I have a question.
I recently had a singer adapt one of my poems into a song (the verses and chorus were already written, she came up with the melody and then we added a bridge). This experience got me really interested in the songwriting process. I would love to try my hand at it. I’ve started reading Pat Patinson’s “Writing Better Lyrics” and have implemented a daily object writing practice. I am ready to put in the time that it takes to learn the craft. However, although I took piano lessons when I was young and started learning guitar about a year ago, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to create my own music. And while my voice is not horrifying (I hope), I definitely would not be the one singing the songs. So that would leave only lyric writing, with the hopes of someone coming up with a melody to fit the words and tone. Given what you wrote about your time with John Mayer (whose lyrics and music I greatly admire), I am wondering if it is worth pursuing:
“…ideally the way to write a song is doing music, melody, and lyrics as an entwined process, so that you’re not ultimately twisting one to comply with the other.”
That makes sense. He says ideally, but I would assume that my songs would not be as strong if I cannot even envision a melody. Are there many people who do only the lyric portion of songs?
I would appreciate any advice.
The simple answer is, yes, there are TONS of people who are lyric-writers, without necessarily being the best singers or melody writers. As far as the ‘industry’ goes, co-writing is a huge part of the business and craft of songwriters. In fact, I would say that a really important quality in a songwriter is knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, and seeking out co-writers who can fill in your gaps.
That said, not being ‘the best’ singer should in no way inhibit you from coming up with melodies. There are tons of lyric writers who also have a great sense of melody without being stellar singers…to name a few: Steve Seskin, Steve Diamond, Dianne Warren, Jason Blume…all incredibly successful songwriters who don’t sing a note of the songs that get recorded. Developing your melody chops is the same as developing your lyric-writing chops. It just takes practice, perseverance, and keen observation of melodies that work and figuring out why they work.
If you want some material on melody-writing, I would suggest an audio-CD series of lessons by Jason Blume on melody writing called ‘Writing Hit Melodies’ (http://www.jasonblume.com/221643.html).
If melody writing just really isn’t your thing, it is always good to try writing with someone who is a good melody writer. Or, if you have already written a good chunk of lyrics without having any particular music in mind, just be open to a few changes to your lyrics that might be necessary in order to make them more singable to a melody.
Another resource I would highly recommend is a subscription website called Songwork.com. It was built by Pat Pattison and Steve Seskin, and contains a huge number of amazing videos talking about all aspects of songwriting. I don’t know of a better resource out there.
Hope that helps!