Have you ever listened to a song, only to wonder where you heard the lyrics from before? You scroll through your lyrical library, wondering if this is a cover song and come across the old familiar friend—the cliché. Unfortunately scores of hit songs are chock full of clichés, but you’re a better song writer than that, right?
1. The Drunk and Depressing Country Song
It’s a common joke that country songs are all basically about some guy drinking away his sorrows because his wife left him for another man, his dog got ran over and his tractor broke down. Country songs have become bar anthems, and while this can be a good thing commercially, there tends to be a lot lacking in the actual lyrics of the song. Avoid phrases about how much whiskey you drank last night, or anything that contains “broken heart”. It’s been said and done.
2. Self Explanatory Rock Songs
We all love to rock out, but when you’re in a rock band or writing rock lyrics about rock, could you avoid using the word “rock”. Between phrases like “gonna rock you”, “like a rock”, “keep on rockin’” or “rock this/that—enter noun” we finally get the point. You’re having a good time! It’s time to come up with something a little more sophisticated, and original.
3. Profanity Taking the Place of Real Words
Yeah, your bling is shiny and you talk tough—but let’s get out of this groove of lazy rhyming. In hip hop or rap using favorite four letter words followed by “this” or “you” only portrays your lack of vocabulary skills. There are over 170,000 words in the dictionary, so make use of them!
4. All About California
It’s the sunshine state, and a pretty nice place, so why do songwriters feel the need to whine about it so much. There are more songs about California than any other U.S. state. Once you’ve heard the theme song for The OC television drama you’ll understand. It’s probably because so many bands call California home, but how about using metaphors or just leaving it out altogether. Try writing a song about Vermont or New Mexico. They’re pretty nice places too.
5. Love Songs
There are a lot of great, touching love songs out there but there are a lot of terrible ones too. Avoid the typical “missing you”, “I still love you”, “I’ll always love you” cliché. It’s a nice word to hear but once overused it loses its meaning and let’s face it—love is an ever changing thing. The 80’s was all about sappy love songs dripping with cheese, and maybe they should be left there. Top 40 music is unfortunately by far the worst offender of this.
6. We Know You’re Emotionally Disturbed
Great songwriters are not usually born from a free, great upbringing. A lot of what great songwriting is, is opening doors for emotional connection with your audience. But many take it a step too far. As if the world wasn’t already depressing enough at times, we find the need to write songs about how depressing we are. Nirvana arguably did it best, but it seems to have mutated into something else—Emo perhaps. Please, no more songs about how you hate yourself, or how bad you’ve got it. We’re all in the same boat so deal with it or find another way to write about it.
Booty is a good thing, but it’s time we come up with a new word for it. Songs about shaking your booty, or about how great your booty is have become old news. Go for timeless if you want to be a great songwriter. We encourage you to shake what your mama gave you—how about that for cliché—but walk the walk instead of talking the talk.
8. How Rich and Famous You Are
Most of America, most of the world in fact, is not rich and famous and writing countless songs about this is not only a cliché, but completely self obsessed. Songs are meant to connect with an audience, your fans. Frankly, writing about the amount of cars you own, how big your house is, or how much gold is in your grille is not only uninteresting, but overdone. How about songs about how much you’d like to give the rest of us a taste of that solid gold?
9. Punk Covers of Pop Songs
While it can be funny, don’t expect to make a good hit reworking a pop song for punk music. We’ve heard enough Sweet Carolines, thank you very much. This almost doesn’t fall under the category of songwriting, except that it’s so annoying it must be entered somewhere. We get it, you’re being ironic. Don’t rewrite lyrics from a pop song into a punk song, they mix like oil and water.
10. Overused Rhymes
Understandably it can be hard to come up with rhymes on the fly, but a little effort will go a long way for songwriters. Avoid all those overused, easy rhymes like the dance, chance, romance trio. Miss you and kiss you also fall into this cliché trap.
Hopefully you’ve spotted the clichés used to describe clichés in this article. Songwriting should be original, straight from the heart, and hard hitting. Use the aforementioned rules to avoid clichés in your songwriting and original, great material will be the result.
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