[Power Words] How To Write Throat-Grabbing Lyrics

Being able to grab your audience with thought-provoking, colorful lyrics is a difficult job, as it requires very different skills than your normal songwriting.

You need to be able to put emotions into words, make sure they’re not totally cliché and then make them fit your melody. Tough job.

One of the best ways to win an audience over is using the right words, what I call “Power Words”. A well-placed power word can be the difference of an audience with tears in their eyes and an audience that’s ROLLING their eyes, so getting this simple skill right has a lot of impact in your writing.

1. Emotion

A great power word always has an emotional effect on your audience. Consider the difference between the word „fish“ (which is a very weak word emotionally) and „shark“.

Shark has a lot more impact, because you imagine a wild killing machine instead of your granny‘s gold fish.

We immediately react emotionally. That‘s what you want with your lyrics – a strong emotional reaction.

A lot of artists these days take drastic measures to evoke emotion, as with their use of the n- and f-word. They know that a shock reaction is extremely effective. These words are so polarizing that it‘s hard NOT to feel anything when you hear them.

2. Specificity

This is a biggie. A lot of people mess this one up because they blur what they‘re trying to say through bad usage of metaphors.

I can‘t even count how many times I‘ve talked to songwriters who were extremely fond of using metaphors. And why not? It‘s SO deep…

Yes, they can be. But there is a BIG difference between „our love faded away“ and „I still make coffee for two“. The first sounds generic and doesn‘t evoke a strong emotional reaction.

While „to fade“ is a beautiful word, it‘s not specific enough to remind a listener of what a break-up is really like.

„I still make coffee for two“ however, is specific and instantly relatable (unless you don‘t drink coffee). By showing how hard it is to get used to not having your ex around anymore it is specific. And that‘s where the magic is.

Let‘s take a look at „shark“ again: It is not just more emotional than „animal“, it‘s also more specific. Similarly, „wreck“ is stronger than „break“, „bad blood“ is stronger than „anger“ and „grenade“ is stronger than „weapon“.

So here‘s my tip: Whenever you‘re describing a situation, go past those blurry metaphors and find specific objects or emotions in the scene you could describe. The more precise, the easier it is to envision and the better reaction you will get!

For a list of 201 power words, check this out.

3. Placement

There are certain moments in your song that are more memorable than others. I call these „power positions“, because they give a lot of power to whatever word or line is there.

When I write lyrics (and I usually don‘t have a lot of time to do it), I tend to fill in the power positions first and go from there. I know that if I get these few lines right, I will have 80% of my lyrics done (even though I‘ve only written 5 or 6 lines). The rest I can fill in much quicker.

The most important power positions are in order (starting with the most important): the first line of the primary bridge, the first line of your song and the last line of your song (this is derived from the 1-2-3 rule, which I describe in my book “The Addiction Formula”)

Placing an emotional, specific power word in a power position is like magic. Try it out and see for yourself!

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Songwriting Coach & Composer

With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.

He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

Written by Friedemann Findeisen

Songwriting Coach & Composer

With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.

He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Erhard Reply

    Hi Friedemann
    I discovered your videos about holistic songwriting today and I do think you’re doing a super no bullshit job. I’d enroll on your programs, but do not have nor want a PayPal account. So if there is another payment option, I think I’d go for it, even if i’d have to wait until transfer has cleared.
    If not, no problem – you’re giving so much input in you free stuff, any thinking person can build on for quite a while.
    What did we do before YouTube?
    All the very best wishes from Zürich/ Switerland.
    Erhard

  2. Beth Reply

    Hi Friedemann, your video on Adele’s image and then related YouTube videos led me here. Very interesting tips! And a great resource, the lyric canvas, sounds like it could be, for jotting down ideas and developing them better. So I’m looking forward to using that and seeing how it goes. I have lots of lyric ideas and something to keep them slightly better organized and easier to harvest, as it were, sounds like a great tool. Just to let you know, the link above, to the 201 power words leads to a page to sign up for access to 201 power song titles, so I didn’t follow through on that. I feel like I do “ok” with songwriting and lyrics but bringing songs to a highly finished sound or recording quality is tricky. Recently I started using soundtrap. And also got some recording gear but getting perfect sound still seems like a world away. I lack the drive to want to make a living from it, though songwriting is a passion and feels like it comes naturally… I was just looking into Jasmine Commerce’s YouTube videos yesterday and how she released ten songs on SoundCloud, very nice sound, after raising a ton of money but never released an album? So I’m kind of confused… her goal was to raise 25,000 in order to do that … she said she had almost enough songs for an album. But then she does have one on SoundCloud, but so do I and I didn’t need 12,000 bucks to do that so I don’t understand. When I was twenty I wrote ten or so songs, they can be found on my soundcloud account, but I only recorded them in 2003 with a hand me down computer and really basic software, I think it was that recording mic program that was included in windows, in an empty room… and in the last three years or so I’ve written about twenty songs, again, nothing to a high recording standard, but I feel like the music and lyrics are ok. I feel like maybe as soon as someone starts to be supported financially for their music they start to lose real-life inspiration somehow… maybe? It’s just a feeling though. Obviously a lot of professional musicians are able to continually output great music but that’s more like an exception to what I’m seeing as sort of a rule. So many singers and musicians seem to audition beautiful stuff on these talent shows which are popular now, but then when they get signed on by some record company and release a song or album it sounds so canned and it makes me sad. As if they sounded better when they produced music themselves. I wonder sometimes why there aren’t more indie music websites, with so much talent around, why do we still “pay into” the idea that we need a record deal? They won’t listen to demo songs unless you pay a ton to produce the song to recording quality yourself anyway, so I figure if a musician can get a good demo quality song together what do they need a record deal for?… anyway… I love it when a song feels like it’s writing itself, like a protein folding into the shape it’s meant to be after the RNA does its job. Some songs you need to keep coming back to before they take final shape, others are almost done in the same sitting as when you start on them. I’d be interested in your book the addiction formula only I’m not interested in becoming a professional musician. If you ever have time though to analyze some of my songs I’d be interested to hear your input. I’ve never been schooled or formally trained at songwriting so someone who knows the theory giving me their take on my songs – I would be interested to hear that.

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