The other day, SongExpresso presented a songwriting collaborator with a steaming pile of lyrics without a melody. Only to be asked “Is this some kind of spoken word thing?” Ouch. I had written prose.
I loved the concept and some of the detail. But I was having endless difficulties with it. Melody, like an upside-down magnet, was refusing to attach to the lyrics. Chords would scatter bird-like away from my lyrical dogs.
Maybe there was no “prosody”. Or maybe I was relying too much on prosody to do the work, expecting melody to flow naturally out of the words. Not to mention that there was a radical internal rhyme scheme where the rhyme would appear in different places in each verse, but this ultimately only went to add confusion and subtract satisfaction.
In retrospect all this is normal. SongExpresso thinks you can tell where a set of lyrics have been written at a desk and then later put to music (all Squeeze and Elton John songs probably excepted). As they say, a desk is a dangerous place…
A lyrical idea can happen in isolation at any time. But then it isn’t a song, just an idea. If it doesn’t have rhythm and feeling it may just be prose. You can impose some structure and develop ideas on paper or a computer and possibly hear instruments in your head (if you are Beethoven). Otherwise, your idea needs to be put in a taxi, taken to a party, and sat next to a musical instrument (or made to dance flirtatiously with lots of musical instruments until it finds one it likes). Then they need to spend time together so that their bits crystallize into a song.
You can – and should – go back to the desk and work more. But doing that is much more likely to produce a song after magnetic melody has adhered to your words, and chords of grouse have settled around your lyrical corn.
SongExpresso’s collaborator in this case was a “get a demo done” type of person, a fresh approach that really helped. What do you do when you get lyrics without a melody? How do you take it to the next stage? As always, SongExpresso wants to hear your ideas and experiences.