Tune In

Song lyrics combine the poetry form with a story narrative and the confessional elements of a personal essay. These award-winning lyricists share the principles of good songwriting, which have application across all genres.
Published: May 1, 2014


“If there is a common thread to all that I find deep and beautiful in music (lyrics included), it is the truth that emerges from experience: lived, heard and read. The only constants I can personally rely on follow: You can never learn enough. Pay attention. Tell the truth or lie beautifully.”
—J.D. Souther, songwriter for the Eagles

“Write the way people actually talk. You can use imagery and be poetic, of course, but the best lyrics sound like something people might actually say.”
—Murray Horwitz, co-writer of the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’

 “Life experience. If you want to write about ’a broken heart,’ it’s good to know what a broken heart feels like. I also believe you need to take the time and not rush things, keep it playful… and listen to the world around [you].”
—Jörgen Elofsson, songwriter for Kelly Clarkson

“The key to good lyric writing is honesty. It’s something that wins regardless of genre – that’s why people love someone like Johnny Cash and someone like Kanye. They come from different worlds and sound nothing alike, but they both have honest lyrics, which draws people in and allows them to connect with the artist.”
—Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan of the band Karmin

“Lyrics tend to be very concise, expressing the emotion and story and sentiment of the subject matter in a very brief, consolidated manner. Moving the ‘story’ forward in this more lyrically, poetically condensed way enhances the emotion and drama we want to convey.”
—Michèle Vice-Maslin, songwriter for Ke$ha

“Be honest. Say what you have to say. Say what your heart is instructing you to say. Don’t write what you think someone wants to hear. And if that sentiment is genuine, it will be a universal sentiment. Start with your heart. Filter through your brain. Pour it out through your pen.”
—Julie Gold, songwriter for Bette Midler