3 Fundamentals of Great Song Lyrics

One thing that many great songs have in common is that they touch on a central part of the human condition — maybe a ballad or a personal crisis. Sometimes ideas can come when you least expect. But the result will generally look like this:

1. The chorus will summarize the story
2. The audience will follow and sing along

Here are some specifics signs that you could have a potential hit on your hands. Meld it into this format.

It’s Stuck in Your Head

If there is a phrase someone mentioned that pricks the ear and just won’t leave, that is a potential sign that a great song is in the works. For example, Billy Joel got the idea for River of Dreams while taking a shower. He dreamt about walking through a river, and upon waking up the next morning, he heard a chorus singing, “I go walkin” in his head. It was so catchy he couldn’t really ignore it, so he turned it into a song. A similar situation happened with artist Justin Pierre. His grandfather often said, “It’s not a matter of time. It’s just a matter of timing.” Justin used this phrase to create the song “Timelines.”

It’s Relatable

If your story is one that others have also gone through, it will undoubtedly make great material for a song. No, this doesn’t mean stubbing a toe is going to make a great ballad. But we all deal with heartbreak, jealousy, and joy. If the subject matter taps into these, even in a small way, it might make someone feel better through empathy. According to Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, the song “Dark Horses” is “all about the homeless kids back in San Diego, specifically the ones who are being helped out by Stand Up For Kids.” But the song features very general lyrics about resilience and hope that any person going through a tough time can relate to.

It Tells a Story

A catchy phrase may reveal more about a person when expanded upon. It can serve as the baseline for a story about yourself (or a specific event, trouble, or joy you’ve experienced). The more vulnerable or tender, the more people are likely to respond to it. See if there is a bit of humanity that can be expressed from a seemingly insignificant thought that might occur in daily life. Everything from minor frustrations to pleasant little surprises — even receiving an unexpected package in the mail — are all great material to draw from. The story goes that the two members of the band Jamestown Revival were just driving along, when they spotted a guy on the side of the road. He was wearing a fur coat and singing with a guitar. One of the members made a joke that the man had the “fur coat blues.” That is how the single “Fur Coat Blues,” was created.

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Mike DiGirolamo has had a strong interest in music from a young age, playing both the cello and trombone. Outside of music he has a love for movies, theatre, and environmental science.

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