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The Art of Lyric Writing

Blog Perfecting the craft Poetry Workshops |

By Emily Davis

In general I’m a bit of a communic-a-tard. This is kind of like being a lactard (allergic to milk), but perhaps with slightly more serious connotations and consequences. I can assure you I can write, and read and speak, and I’m not too bad at a boozy dinner party when I’m tasked with spinning a bawdy yarn (*NB as a slight aside I’d like it noted that having just completed a Facebook endorsed ‘Right Brain Left Brain’ test and I’m a confirmed right brain thinker, which apparently means I enjoy creative story telling; I think best when lying down and I’m meant to be good at Geometry. WTF?!


‘…lyric writing is the salve; the litmus test to happiness.’

Ahem… anyway when one boils down the essence of true communication I’ve always struggled to authentically convey things that I’ve seen in my brain (an image, revelation or something that’s moved me) into a succinct, accessible neat little package of words. The frustration I’ve experienced when I realise I’m unable to explain what I really mean has led to me give up on my quest for a sash-and-tiara placement in the art of eloquent conversation pageantry. (See?…What a wanker, I mean ‘conversation pageantry’ says it all)

What the hell does this have to do with the price of eggs?

Lyrics. That’s what. The art of song writing is something that has taken me many years to comprehend, and I’m by no means an overly successful lyricist. Well not by the usual measures. I’m not famous for it, I don’t earn much money from it, and I’ve never had an affair with one of my dancers because of it. I don’t even have dancers. On the upside, my lack of commercial success has allowed me to approach song writing with a highly personal agenda; and writing lyrics seems to be the most glorious part of the process.

When you’re nostalgic, affected, romantic, easily amused; when you dream every night and have forever, in colour; when you like booze, read poetry for FUN and you like music, and you’re a communica-a-tard, lyric writing is the salve; the litmus test to happiness. You become the grand poo-bah of your own inner insecurities and quirks because suddenly you have a tool to freely and deliciously speak your mind. You can, through the course of a single verse, convey an aesthetic, mood, or an entire life story. You can finally connect with others without having to explain at length in conversation, that which made your cogs turn or your head spin, or your heart sing, or your stomach churn.

I can’t tell you how many songs have been love letters; how many verses have been film trailers to dreams I’ve had; how many choruses have been self-help mantras that have gotten me out of an existential pickle; how many opening lines have been eulogies to the ones I’ve loved.

So now you know. Lyric writing gives my thoughts and visions and dreams and feelings a mouthpiece. It lets me nail down those things that govern me, and confuse me, and it lets me place them side by side; a series of neat little vignettes that line the shelves and cavities of my mind and heart. And this is something that I’d like to share with you, because once I learned how to trap the montages of my mind and bed them lyrics, I suddenly found that I needn’t bother with failed conversation; rather I should just open my mouth and let the song say the rest.


Emily Davis; troubadour; conjure woman; ritual maker and story weaver. Emily has performed at WomAdelaide and PeatsRidge Festival and supported Clare Bowditch, The Audreys and Kate Miller-Heidke. Her two solo albums have been played on Triple J, Nova FM, and the ABC. Davis is currently writing her third solo album due for release in Spring.

Emily will be holding a half day workshop called Trapping the Montage on lyric writing at the Centre.



2 Comments to “The Art of Lyric Writing”

  1. matt hart says:

    Hi Emily. I am a music junkie who loves to write and record music. i have only just discovered this web site so unfortunately ii missed your clinic Trapping the montage. I have never been a big fan of the lyrical side of music. While most folk generally lock into the lyrics of their preferred music im not that way inclined. I cant even cite the lyrics to my favorite songs because they dont seem as important as the actual melody. I know i am a lyrics snob and its not helping my writing. Whilst i have written lyrics for my own material i rarely get a sense of satisfaction out of it and find writing in poem form pulls me away from the constraints of the music.On the other hand if i create a really good melody i feel i am undermining it by trying to fit in some words that had nothing to do with melodies conception.I feel i am a creative and motivated person in all aspects of music except lyrics. Should i persist with trying to mould myself into some sort of lyricist even though i have this wall i cant see myself fully scaling with any sort of confidence or should i just try to find a lyricist and accept the fact that their interpretation may not be within my vision.I guess when it comes to music i am a control freak and I know what I want to hear. Maybe it would be good to relinquish total control for a bit of the unknown. Anyway i have banged on too long so ill leave it at that. Any tips,advice or criticisms re my vocal snobbery would be greatly appreciated. ps good luck with the new album

    • Hi Matt, thanks for writing such a comprehensive comment! There are a few issues that you’ve raised that I find really interesting, and if you don’t mind my comments I might like to share with you some of my thoughts..
      Music can often say more without lyrics than with, so I appreciate the desire to let it speak for itself, rather than ‘undermine’ a perfectly solid melody or sound. The traditional Verse Chorus and maybe a bridge format is something that pop, folk and singer songwriters have relied on to translate their music into a consumable product for a number of years. If all the music had no lyrics then ability to connect through a narrative, a character or basic story telling would be reduced by a lot of musicians. It’s not because I feel my music is inadequate to translate it, but rather that I get an immense sense of glee when I can tell a motion picture using words and sounds. This brings me to my point…
      My lyric writing gives me an opportunity to tell what my music can’t show; and the lyric workshop that I ran focused on translating imagery through words in a way that was more focused on descriptively and authentically sharing the images rather than squeezing meaningless words that sounded nice into a song format.
      In this sense, because I don’t know what style of music you write, I will part with these pieces of advice (for lack of a better less patronizing word!):
      1. Your music may never need lyrics – ever! So there’s no point trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. I’m a big fan of post-rock at the moment which pretty much has zilch in the lyrics department (most of the time) – OR
      2. You could use lyrics as a tool, rather than a burden to add a broader range of skills in your quiver, and further to connect to music in ways that you haven’t previously; namely by spending some time analyzing the interplay between particular lyrics and melody lines and the way that they help each other create a mood, expose vulnerability, press a point or convey an image or let the music tell most of the tale without compromising this.
      3. You sound smarter than the average bear, so I think you’d be totally up for the challenge of including lyrics in your music. Even as an exercise in creating rather than keeping. No need to snob out so much, in the end you end up losing another tool or creative avenue to communicate with. Again you don’t have to use it all the time, but the JOY Matt, the PURE JOY you can experience by nailing a great line to a fabulous melody really is worth a try!
      All the best with your music making, Stay tuned for more lyric writing workshops. Sounds like you’d be a great participant!
      Em x

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