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Lyric Writing 101: Part Three - Articles Surfing
This is Part three of my Lyric Writing guide. Here you will learn how to accompany words by using samples and ghost songs.
AUTHORS NOTE: I don't personally use this method of song writing. I don't write rap music and don't listen to enough of this form to have a deeper understanding of the writing process. I do, however, use a slightly different technique that I will try to explain in the Hints and Tips section of this article. What you will find below is my observations of this form of writing. If you do find any errors in my explanation please let me know and I'll edit accordingly.
What is it?
Sampling refers to the taking of a portion of an already established track and using it as the framework for a new song. This is generally used to serve as the foundation for a rap vocal. There are actually two styles of sampling:
1) The most popular form of sampling takes a part of a track, hence the name ‘sample'. It usually takes a specific beat from a song [most common samples are taken from drum or bass tracks], though you can use a ‘vocal' sample for your “new” song.
* For an example of sampling just listen to any rap, dance or rave song, they all make use of samples.
* For an example of vocal sampling, take a look at Eminem's song “Stan”. It uses a vocal sample from Dido's song “Thank-you”.
2) The second kind of sampling is not as commonly used. It generally takes the entire melodic track of a pre-existing song and creates a completely new lyric for the song. This form of sampling is also known as a ghost song/track. This form of song writing should not be mistaken for alternate lyrics, as you need to totally disregard the lyrical arrangement of the song and focus on the remaining melody.
* The Puff Daddy song “Come With Me” from the Godzilla soundtrack is a sample, or ghost song, of Led Zepplin's “Kashmir”. You will notice that the lyrical arrangement of the original song has been completely abandoned in this ‘new' track, which is the main difference between a ghost song and alternate lyrics.
* The Limp Bizkit song “Take A Look Around” is a slightly different style of a ghost song. It takes its sample from a melodic piece, the most well known part of the Mission Impossible theme. If I remember correctly they were actually commissioned to ‘write' this song. This serves as a reminder that any kind of melody can be adapted to use for a song.
Why use ghost songs
We all know that sampling is mainly used in rap, dance and techno music. Reasons for this vary, and I'm not entirely sure as to the exact reasoning for it. I don't generally listen to these styles of music, I don't write it, so I can't honestly comment on that aspect of sampling. I can, however, tell you about the use of these techniques.
Many inexperienced songwriters make the mistake of trying to write lyrics without music. I can't stress enough how important it is to work with a tune when writing lyrics. If you don't work with a tune, it will show. The inability to play a musical instrument is no excuse, that is what ghost songs are for.
This section will deal solely with ghost songs as I've stated before, I don't know enough about this form of song writing to comment effectively on it.
First you will need to find a song, choose one that you are comfortable with and preferably one in a genre you are familiar with. Try to pick a song whose lyrics you don't know by heart, it will make it easier to ignore the lyric arrangement. Play this song until you are familiar with the melody and can hum it to yourself.
Remember: You need to ignore the lyrical portion of this song, if possible get a copy of just the melodic arrangement. If you don't think that you can ignore the lyrics make a recording of the music yourself, if you don't play an instrument see if a friend can do it for you.
What are you going to write about? It is important that you have a clear idea of what you want to say in your song. What do you want to say? What message do you want to leave the listener to leave with? Jot down any ideas or thoughts that occur. Try using the word association exercises found in Part 1 of this series to help extend on your ideas.
Start to feel the music, add some lyrics to places you feel comfortable doing so. If need be just sing “la la la” [or something similar] where you feel lyrics need to go, you can always add the actual lyrics at a later point in date. What you are doing here is starting the lyrical arrangement, play around with it see what fits, what doesn't. Don't expect it to be perfect the first time, there is nothing wrong with trial and error. Don't forget to keep the tune in your head or play it often to ensure that your lyrics follow the basic beat of the track.
As with I've stated before, I can't give you the exact formula to writing lyrics. It is a personal thing, everyone is different in how they write. Everyone has their own unique styles and methods. If you have attempted to write alternate lyrics you will have an understanding of how to combine your words with a melody. You will need to apply this knowledge to your ghost song. Read over the Alternate Lyrics article to refresh your memory and keep some of these pointers in mind.
Hints and Tips
# Try to match what you what to say [i.e. your lyrics] with the music. For example if you are writing a happy, upbeat song, you will need to find music that has a faster tempo [speed/beat] than that of a sad song or a ballad.
# You don't need to keep the ghost song exactly as is. If there is a specific part you would like to keep over the rest of the song, change an instrument or make the melody sound ‘heavier' or ‘softer' – then by all means do it. Play around with the drums and bass, if the ghost song ends up becoming a normal sample or disappears completely, that's okay - there is nothing wrong with that. All it shows is your greater understanding and advancement in song writing.
* -- * For example the Guns n' Roses song “Sweet Child of Mine” underwent a drastic change when it was covered by Sheryl Crow [from rock to acoustic]. This example is not a ghost song but a cover. It is, however, an example of how you can go about altering a melody. Other examples of this can be found in Part 1 of the series.
# Your sample does not have to come from a well know or successful track. Any song you feel is right to work with is a possibility, whether it comes from an obscure b-side track by a relatively unheard of band or even a sample of one of your own existing songs
# Want to try something different? There are many software programs available that are capable of generating melody and rhythm tracks for you. Many of these programs are either downloadable from the ‘net or have free demos available for you to use.
* -- * Ejay is a program specifically designed for rap, dance and rave music, though it can easily be applied to the basics of other musical genres to give you a feel for the melody or beat of a song in order to get the lyrics started. You are also able to download a variety of new samples from the website to expand on the existing choices [visit http://www.ejay.com to take a look at the program]. This is only one program; there are others out there if you are willing to look for them.
# As I stated at the beginning of this article, I don't exactly use ghost songs. What I use is a similar process but it doesn't have an actual track or beat for you to listen and follow. It is a harder technique and probably shouldn't be attempted unless you have a deeper understanding of how music is put together or are able to create a tune in your own head. I'm not entirely sure if I can explain it correctly or coherently but I'll try my best [let me know if you don't understand it]
How does it work? Say, for example, I want to write a song in the vein of a Korn song. Instead of finding a song by this artist I could use as a ghost track [or even sample their work] I call to mind how their songs sound while I write the lyrics for my song. This can really only work properly if you are able to create and hold a tune in your head while working and applying it to the draft to your lyric.
This form of song writing gives you a little more freedom then samples or ghost tracks when it comes time to create/add the instrumental background to your song. By using this technique you allow yourself the freedom to mix different genres together or change the basic sound of the song with minimal effort. Even though I started with the basic sound of a Korn track, I have the freedom to expand on the idea. The final result may have more of a Linkin Park sound or more of a Marilyn Manson sound to it, possibly even a mixed of all these artists. This song writing technique allows you to explore and find your own voice. Sometimes the lyric portion of the song will need some altering, other times not, it all really depends on how the music alters from the original idea.
* -- * For example, my piece Forsaken [http://www2.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/716277] was written using this technique. Although it started [and has thus far remained] heavily influenced by Disturbed and Korn, there is the possibility that it may change slightly from this form. I have been told by some people that they felt it may have been more in the vein of Creed or possibly a mixture of the two styles, which is a drastic change from the original idea/style of the song. Personally, I don't see that connection but it shows how genre swapping can occur.
* * * * * * * * * *
The inability to play an instrument should not affect you song writing abilities. By using a ghost song or sample you are able to create a basic framework for your song. This track does not necessarily mean that it is the final draft of your song, it may simply be a rough draft, or a guide for how the lyric portion should sound. The final ‘draft' of the song may not occur until much later when you collaborate with your band or another artist who you are working with. As with any sort of writing, re-writes are inevitable. Don't expect your work to be ‘perfect' first time round.
As with alternate lyrics, the use of sampling and ghost songs can be an excellent tool for learning the techniques of song writing. By utilizing these two forms of song writing, you should be able to see how to accompany words with music. When you feel comfortable enough with these two forms of song writing try using my form of a ghost track or even try your hand at writing your own music [or collaborate with a friend].
Look out for Part 4 of this series where you will learn about hooks and other writing tips for when you start to write.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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