Striking the Chord – Why Lyricists Matter

Lyricist Lyricists possess the ability to distill complex situations and emotions into sixteen syllable couplets. Most importantly, they possess the capacity to strike a chord in us, the listener.

Why is that?

Lyricists cut themselves deep down, often just for the sake of seeing themselves bleed.

For some, writing is medication. Releasing that inner tension gives them room to breathe.

For others, their writing is infliction. They feel their words – every single one.

The knife in their side is twisted out of sheer necessity. Killing themselves inside helps remind them that they are alive. That this is real. A lifetime spent reflecting on personal tragedies does not seem like a way that anyone would want to live, but for lyricists, this is living. There is a thrill in revealing yourself to yourself, to gutting out your emotions, and putting them on display for the world – whomever that may be – to see. For some, the world is a stage. For others, it is a page.

Few people know what it is actually like to say something that they mean, to express an emotion with everything that they are. They have said “I love you” or “Please, don’t go.” But this is the closest they have ever been to brutal honesty.

In contrast, lyricists spend their lives crafting phrases that say exactly what they mean. That sinking feeling in our chest that we feel when we tell someone that we love them is the perpetual state that lyricists find themselves in. In time, it gets easier. But when a lyricist crafts a simple truth – something that they mean with everything that they are – it does not hurt in the sense that it is painful.

A cut elicits pain; bleeding is the process through which it heals itself.

For lyricists, things work in a similar fashion. The main difference is that wounds on the outside only bleed a few moments before they heal, whereas wounds on the inside fester for years. Due to how quickly outside wounds heal, the process of bleeding is not one that is often felt. But on the inside, that feeling can be felt.

Deep down.

Rather than a process of healing, bleeding is the state of feeling. It is when an emotion is embraced for everything that it is, distilled it down to its center, and expressed in its most concentrated, raw form. And this is why it hurts, because brutal honesty always hurts. It is one thing to be brutally honest to others about how you feel. It is quite another to be brutally honest to yourself. To know that once the pen hits the paper, you have the power to reveal yourself to yourself.

To unearth things that you never knew you felt.

And this is why lyricists matter, because in experiencing their brutal honestly it helps us reveal ourselves to ourselves too. Their words strike a chord. But it is only through the process of bleeding that they found that chord to begin with.

And once found, they can strike it within us too.

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  1. I do appreciate you taking the time to emphasize the importance of good lyrics. And the very best writers can invoke profound emotions in the listener, it’s true.
    Yet not all great lyricists have the pain factor you describe … surely some are also great because they are intellectual rather than emotional, and trigger thoughts rather than feelings?
    And others are great because they are so funny or satirical.

  2. I enjoyed this article. It resonates with me and advice I have heard from other accomplished songwriters, who have suggested that good lyricists explore “vertically” for their best material. During my “free writing” process, I find subjects that cause me to cry end up being the best ones lyrically.

  3. I agree with Catherine Hol. I’ve got a lot of lyrical content that deals with the aspect of pain, tragedy and loss – but it’s actually the last place I write from most of the time. I think what we are looking for in great lyrics is a deeply enriched use of language coupled with a desire to communicate honest experience.
    That’s when “I can’t express my love in words.” turns into “Words are like coffins for those who think.” (yes that’s a lyric from one of my tunes)
    Like Catherine said, lyrics can be funny, thought provoking, or filled with angst. The great challenge of the lyricist is crafting something intensely personal and simultaneously universally resonant.

  4. I guess I didn't mean to imply that all lyrics must be derived from loss. But from 14 – 21 were my prime lyric writing years and that life transition is more app to be biased toward such experiences. Your certainly right though, lyrics can be about all things. The thing I intended to focus on isn't necessary pain or tragedy, but something that you feel deep inside you. When honest about such things, when that kind of emotion wells up inside you, I think it's a very powerful moment of expression. This is merely my attempt to put such a feeling into context. Sadly, it is the things that we are brutally honest about that hurt us that most as humans are prone to defy all odds to preserve what they hold to be true.

  5. As always Jackie, thank you for reading. It's funny though, as writers, we don't need our own lives to be going badly. We're just as capable of putting ourselves inside others and deconstructing the obfuscation of their worlds too. I'd argue that a large part of my pieces were never truly about my own life at all. It does, however, get confusing when things in your life correlate with what your writing, but that doesn't mean that what you're writing is inspired by your own tragedy.

  6. This article covers the emotional aspects of lyricism, however that’s not the only approach. A fair bit of effort goes into other aspects of the task as well, such as developing good writing skills and researching topics for songs.
    Not every lyricist is a tender soul gushing tears from emotional wounds, there’s a bit more to it than that.

  7. I agree, if only I had read this I wouldn’t rephrase it later. I judge lyricists on the intelligence of their work, rather than their emotional power.

  8. A good article although we don’t always write with bleeding thoughts & feelings, sometimes we write about concrete & iron & spiders, monkeys & flies in cups of tea & stuff ……..:)!

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