I occasionally get asked about my process for writing my lyrics. My preference is to write lyrics against an already selected instrumental, starting with the chorus and crafting the verses around it. That being said, it often doesn't unfold like that.
In my experience, the act of crafting a song doesn't fit into a template or highly structured process. I try to follow the point of inspiration and start there - building on the additional components as needed. Some starting points that I'll go into a bit more detail below:
- Song concept, theme, idea or name (all of these usually impact chorus writing, too)
- An emotion or feeling that is triggered by the instrumental
- Freestanding lyrics or verses that can be expanded upon
- Freestyle chorus ideas alongside the instrumental
- The title a producer gives to your beat
This is probably the easiest way to get started because you have a clear vision of where you want to go. For instance, I knew I wanted to name this EP Paid Time Off, but I also wanted to have a song called Paid Time Off to lead off the project. This allowed producer Kyle Alexander Devine to recommend a beat that he thought would fit well, and also gave me very clear direction in what the lyrics needed to be about.
When starting without a concept, I tend to listen to the beat repeatedly and take note on how it makes me feel. Music can evoke any emotion, but it's up to us to recognize which one resonates with us - and then how our experience with that emotion could influence the lyrics. A triumphant beat may make me write about being determined. Piano alongside a heavy baseline may make me feel like an untouchable badass. Something lighter and more melodic might get me feeling introspective or philosophical. Examples like these are often all it takes to spark bigger ideas for a song.
It's not uncommon at all for a lyric to pop into my head at a random point during the day. If it's worth remembering at all, I jot it down in my Evernote in an all-encompassing "Lyrics" document. This is loaded with lines, albeit mostly not related at all. Still, having this reservoir to dip into can be convenient when looking for a start to get your song going.
Freestyle your chorus
I'm not much for freestyling (publicly, at least), but it can be a really helpful exercise when working on putting a chorus together. What words come to mind in a way that matches the composition of the chorus? When in doubt, just riff on it, blurting out anything that comes to mind and see if anything sticks. Doing this can help you find where your vocals sit on a beat and complement the melody.
The producer's title
Sometimes when I'm having a hard time getting going, I use the name that the producer titled the beat as a thought starter. That can at least get you in the frame of mind for how they envisioned their piece of music coming to life - whether you use their title in the song or not.
Ultimately, the real trick is just having frequency and consistency in writing. The only way you'll ever write something truly remarkable is if you sit down to write in the first place. There are a lot of days where not a lot makes it on to the page - but the days when the words flow make it all worth it.