Why Bother Interpreting Lyrics?

Before you’ve spent any time taking in the lyrics from those around you, you’re pretty much just a baby that can’t really do much at all.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the sentiment is still there.

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More styles, ideas, perspectives, and vocabulary to draw from

Imagine that you wanted to write a book...

...but you had never read a book. You would be at a major disadvantage, because you wouldn’t have the benefit of all history's authors spoon-feeding you their incredible ideas and metaphors.

Every author has a new way of looking at something, and every time you read someone new, and look deep into what they’re trying to say, it adds to your inner vault, from which you draw your own ideas from.

There is an evolution of thought that occurs as we build on those who came before us. 

In technology, this includes learning new software code, and building upon the ridiculous amount of ideas that came before us. Have you ever heard of someone saying “I think I’m going to invent a new coding language”, yet they’ve never even LEARNED a coding language before? 

It would be complete insanity of course, because millions of hours of work have already been done in that area, and to ignore that progress would just be wasting your own time. It's re-inventing the wheel at a whole new level.

Now for a programmer with 10 or 20 years of experience, it’s not such a crazy thought to expect they might invent their own language to suit their own needs (in fact, it happens all the time).

This all applies to lyric writing as well. Now I realize that art itself doesn’t necessarily need to be the next “progression” of thought in the same way that technology does (art can be anything you want it to be), but studying what musicians have done before you (and what they're doing now) can help to refine your approach.

Get to know your most inspiring artists at a much deeper level

When asked “who influenced you?”, have you ever heard a successful artist just say “oh nobody did, we just made it up ourselves”. It doesn’t happen, because people who make it somewhere in this world are generally self-aware enough to know about their influences, and which of their musical idols had an impact on them.

Each of them had a perspective that was valid enough to inspire thousands or millions of people; it seems silly not to learn all you can from that. 

Studying their lyrics can give you a unique insight into their perspective. And learning the perspective of the artists you admire can only help improve and balance your own perspective. 

Successful artists have a knack for expressing themselves; the more you study them, the more likely you are going to learn to to express yourself thoroughly as well.

Learn the importance of stories

Many artists most successful albums are based around a story. 

Pink Floyd’s “Dark side of the moon” focused heavily on relatable topics to people of the 70’s, including mental illness, greed, empathy, and conflict. It went on to be the 5th best selling album of all time in the US. The album was the culmination of all of Pink Floyd’s efforts at the time (it was their 8th album). 

The Weeknd’s story of a drug-crazed party, after-party, and the morning after in “Trilogy” caught the attention of millions in a more recent 2011. It received rave reviews, and people paid attention to what he was saying (and the enigmatic mysteriousness behind it).

Whether it’s in music or not, when you study other people’s stories you can learn to tell your own. If you can learn to tell a good story, you can immerse yourself in your art, and you will gain attention from copious amounts of people.

Lifehacker has an excellent article about the science of storytelling, and how it impacts our brains. I’d highly recommend you give it a read if you realize (or have yet to realize) the importance of telling stories.

Humble yourself

Do you think you’re already the most prolific lyric writer that the world has ever seen? Unless you’ve already written 10 albums yourself, it’s very likely that you have a long, long way to go before you really create some art that is significant in our world.

Studying lyrics that are far beyond you is a great way to humble yourself, and realize how far you really do have to go in order to make your mark on this world. It helps to make you realize how much work you are going to have to put in to music, and can spur on the inner question: “Am I dedicated enough to stick with this my whole life? Or should I give up now?”

No one signs a contract if they know that they can’t fulfill the terms, and no one gets a loan if they don’t already have some income to pay that loan off.

In the same way, no one makes a commitment to a career without first taking some consideration as to what the commitment requires; many people go into music thinking it will just be a whole bunch of parties, but no one makes it far unless they create something truly special.

As sentient beings, we are inherently special among all the species of the earth, so learning to simply express yourself accurately is already a huge accomplishment when it comes to art.

Don’t concern yourself with whether or not you think you have something special to say, just focus on getting your mind into music, and let your inner editor do the rest.

Improves your lyric writing skills

Studying the lyrics of those that inspire you, will drastically change the way you approach lyrics (and almost always for the better).

Now that you’re convinced you want to start interpreting and studying lyrics, where do you start? The next step is to read my article on how to interpret lyrics; I’ll show you some ideas for figuring out the meaning of songs, as well as where to go to find already existing interpretations for you to study.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.