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Richard Scotti
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....a little survey about lyrics

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Richard Scotti

11/12/2011 8:28:33 AM ---- Updated 11/12/2011 8:29:40 AM

....a little survey about lyrics

Do you usually write lyrics that are autobiographical and that deal with real events and circumstances in your personal life or do you tend to write more universal lyrics and look at life through the lens of a "proxy" of yourself? Do you ever invent fictional characters who are the protagonists in your songs who are totally not you in anyway? Do you feel that love found, love lost, love examined, love exalted, etc are the main subjects that most songwriters write about most of the time? How often is love referenced in your songs? Do you enjoy writing about social causes or current events or do you tend to avoid controversial subjects? Would you say that your songs generally express an optimistic view of life or do they tend to express the darker side? Often we don't always know the full meaning of what we write about until after we've written it. That's the part I'm interested in learning about, not the thoughts behind the creation of the words but the results that were revealed after the fact and after the words took on a life of their own. Do the sum total of your lyrics represent an overall artistic philosophy? Despite the differences between the songs, is there a thread that holds most of them together in terms of what they are expressing? What is the thread? (if any)

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Shoe City Sound

11/12/2011 10:42:01 AM

I so relate to the concept of the words taking on a life of their own. I always "get" the words - like a whole song will get in my head and I just write it down. Mostly I don't know what they mean at all at that point. I never think of the words again till I got to put the vocals on after all the other tracks are down. Then as I sing it, I understand what it means. As for a thread that runs through - I feel like I've written the same thing over and over for years. It always seems to boil down to the central theme that we (everyone in the world) are ready to break free and not be limited by fear anymore - after a long time of captivity.

The only time I ever wrote a song pertaining to an actual social situation was when I wrote "Greed". I felt so frustrated at the state of politics world wide and though I'm not an activist I felt that if I didn't speak out I wasn't doing anything to help. I would be just letting it happen without any objection from me. Even then the words came to me just about all in one piece - the entire song.

My absolute purpose though is to write music that sounds good enough that people would want it in the background of their lives as an atmosphere/soundtrack - a simple way to prefer a joyful state of mind no matter what the outside circumstances bring your way - just a way to stay in a good head and fight off the negative nonsense.

Great post Richard - thanks - I'm always dying to explain my views on this haha


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11/12/2011 11:51:28 PM

Well you knew I was going to pipe in my 2 cents on this subject. I tend to be all over the place with my lyrics. Some are autobiographical and some ideas are derived from observing the world around me. Many people and circumstances that intrigue me get caught up in my songwriting web. I consider myself to be an observer. My wife calls me a people watcher. I get a small glimpse of someone and then create a scenario that corresponds with what I perceive as their lives. She likes to pick someone out of a crowd and then ask me to tell her their story. I look at them and the then create a full history of their lives. She (my wife) loves that stuff!

Other times it starts with a single word. Then I build a story around that one word. One of the songs I was working on today was like that. I took the word "sensuality" and then built a lyrical story around it. I'll post it when I am done. Sometimes my songs have serious purpose and other times they are just fun anecdotes about life in general. There is no one sum or philosophy. I am caught up in a plethora of musical emotions that change day to day, moment to moment, genre to genre and even minute to minute. That's why it is not unusual for me to be working on 3 songs at the same time. I go back and forth from recording session to recording session and song to song. I guess you could say I am kind of musically fical.

Then there are those times that I produce music tracks that appeal to me. I will often complete the tracks for a song and then file the completed to tracks to be re-discovered at another time when I feel a lyrical theme that works. Currently I have about 20 completed music tracks that have no lyrics. Hopefully I will complete them before I die. But, the reality is that songs keep coming that supersede my musical priorities. Today Jazz, tomorrow Rock, the next day Reggae. The world is my musical oyster. I do what I feel and feel what I do. Feelings are the most important thing for me. When I am sad I work on sad shit, happy? You guessed it! Happy shit! Love, war, pain, ecstasy, sorrow, inspiration, spiritual, null and void all exist in me and my music. There is no thread either. There is just the gift of hearing many different styles and being able to interpret what I hear in my little studio. It's like a big pot of gumbo. There is so much stuff there that it cannot be defined as one thing. Yet, most people that know my music can recognize me in every genre I do. So, I certainly have a style. My style is to change constantly but always put my signature on what I do. Sort of like having musical DNA. It is what it is. Great topic man!

Respect & Admiration,

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Richard Scotti

11/13/2011 6:08:06 AM

Stoneman ~ I think the thread that runs through your work regardless of the difference in themes and genres is a passion for life.

Delores ~ I hear you! Great comments.

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Tom O'Brien

11/13/2011 3:17:06 PM

As Rosanna Rosannadanna might say, "Richard, you ask a lot of questions!"

But that's a good way to pump some life into the Pipeline (which has been on the dull side lately - where is everyone?)

I just finished a song, which I'll post soon, which has the lines There's such a stormy sea inside/It's miles deep and miles wide/And sometimes in its depths you hide/embarrassment or wounded pride. But when I originally wrote the lyric, it was "sometimes in its depth I hide" I, not You. That turned the whole thing from being autobiographical, almost confessional, to being about some other unnamed person. I decided that if the song were about me it would not be as intriguing. It would just be egotistical. Sometimes I write from an egotistical point of view. I often write about the connection that I feel with everyone, how we all have things that resonate in our lives. I write hopeful songs about how I want the world to be. When I write a love song, it's always got to be from my point of view. It can be about my life partner, or an old love, but I never really write made-up story songs. I like there to be more than a kernel of truth in what I sing.

Sometimes I come up with a single phrase seemingly out of nowhere that resonates acoustically for me. Then I start to think of the cloud of mental attachments that the phrase brings up. Pretty soon I'm stringing words and phrases together into a kind of poetry. Lyric writing is different than poetry, more confining I think. I'm trying to be more poetic of late. I kind of like the Michael Stipe school of lyric writing, where you swear he said something meaningful, but for the life of you, you can't quite figure out what it was. But you sure like the way he said it.

Love has got to be the fuel for most of my songs. Not always romantic love, sometimes universal love or love of your neighbor or friend (or in one case, enemy). It's a tough theme, really, because we all tackle it. How many ways can you talk about it? And yet, we keep talking about it. It's what keeps us alive.

I'm trying to be less preachy in my songs and less content-filled in my lyrics. I want to have a clear emotion in mind, and then just sing around that emotion. I used to always have a message to get across. Now I'm letting people find the message without hitting them over the head with it. Sometimes they find completely different messages that way. I remember once, before going into a studio with my band, trying to talk about what each song really meant. It was a revelation to the others because the songs all meant different things to each of them. If you have to explain a song, then you didn't do your job. It's that old saying, "Talking about art is like dancing about architecture."

I find myself always growing and changing in my approach to lyric writing. It's like keeping a journal. If I ever got too formulaic about it where I knew exactly what I was doing, I'd quit. But I never know what's going to happen next. Our heads are a collection of words and experiences. The two halves of the brain work to bring those together along with all of our memories of music and lyrics we've ever heard. Creating novelty is what makes a song resonate for me. If I feel like I've said something that has been said a million times, then it doesn't make for a very compelling lyric. But if I can string together a few words that are truly novel, then it's worthy of singing, of being exalted in song. You could probably pore through my songs and find cliches, but you will also find novelty. I think that is the challenge of lyric writing. To find a new way to say something that we all innately understand.

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Steve April

11/13/2011 8:41:28 PM ---- Updated 11/13/2011 11:13:21 PM

fun stuff...

there's much passion between the lines lol...

here's a poem by yeats, hopefully on topic, and entertaining...

btw i think yeats was bein' hard on himself, but when you're very old, perhaps that's the way it feels...


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Richard Scotti

11/14/2011 5:12:34 PM ---- Updated 11/15/2011 6:38:21 AM

Mick Jagger writes his lyrics as prose like a little story. Then he turns it into lyrics by adding rhymes and altering the syllables so the words fit the rhythm of the music. Bono sings gibberish over a piece of music and then listens to it back many times until the can turn the abstract into the literal. Dylan works backwards from the rhymes and always writes the words before the music. I always write the music first and I let the music suggest the words. The themes in my words are linked to romantic love and love of humanity, hope and the concept of living life to the fullest because it's so short, the quest for peace of mind and the quest for peace between people.

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Chandra Moon

11/15/2011 9:51:39 AM

Great posts here on an eternal subject! I almost always get a beat and the lyrics first then a tune and then work out how to play it last! I occasionally get a riff first but I find it so hard to write words to fit the music - much more the other way round - words first for me.

I wrote a few songs about lost love in the early days, and new love but mostly I seem to write about whatever's on my mind at the time! A theme of time passing and getting older runs through my work - about writer's block (most recently Through The Fingers Of Your Hand). I've written about global warming, equality, my spiritual teacher, dreams, my father, old friends, angry songs, sad songs, happy songs......thank goodness it's an endless theme. Sometimes lyrics don't even make sense but still make a decent song - The Healing Tree is about ghosts, visions and songwriting and Kartong a village in Africa all mixed up and inspired from a hopi ear candle session!!!

I find it harder to write new songs when I'm happy so recently I'm working on some older songs - I don't want to be unhappy of course but for some reason I write better when life's gone wrong.

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Tom O'Brien

11/15/2011 2:19:49 PM

Chandra, you might not realize it, but in saying you write better when life's gone wrong, you're talking about the blues. Blues in spirit doesn't always follow the rules of blues music. But that's where the blues comes from. A need to sing about what is going wrong so that we can have a cathartic experience. Usually blues lyrics are pretty simple - it's just putting them out where everybody can hear them that makes it work.

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John Pippus

11/16/2011 12:19:46 AM

I kind of like the Michael Stipe school of lyric writing, where you swear he said something meaningful, but for the life of you, you can't quite figure out what it was. But you sure like the way he said it.

That's what I'm shooting for. Being less literal and more open ended, so, as you say, listeners can bring their own meaning to it. It's hard for me to write that way though. When I try, it usually ends up as obvious nonsense.

One exercise I've thought of (but haven't attempted yet) is to write ONE line that resonates in some way for each verse and chorus. BUT all unrelated to each other. And then go back and fill in the gaps and see what I come up with.

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11/16/2011 10:09:42 AM ---- Updated 11/16/2011 12:15:14 PM


I certainly have had my moments of singing gibberish over a track until I can put some definitive lyrics to it. I am always thankful that I am in the studio working alone when it happens. That could be very embarrassing others to hear.

So refreshing to see so many artists contributing here. I was beginning to think the pipeline was dying. I have a few questions for you and the other contributors to this thread. A very wise man once told me that people are often influenced by what they listen to. He didn't say it that way though. He said that people often become what they listen to. His point was that as a songwriter I must be responsible in what I write as it could be a catalyst for negative behavior. Now, when I worked as a prison chaplain I often came across individuals who seemed to be caught up in a negative musical culture that had influenced their decisions in life. In particular, boys who listened to gangster rap were caught up in the street gang culture. Goths were into death and morbidity. Satan worshipers were into satanic music and rituals. There is a long list of musical cultures I encountered that seemed to lead to crime and incarceration.

As a songwriter I love to explore controversial themes. Yet, I don't like graphic and out right profane or lewd lyrics in my songs. As much as I love Rap/Hip-Hop I never put racial epithets like the "N" word in my songs or themes that demean woman by calling them B's and hoes. I just think that you can make your point without adding all that crap. I love sex but I don't think you have to be all graphic if write a song about it. There is an art to painting a musical picture without creating obscene images. I guess what I am saying is that as much as I like to write on the edge, I have my own personal line drawn in the ground that I just refuse to cross. Also when I hear this stuff from other artists I turn it off as i don't like hearing it.

Okay, finally, my questions are: When you write do you have a personal line in regards to lyrics that you refuse to cross? Do you believe that as songwriters we are responsible for what we put out for others to listen to? And finally Richard, would you collaborate with another writer if his/her lyrics were in conflict of your own moral beliefs?

Recently I was offered a large sum of cash to write and sing a hook for a very well known hip-hop artist. I don't front or back stab so I won't say his name. I was all for it until I received the tracks. I was so repulsed by the rap content that I just couldn't allow my name and reputation to be connected to what he was doing. Was that a foolish decision?

Just wondering your thoughts on this.


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Richard Scotti

11/16/2011 5:30:26 PM

Stoneman ~ I would never attach my name to any project that was in conflict with my moral beliefs and I admire you for feeling the same way. I don't try to be a role model or feel a big responsibility to set an example for others but I simply don't have any interest in writing words that are outside my own experiences or sensibilities which are fairly mainstream and family friendly to begin with. I just write based on who I am and I'm just a regular guy with no axe to grind and no bitterness toward anyone.

I wouldn't want to waste my time writing hate filled lyrics, sexually explicit lyrics or any lyrics that degrade women or any person for any reason. I would also never advocate violence in a song. On the other hand, I try not to preach in my songs or judge people.

I'm not a moralist or a religious person at all but I am a spiritual person. I try to display spirituality and humanitarianism in my music. It's an easy choice for me because I write what I know and what I believe in.

I also feel very comfortable writing about despair, anger, regret etc. because life is what it is and it's not all sunshine and lollipops. I have no problem addressing the negative aspects of life because that's truth and truth needs to be revealed but I do it with a sense of hope because without hope, there is nothing.

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Tom O'Brien

11/16/2011 5:53:55 PM

Yeah, Stoneman, I agree with Richard, you've got to put your beliefs up front. I wish you all the money in the world from your music, but I hope money is never the real goal. I know that's not where you're at, but many are.

As far as I go with lyrics, I want them to represent who I am, whether or not they're at all autobiographical. They come from my mind, from my heart, and from my experience. I think when rap uses foul language it does so just because that's the precedent that has been set by others. It's like there are rules or something. Unfortunately, people pick up on these things and pretty soon, that's how people talk. I'm all for free expression, but swear words never really mean anything, they're just filler. The English language is too full of amazing words to rely on the same few over and over.

The rhythms of rap can be very cool, but like any music, if you're just doing what everyone else is doing, it doesn't have much artistic value. The lure of money can so easily subvert the art.

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Chandra Moon

11/18/2011 1:48:02 AM

I personally don't like to use swearing in my songs though I think it has its place in certain songs when not overused.

I've written a song about a friend who let me down very badly but I don't use people's actual names in songs as I like to keep them more generic so that anyone can relate to them.

I think there's no area of life that can't be written into a song and used for the good or bad for that matter - I do think songs are hugely influential and in that sense we do have responsibility for what we put out there.

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11/20/2011 9:48:18 AM

This is the song I wrote about earlier in this thread. I started out this week with one word "Sensuality" and then built an entire sound scape and lyrical theme around it. It is an example of what I meant by writing on the edge. Obviously, if you write about sensuality you have to delve into the sex subject. So, I decided to write this in conversation form. It is written as if I see a girl that I am extremely attracted to and initiate a conversation meant to persuade her towards relations. The best part of this song is that we never hear her response so the outcome is left up to the listener. The object of the song is very clear but not necessarily graphic. So I sort of ride the edge and then leave you wondering if those silly lines actually worked. My favorite part of the song is my old school guitar solo after the rap break. I seldom hear them like that anymore.

Would love to know what you guys think. Is it too much? Too sexual? Did you get the point? Do you think the singer succeeded in reaching his goal?



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Shoe City Sound

11/20/2011 5:50:19 PM

Stoneman - "Sensuality" has so many retro aspects to it and I think it's really sexy in a total 1970's sort of way ..... the songs, movies, even TV were really free that way. Plus it's pretty and flirtatious as opposed to lyrics that are violent about things, sex included.

I'm sure the singer wasn't successful in reaching any goals, but I'm also sure the girl was totally flattered haha

Beautiful falsetto vocals, by the way (unless I'm dumb and not recognizing a production thing) And yeah, love the guitar solo.


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11/20/2011 8:54:33 PM

Thanks so much Delores! yeah I agree that most times you can't sing your way into a love scenario but, there have been those moments........... No, there were no production gimmicks on the vocals. Just me doing what I do. I am just getting over the flu so I had to do several takes on the falsetto parts. The old guy still has a little umph! left in him. (smile)

Much Respect,

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