the case that this is a perfectly legitimate thing in modern songcraft.

I guess all I'm saying is if you're not impressed by lyrics just because they don't adhere strictly to the meter, you may be missing out on other things that are going on.
No, I don't believe absolute strict adherence to meter is necessary, but it should almost always be the aim, unless it's not that kind of song. It's not like it's some sort of rule that disqualifies any song that doesn't follow it. It's that it's a guideline that in most cases, when followed, makes the song better. Clunky lyrics get in the way of the total package. If the "other things that are going on" are important, all the more reason to employ great attention to detail so that those other things get across most effectively. Most of the time, those lines that the writer thought were so great that they were worth squeezing into a mangled melody aren't as great as they think, and aren't worth wrecking the flow of the tune over. Most of the time when a lyric doesn't fit the tune, it's not because the writer is "playing with it artistically", though they might use that as an excuse, like a bad singer saying he sang those notes off key on purpose.

What I'm referring to is what I'll call "doesn't matter-ism" (or perhaps "good enough-ism") which comes about from several different sources: Lack of ability to perceive that it makes a difference, inflated opinion of the pristine gorgeousness of one's own lyrics, a kind of reverse snobbery that attention to it is somehow not "rock 'n' roll", and plain old laziness.

When I say "craft", I'm referring to syllabic placement, singability, consistency of tone and style, general coherence (for the kind of songs that demand coherence), stuff like that.

"Serve Somebody" is a good call out. Ostensibly, it's a great demonstration of the problem I'm talking about. However.... First off, he's not singing a finely crafted melody that suffers much from loose lyric writing. Second, there IS significant attention to craft here, in the clean structure, where every line is "You might be this or that" followed by "BUT... you gotta..." in the chorus. And look at how each verse focuses on a slightly different thing. One is about occupations, one is about names, one is about eating and drinking. It's actually very structured and organized, just not syllabically because the music doesn't require it. Thirdly, I can't stand Dylan. I guess that's irrelevant, but I wanted to get that in somewhere.

As for "Lose Yourself", rap lyrics are a wholly different animal. I could write a whole 'nother screed on what bothers me about rap lyrics, so I'm not going there.

Oh and yes, people actually add the "s" more often than not. I didn't know that people whose name has the "s" are faced with it being omitted. Not like I've had many conversations on the topic...
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by owl » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:15 pm

interesting discussion... I have work to do and I'm trying hard not to get TOO distracted for too long, but I just want to add that I think people (not you specifically, AJOwens, just many people I've observed) tend to confuse "consistent meter"/"technically well crafted" with "overly strict adherence to exactly the same rhyme scheme and stress pattern the entire way through a song" and I don't think those are the same thing at all. I remember some judge docking points in Spintunes because of slant rhymes/half rhymes and it made me extremely annoyed even though I wasn't competing... I'm going to have to refresh my memory on those Eminem/Dylan songs and see what I think about them in terms of technical craft.

Jim of Seattle, I want to hear what bothers you about rap lyrics...
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:19 pm

owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:15 pm
Jim of Seattle, I want you to step into this pit filled with those giant scary dog tiger things from Lord of the Rings...
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:30 pm

owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:15 pm
I remember some judge docking points in Spintunes because of slant rhymes/half rhymes and it made me extremely annoyed even though I wasn't competing...
Half rhymes are the exact same concept. While I concede that they are very standard in pop lyrics, they still need to be used judiciously. The lyricist needs to know when they're ok and when they stand out. Laziness is the enemy here - "good enough-ism". I will hear a half rhyme that is like nails on a chalkboard, and I will hear another half rhyme that doesn't bother me at all. The author needs to have the discernment to have made a conscious choice about it, to understand when it's ok and why it's ok, and not rely on it because it's good enough and they've got a dentist appointment to get to.

Chances are, if they don't care about lazy rhymes, they also don't care about structure or syllables or whatever. Just like there is a fairly tight correlation between production quality and songwriting quality, there is a tight correlation among all the different things one should be doing if they want to write a solid lyric. Case in point: Dylan could get away with all those loose syllables because he knew what kind of music he was working with and the lyric is very disciplined in other ways. It was a conscious realization that the lyric didn't require that strict syllabic lockstep.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by owl » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:37 pm

GET IN THE PIT JIM
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:50 pm

owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:37 pm
GET IN THE PIT JIM
It's probably a taste thing. Too many rap lyrics sound like the writer thought of one line, then opened their rhyming dictionary, and let the words listed there dictate what they were going to say. Here are some rap lyrics for ya:

I'm trying to watch my calories
Like all those Valeries and Mallories
At the club spending all their salaries
Then heading off to hip galleries

That took me like eight seconds. Then they obfuscate the syllabic inconsistency by speaking in syncopation, which simultaneously gives the song that signature hip hop syncopation and also obscures the fact that the lyrics have no syllabic structure to them. And the crap is thereby bugged out of me.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by fluffy » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:07 pm

Could you please take this to help & how to?
Last edited by fluffy on Fri Nov 22, 2019 6:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: thread moved over to save everyone a lot of... whatever this is
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by AJOwens » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:14 pm

owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:15 pm
... I think people (not you specifically, AJOwens, just many people I've observed) tend to confuse "consistent meter"/"technically well crafted" with "overly strict adherence to exactly the same rhyme scheme and stress pattern the entire way through a song" and I don't think those are the same thing at all.
I'm not sure which side of the fence you have me on, but I'm bothered by equating "strict adherence to formal structure" to "technically well-crafted lyrics." In the first place, that begs the question of what is "well-crafted," by embedding "strict adherence to structure" in the definition of "well-crafted" even before the discussion has started -- my logical quibble with the way JoS initially framed his argument. In the second place, "strict adherence to structure" has a disturbing resemblance to "a foolish consistency," also known as "the hobgoblin of small minds," and I'm hoping to leave open the possibility of bending rules, in a deliberate and intelligent way, as a legitimate move in any kind of art. Whether a bent rule actually reflects deliberation and intelligence, or just laziness, is a question best approached on a case-by-case basis.

{EDIT} I'd be happy to take this interesting discussion to Help and How-to.
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Lyric craft

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:17 pm

Anyway...

owl wrote: ↑Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:15 am
... I think people (not you specifically, AJOwens, just many people I've observed) tend to confuse "consistent meter"/"technically well crafted" with "overly strict adherence to exactly the same rhyme scheme and stress pattern the entire way through a song" and I don't think those are the same thing at all.

AJOwens wrote:
I'm not sure which side of the fence you have me on, but I'm bothered by equating "strict adherence to formal structure" to "technically well-crafted lyrics." In the first place, that begs the question of what is "well-crafted," by embedding "strict adherence to structure" in the definition of "well-crafted" even before the discussion has started -- my logical quibble with the way JoS initially framed his argument. In the second place, "strict adherence to structure" has a disturbing resemblance to "a foolish consistency," also known as "the hobgoblin of small minds," and I'm hoping to leave open the possibility of bending rules, in a deliberate and intelligent way, as a legitimate move in any kind of art. Whether a bent rule actually reflects deliberation and intelligence, or just laziness, is a question best approached on a case-by-case basis.

{EDIT} I'd be happy to take this interesting discussion to Help and How-to.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by fluffy » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:18 pm

Oh wait I have moderation tools, I can do a thing. Give me a moment.
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Re: Lyric craft

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:21 pm

bending rules, in a deliberate and intelligent way, as a legitimate move in any kind of art. Whether a bent rule actually reflects deliberation and intelligence, or just laziness, is a question best approached on a case-by-case basis.
That's the crux of the matter IMO. And whether a given song employs the former or the latter is often claimed by the author him or herself, and that person's motivation for claiming deliberation and intelligence is pretty self-evident. People want to say they were being deliberate and intelligent when they were actually being lazy, or maybe not just lazy, just incapable of rising to the needs to the task and giving up.
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GET IN THE PIT JIM aka murderous rhymes tight from genuine craft

Post by owl » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:22 pm

Discussion moved from here.
What does it mean for lyrics to be "well crafted"?
Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:50 pm
owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:37 pm
GET IN THE PIT JIM
It's probably a taste thing. Too many rap lyrics sound like the writer thought of one line, then opened their rhyming dictionary, and let the words listed there dictate what they were going to say. Here are some rap lyrics for ya:

I'm trying to watch my calories
Like all those Valeries and Mallories
At the club spending all their salaries
Then heading off to hip galleries

That took me like eight seconds. Then they obfuscate the syllabic inconsistency by speaking in syncopation, which simultaneously gives the song that signature hip hop syncopation and also obscures the fact that the lyrics have no syllabic structure to them. And the crap is thereby bugged out of me.
I mean... dude, you can't just take eight seconds to write out some bad lyrics and then be like "everyone would agree these are good and representative rap lyrics, QED rap sucks" :D

I can understand not liking hip-hop as a genre at large for various reasons--e.g. too musically repetitive or boring, you like actual singing and not rapping, etc.--but I'm kind of perplexed by the blanket statement that "rap lyrics aren't well crafted technically" or "rhymes are lazy" when a huge part of the entire genre is the close attention to the meter, sound, and flow of the words. Syllable counts and stresses included.

This analysis seems pretty superficial and tbh suggests to me you haven't really listened to a lot of well respected hip-hop or paid close attention to it.

And sure, there are a lot of lazy rhymes in a lot of rap songs, but there's a lot of bad music of all kinds out there--sitting through a million agonizingly bad open mics doesn't mean I'm going to write off all singer-songwriter music as lazy crap.

Other Jim:
AJOwens wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:14 pm
owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:15 pm
... I think people (not you specifically, AJOwens, just many people I've observed) tend to confuse "consistent meter"/"technically well crafted" with "overly strict adherence to exactly the same rhyme scheme and stress pattern the entire way through a song" and I don't think those are the same thing at all.
I'm not sure which side of the fence you have me on, but I'm bothered by equating "strict adherence to formal structure" to "technically well-crafted lyrics." In the first place, that begs the question of what is "well-crafted," by embedding "strict adherence to structure" in the definition of "well-crafted" even before the discussion has started -- my logical quibble with the way JoS initially framed his argument. In the second place, "strict adherence to structure" has a disturbing resemblance to "a foolish consistency," also known as "the hobgoblin of small minds," and I'm hoping to leave open the possibility of bending rules, in a deliberate and intelligent way, as a legitimate move in any kind of art. Whether a bent rule actually reflects deliberation and intelligence, or just laziness, is a question best approached on a case-by-case basis.

{EDIT} I'd be happy to take this interesting discussion to Help and How-to.
I didn't have you on either side of the fence, actually, it was just something that I was thinking about because of the discussion. Upon reading your reply, I totally agree with you about foolish consistency and also approaching this on a case-by-case basis.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by fluffy » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:29 pm

AJOwens wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:26 am
Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 8:48 am
it's something I wish people would notice more about good songs - that the lyrics are good for their craft and not just for their sentiment or imagery, and often even instead of it.
That's an interesting take, but it begs the question
Raises the question. Begging the question is something else.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by AJOwens » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:31 pm

fluffy wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:29 pm
AJOwens wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:26 am
Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 8:48 am
it's something I wish people would notice more about good songs - that the lyrics are good for their craft and not just for their sentiment or imagery, and often even instead of it.
That's an interesting take, but it begs the question
Raises the question. Begging the question is something else.
Jeebus. I know what begging the question is, fluffy; I too am a stickler for the correct definition. As I said later, " In the first place, that begs the question of what is "well-crafted," by embedding "strict adherence to structure" in the definition of "well-crafted" even before the discussion has started -- my logical quibble with the way JoS initially framed his argument."
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Re: Lyric craft

Post by fluffy » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:39 pm

Ah, I overlooked that in my enthusiasm for being snarkily prescriptivist in a thread about prescriptivism.

My take on this is: while half-rhymes bother me in general, there's a lot of wiggle room for rhyme structures and meter, which are both very regional English things, and in particular rather classist. It rubs me the wrong way when people, for example, bring up rap as an example of doing it wrong, because of the classist and sometimes racist biases involved. Same goes for country and folk music; these things are expressions of emotion, not doctoral theses in linguistics.

And if you step outside of English-language music, there's basically no concept of rhyming whatsoever, for the most part.
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by AJOwens » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:41 pm

Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:02 pm
"Serve Somebody" is a good call out. Ostensibly, it's a great demonstration of the problem I'm talking about. However.... First off, he's not singing a finely crafted melody that suffers much from loose lyric writing. Second, there IS significant attention to craft here, in the clean structure, where every line is "You might be this or that" followed by "BUT... you gotta..."
So are you judging my entry as if it were a finely-crafted melody? Or saying it doesn't have any structural patterns?
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Re: Lyric craft

Post by AJOwens » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:54 pm

Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:21 pm
bending rules, in a deliberate and intelligent way, as a legitimate move in any kind of art. Whether a bent rule actually reflects deliberation and intelligence, or just laziness, is a question best approached on a case-by-case basis.
That's the crux of the matter IMO. And whether a given song employs the former or the latter is often claimed by the author him or herself, and that person's motivation for claiming deliberation and intelligence is pretty self-evident. People want to say they were being deliberate and intelligent when they were actually being lazy, or maybe not just lazy, just incapable of rising to the needs to the task and giving up.
I have heard of a thing called "saving the argument," which means making desperate moves to defend an initial thesis that has come under strain. Pleading deliberation over laziness might be a case of saving the argument. So might acting as if an opinion was carefully thought through, when it turned out to be offhand and careless. But I'm sure neither JO is second-guessing the other JO in this way. How would I know how much deliberation went into your initial opinion?
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Re: GET IN THE PIT JIM aka murderous rhymes tight from genuine craft

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 2:38 pm

owl wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:22 pm
buncha defensive stuff
See? Told you I didn't want to jump in the pit.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that's how it comes across. Throwing rhymes hither and yon which are sometimes full and sometimes half and where the meter and rhythm changes every 0.8 seconds sounds like lazy lyric writing to me. And truth be told, I think it often is. I think a lot of rap lyricists are throwing out some aspects of lyric writing that are hard and justifying it in other ways.

Just one of the things I hate about hip hop.
Last edited by Jim of Seattle on Fri Nov 22, 2019 2:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Jim of Seattle
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Re: You wouldn't dare... (Try Me Reviews)

Post by Jim of Seattle » Fri Nov 22, 2019 2:46 pm

AJOwens wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:41 pm
Jim of Seattle wrote:
Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:02 pm
"Serve Somebody" is a good call out. Ostensibly, it's a great demonstration of the problem I'm talking about. However.... First off, he's not singing a finely crafted melody that suffers much from loose lyric writing. Second, there IS significant attention to craft here, in the clean structure, where every line is "You might be this or that" followed by "BUT... you gotta..."
So are you judging my entry as if it were a finely-crafted melody? Or saying it doesn't have any structural patterns?
In your case, what I'm saying is that if you setup a Suess-esque lyric structure, then I will look at you askance if you decide to break it here and there. Because then it really seems like you got lazy, rather than it being an artistic choice. If the whole thing is loose syllabically, then one loose line is as good or bad as another, then there are a whole different set of questions to be asked about it.
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Re: Lyric craft

Post by Cybronica » Fri Nov 22, 2019 2:48 pm

I’m going to just chime in here and say that 1. I am a stickler for lyric craft, I agonize over and rhyme scheme, and I think it’s an important part of any song. 2. That said, I feel that it is important to realize that music allows the poetry set to it to explore more complex and mixed meters. We don’t need to have lines be all iambs or dactyls to be “well crafted.” When I think about italian operatic recitative or latin epic poetry, those forms would use a lot of mixed meter.
Take, for example, Dactyllic Hexameter: This type of verse need 6 feet, the last two of which must be a dactyl followed by a spondee. That means -..|- - and the other four can be either trochee (-.) or dactyl (-..). There are a couple other rules pertaining to pauses in the line, but those are the basics.

It’s a wonderful form, very versatile. Jim’s song
Sounded like that to me. I find it useful for writing more speech-like
Poetry. Once, I used it to write an opera libretto.

^carefully crafted, not all the same, very speech-like, still dactyllic hexameter.

Music allows us to very plainly show where the intended stresses go, and since we really don’t have to adhere to “every syllable is one note and vice versa and they are all the same,” these sorts of odd meters can be a fun way to break out of the traditional pop/rock song format.



Also, regarding the setting up of Seuss and then breaking it, I think the whole point of music is setting up an expectation and then breaking it in fun ways. If it wasn’t, we’d all still be singing plain chant.
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