You have to love those books that leave you feeling both overwhelmed by how little you knew, as well as excited by what you can now do. Pat Pattison’s songwriting method is intense and eye-opening, but his final lyrics speak for themselves.
What is it about?
Writing Better Lyrics is a how-to guide to bringing meaning out of every aspect of your lyrics. Pattison goes through the songwriting process in-depth–how to come up with ideas, how to expand on them, and how to convey them most effectively. Not only does he go through language techniques such as rhyme, metaphors and cliches, but how to use every element of the song to your advantage. Everything has a purpose, and it should either heighten or change your song’s meaning.
Who wrote it?
Pat Pattison is a professor at Berklee School of Music, where he teaches songwriting and poetry. He also runs seminars and has developed online courses on lyric-writing. Some of the material from this book is on his website, too.
How’s the writing style?
It’s quite dense, and I found the amount of information overwhelming at times, but his sense of humour and strong lyrical examples help to break it up. Pattison also includes exercises to do along the way. Some I typed up and some were quick enough that I could do them roughly in my head. There are a lot there, but they cement his tools in your mind so that you don’t have to read the book four times to fully digest and remember what he says 😉
Any content warnings?
Some of the lyrics and examples have references to violence and sex.
What’s the most helpful thing you learnt?
My biggest take-away was that everything in my lyrics should contribute to the meaning of the song, and therefore should be chosen deliberately. Personally, this was driven home when choosing point of view. Looking back on my songs, I can think of one that isn’t written from the first-person point of view 😅. Pattison encourages trying the draft lyrics in first, second and third perspective, as well as past, present and future tense, to see which one works best (and he gives helpful explanations on how to know which is most effective, too). Given my history of diverse (*cough*) points of view, I will have to take this advice to heart.
What’s your favourite quote?
From the very last page: “Don’t be afraid to write crap–it makes the best fertilizer. The more of it you write, the better your chances are of growing something wonderful.” (p291)
How would you rate it out of five?
Five out of five. And before you ask if I’d recommend it to anyone, I already have 😉