Making Lyrics Fit the Music
by Alec Plowman
Adaptation and Interpretation
You’ve got a great track. You’ve got a great set of lyrics to go with it.
But, how do you go about combining the two?
In truth, fitting lyrics to music isn’t just a case of dropping the words into the melody and you’re good to go.
Making sure your lyrics sit right in your track is a fine art in itself. And, it’s something that beginner songwriters and producers often struggle with.
There’s no “right” way to interpret a set of lyrics. Different producers use different approaches, and it’s a good thing they do. Thanks to that diversity of methods, we don’t end up with an entire catalogue of cookie cutter songs.
But, while specific methods for interpreting lyrics may vary, there is one general practice that will help you in your quest for lyrical and melodic synchronicity.
And that’s remembering that your job isn’t just to use those lyrics, but adapt and interpret them for maximum impact.
Today, we’re going to get to grips with exactly what that means.
When is a lyric finished?
When you receive a set of lyrics from your writer, you’re getting a finely crafted product.
That writer has likely spent hours drafting and redrafting them, thinking very carefully about sentence structure, making sure they choose the most appropriate words sand generally creating an impacting lyric.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the finished article.
Here’s the thing. Those lyrics have to fit your music. Thematically, they already do - you’ll have worked with the lyric writer to make sure of that, or chosen an existing set of lyrics that pairs up with your vision.
But, structurally, there may be some inconsistencies with the music you’ve produced. Certain lines might not “sit right” with your melody. The impact of certain phrases may be diminished because of where they sit within the song.
This is where you, as a producer, need to start interpreting what’s written on the page, refining it to fit your vision.
So, how do you do that?
The importance of experimentation
Experimenting with your lyrics might seem daunting. But, in truth, it’s one of the most fun and rewarding parts of the songwriting process.
The moment where you start toying with different phrasings, re-ordering certain stanzas and cutting certain words is when your track starts coming together.
In effect, it’s the process by which you make sense of the words on the page, and your start realizing overall vision for the song.
It’s no time to be precious. You’re throwing things at the wall here to see what sticks. Any changes you make can be reverted, so don’t get too hung up on the alterations you’re making.
What we’ve talked about so far here is adapting your lyrics to fit the music. But, the process also works both ways.
Let the lyrics guide the music
That thing we said about not being precious? That applies to your music just as much as the lyrics.
You might have started the songwriting process with a melody in your head. But, the words on the page might open up a whole range of possibilities that you didn’t even think of.
Flexibility is key here. Try different approaches with the words you’ve been given, and don’t be afraid to play around. Once again, you don’t have to get too hung up on this process; if it doesn’t work, you can go back to how things were before.
But, by taking this open approach, by letting the music and the words guide each other, you start to achieve that lyrical and musical synchronicity we talked about earlier.
Bring your singer in
If you’re the person singing the words on your track, then this one doesn’t apply so much. But, if someone is lending their pipes to your song, then extend that “open-to-interpretation” approach to them.
Everyone’s experience is different. And, what your singer hears in their head when they read those lyrics might be different to you. Giving them some freedom to play with that can really help your song “come to life.”
Suddenly, those lyrics are delivered in a way that conveys someone’s lived experiences and emotions. And, when that comes together, it gives the words an authenticity that really resonates with listeners.
In summary, interpreting and adapting lyrics, rather than just “using” them, is a necessary process to creating a great track. And, to achieve this, you need to be open to possibilities.
Yes, you should have a vision. But, if you allow that vision to be shaped by the resources and players around you, your music will be richer and more impacting.