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Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class

Lesson 3 of 6

Phrasing and Lyrics

Rocky Votolato, Kris Orlowski

Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class

Rocky Votolato, Kris Orlowski

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Lesson Info

3. Phrasing and Lyrics

Lesson Info

Phrasing and Lyrics

I think this next segment's really about lyrics. And lyrics can be really tricky thing. I started out really loving music a lot more, and I've started to grow into really loving lyrics before they felt like more of a filler to me when I first started, which is crazy because we came from, yeah, we're like opposite. Yeah, which is great that's, like the perfect yeah, but I found that. Ah. When I don't say something that I'm really like it it goes a lot into that authenticity that rule of thumb of just like if it feels personal then it's it's worth sanger it's maur worth saying than not that something that's universal a little bit more universal but means something to you is gonna translate a lot better I was we were talking about lyrics that we really liked before this and one of the lyrics when I did some more research one of lyricist that really like is out on john and he actually found out doesn't write his lyrics there's a guy I can remember his first name's something topping who wri...

tes the lyrics and then elton john does the music and the melody which is you know a huge part of any song but still the lyrics for john's music are amazing tiny dancer candle in the wind some of the most best songs of our generation and there are a lot of great songs out there but these there's definitely some of them it's one of the lines that I liked from tiny dancer which which paints a picture without saying exactly what he wants to say is blue jean baby lady seamstress for the band like the first line out but then he says pretty eyed pirate smile you'll marry a music man ballerina you must have seen her dancing in the sand like it just paints this really vivid picture I like that that I don't know what it would be called a metaphor or not but our description descriptive word of pirate smile I think that's like a good one it was good you know creative yeah just took to two different words of comfort sandwich together in your office I'm like oh I totally see what he means mom yeah that's the epitome of creativity for me just taking putting our own spin on something like that so yeah that's that's exactly the point that I was gonna make too about you know its opposite for me like I feel like I was attracted to music more fromthe lyrics said and I was always interested in writing and then the music was just sort of second like I have this poem basically or like you know something I wanted to say yeah theme or an idea and then I was just like whatever cords come it's fine I don't care like just to get this idea and but yeah so anyway I guess I think what you're talking about two in the example you point to is this idea of showing and not telling with which I'm sure you guys have all heard that before right because you've heard people talk about this idea which when I was young I was embarrassed I was completely confused by what do you mean like writing is about telling a story right like how do you show something with with words and so you know I was I realized what it was later and after you know lots of time writing but I think the best way to explain this is to actually show you guys and it's like print it out a couple examples here if you want to just you want his hand those out to everybody that should be enough there for everyone oh here let me get one for you increased mostly thanks did extra credit goes to rocky vote a lot of folks hey, this is awesome whoa this is like like some berkeley called sherry here yeah this is a real song writing class too when my favorite teachers of lyrics is this guy named 00:04:02.478 --> 00:04:04. pat patterson oh yeah if you guys haven't seen the 00:04:04.98 --> 00:04:07. rex he wrote this book called writing better lyrics 00:04:08.02 --> 00:04:10. and you know at the end of the day I always like to 00:04:10.63 --> 00:04:14. be more I kind of tend towards the purist but then 00:04:14.56 --> 00:04:17. fight it and try not to put too much weight on songwriting 00:04:17.97 --> 00:04:21. as like an art because I think you can over overdo 00:04:21.94 --> 00:04:25. it when you think of it as too much of an art but 00:04:26.4 --> 00:04:28. instead of just letting it yeah like just let it flow 00:04:28.91 --> 00:04:31. just let it flow but I got to say like I've learned 00:04:31.51 --> 00:04:34. a lot from his book yeah it's a book I think there's 00:04:34.06 --> 00:04:37. a lot of good yeah with lyrics it's just like I've 00:04:37.03 --> 00:04:39. had a lot of people come to me from my albums that 00:04:39.83 --> 00:04:42. like the way I've written lyrics and want to get advice 00:04:42.33 --> 00:04:44. on it and and I didn't quite know how to give that 00:04:44.88 --> 00:04:47. advice you know it just had sort of internalized part 00:04:47.36 --> 00:04:50. of the craft but it is it's a craft like any damage 00:04:50.26 --> 00:04:53. just a skill learning to write lyrics and and I think 00:04:53.26 --> 00:04:56. this idea of showing instead of telling is that so 00:04:56.68 --> 00:04:59. you were pointing to that in the line about the pirate 00:04:59.8 --> 00:05:02. smile or what that is like that's that's exactly it 00:05:02.67 --> 00:05:05. it's a concrete image so I think this line it's by 00:05:05.91 --> 00:05:11. anton chekhov he's a russian writer but it's this 00:05:11.07 --> 00:05:13. says it perfectly but don't tell me don't tell me 00:05:13.57 --> 00:05:16. the moon is shining show me the glint of light on 00:05:16.37 --> 00:05:17. broken glass 00:05:18.55 --> 00:05:22. so you know basically when you show your using words 00:05:22.03 --> 00:05:25. to create a scene that that the reader can instantly 00:05:25.5 --> 00:05:29. visualize instead of intellectually registering what 00:05:29.65 --> 00:05:33. you're telling them you know so they can get a concrete 00:05:33.43 --> 00:05:35. imagery does that for people it gives gives them a 00:05:35.36 --> 00:05:38. descriptive picture that comes in their mind and so 00:05:38.88 --> 00:05:41. these air great examples like kate was tired that's 00:05:41.87 --> 00:05:45. how you tell somebody what's happening very born or 00:05:45.53 --> 00:05:48. you say kate rubbed her eyes and willed herself to 00:05:48.86 --> 00:05:52. keep open that's it's a total it's the it's the absolute 00:05:52.38 --> 00:05:54. difference so now you can kind of see what I'm saying 00:05:54.08 --> 00:05:57. by show versus tell does that make sense, right? I 00:05:57.18 --> 00:05:59. thought I looked this up last night on the internet 00:05:59.09 --> 00:06:02. and I was trying to figure out howto convey this concept 00:06:02.6 --> 00:06:05. I think the best way is just to look at some examples like that and then if you look at the last two it says sheena is a punk rocker on dh then that's how that's telling that's really a boring way to to write that but you could you can show it by writing she now has three piercings in her face and wears her hair in a purple mohawk you know that right there there's all of these very concrete words that make for me as a listener like that's what dylan was a master like you no guys like you know ryan adams first few albums and like people who just have ah elliott smith was another one they could just pull images and they don't tell you how to feel yeah you know like it's it's the worst like exams I've got an example right there are vague writing that has obvious emotion behind and this is what happens to a lot of beginning writers you're trying to express something you have a lot of feeling you want to you want to tell the world that you're brokenhearted or whatever but you you try toe you tell him instead of showing him with the creative concrete image and it comes out like you know I keep looking for comfort from you I sit and wonder if your love is true you seeming crying inside you know I'm dying don't you see these tears you know that you see the difference between you know something like you know charlie was blind and charlie ward dark glasses and it was accompanied by a seeing eye dog it's like the words just the concrete images and being able to show somebody so you know but I think that's a good point it's funny like I feel like when I'm trying to convey an idea sometimes I'll put it I'm trying to do placeholders too often because sometimes they have staying but put a placeholder idea and they're like charlie was blind right and then you say well how how can I say that another way you know yeah suffer some people just the rhetoric comes to him but for me sometimes I need to know be a little bit more intentional about it yeah yeah and ghost going slow after years like not being too critical that's another point I want to make is like when you're starting out with anything you can't be too hard it's up like or you won't get anything yeah totally you know what do you have any other tips besides I like for like editing or really writing and yeah, I mean, I've always just kind of like waiting a day or two and then coming back to it because that's just to get perspective because in the moment you're feeling it and you're inspired and the inspiration goes like that and some things there and it's an idea and always just letting that happen not being the editor or the sensor while you're trying to capture it but come back later and it's good to do a little added like almost everybody could use you know you could go back to something with just a little bit of tweaking take something that was good and make it transcended yeah totally like that and that when I made my songs that people have attached to the most that was always part of the process there was some editing there was like a wrote the song most usually it would come out in like five or ten minutes whole songs done and then a couple days later and go back to review the lyrics see what hits me you know because with that time you have perspective yeah you can see it is it really really conveying the the feeling I was trying to capture that's also that's great I love that yeah do you do that as well if you go back and edit after yeah totally I usually give it a couple days as well sometimes are like when I'm journaling I'll just I'll actually leave a journal for a year it'll come back to see if there's anything in there and I'll sometimes all journal about my dreams like that's good stuff coming up you got some crazy dreams, so yeah yeah and so I've got a whole other piece in there that just those examples of what I think are good lyrics and you know it's just like turning a phrase that's what that's what's so fun to me about and I think that's why I came to music from the lyric side because I just love to play with words and it can be really fun I mean it could just be justice fund is playing with chords and the melody it's just a creative outlet like anything you know and and so you know I just there's a couple quotes on there you guys to come out but I like the one from leonard cohen is he's I think he's probably most known for this quote but there's a crack in everything that's how the light gets in have you heard that line before haven't you heard that yeah so that's like sort of like turning a phrase my good buddy adam stephens is down in san francisco he's in a band called to balance and my wife loves loves his stuff so much and when she saw that I was doing that this she's like oh you should put this out of steven's line in there you should show me she loves this line so much but it's uh it's just oh no this living this living ain't for the faint of heart oh no this living is just a dying art and so you know it's just like that let's go quick turn of phrase and it's it's just really poetic and awesome but you'll see and all the little examples I put in there that there's a lot of concrete images like in the line from the dylan song it's a hard rain's gonna fall like he's got things like you know I saw a black branch with blood that kept dripping you know and that I feel like that song was written in like sixty three I think and it was when you know civil rights movement was happening and and you know that's back to the point we were talking about about political lyrics this is how you do that right I mean it's just so full of of imagery but it's saying something you know with these words without coming without spelling it out without doing it in a vague way it's just I saw a black branch with blood that kept tripping I saw a room full of men with hammers of bleeding you know I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children like those kind of just concrete images it just goes so much further than trying to tell somebody how you feel cool I was reading an article on acoustic guitar and they're interviewing jeff tweeting it was like just three questions it was all about lyrics because jeff tweedy's 00:12:05.108 --> 00:12:07. from wilco eyes a killer lyricist and 00:12:09.49 --> 00:12:12. he's also a door because he was like yeah I play lyric 00:12:12.23 --> 00:12:15. games sometimes where he'll take on emily dickinson 00:12:15.77 --> 00:12:19. poem and he'll take all the verbs out of it and put 00:12:19.09 --> 00:12:21. him on one side of the page and then he'll take micah 00:12:21.54 --> 00:12:24. robert frost poem and take all of the now nes out 00:12:24.71 --> 00:12:26. of that poem and put him on the other side of the 00:12:26.08 --> 00:12:28. page then we'll see who put words together and see 00:12:28.44 --> 00:12:32. if they like oh pirate and smile that's cool or something 00:12:32.01 --> 00:12:34. like that you know like the way you're something like 00:12:34.91 --> 00:12:37. that you know that's a cool bad example because there's 00:12:37.09 --> 00:12:39. no verb in there but you know I mean like adjectives 00:12:39.71 --> 00:12:42. I guess would be good too but it's it's a really cool 00:12:42.99 --> 00:12:46. game you khun d'oh I cool is probably not the right 00:12:46.1 --> 00:12:48. word but you know what I mean it's a it's a game you 00:12:48.24 --> 00:12:51. can do to really work on that on that lyrical ability 00:12:51.45 --> 00:12:54. and come up with some really interesting pros for 00:12:54.68 --> 00:12:57. your next song yeah he's great and I was checking 00:12:57.47 --> 00:12:59. out actually he came up when I was thinking about 00:12:59.9 --> 00:13:03. this too as somebody who I looked up to as a somebody 00:13:03.0 --> 00:13:06. writes great lyrics and with metaphors specifically 00:13:07.11 --> 00:13:11. because what's the first song on yankee hotel foxtrot 00:13:11.43 --> 00:13:14. it's ah I'm trying to break your heart think you know 00:13:14.54 --> 00:13:16. that song is that the first one yeah yeah it's the 00:13:16.83 --> 00:13:19. first song it's like yeah massive did a whole video 00:13:19.11 --> 00:13:22. on that mean yes titled yeah yeah they did a movie 00:13:22.67 --> 00:13:27. about it and ran no who was it doesn't matter j the 00:13:27.98 --> 00:13:31. guy that got kicked out of the band no but who was 00:13:31.33 --> 00:13:33. the guy that you've been it chief bennett j bennett 00:13:33.87 --> 00:13:36. was who was in the band and then he got a wilco after 00:13:36.8 --> 00:13:39. that I was thinking about who the guy actually filmed 00:13:39.53 --> 00:13:41. that can't member's name now but he has a podcast 00:13:41.7 --> 00:13:44. like interviews people all the time it's really interesting 00:13:44.89 --> 00:13:48. but it only half pertains to this so so yeah you know 00:13:48.12 --> 00:13:50. anyway like I just thought of that because you mention 00:13:50.34 --> 00:13:54. the metaphors and he's uh what's the first line it's 00:13:54.48 --> 00:13:59. something like I'm in american are I mean I'm an aquarium 00:13:59.51 --> 00:14:02. drinker and I think I always thought about that and 00:14:02.18 --> 00:14:05. like so what does he mean by I'm I'm an american aquarium 00:14:05.99 --> 00:14:09. drinker and I think he means that he drinks a lot 00:14:09.1 --> 00:14:11. like somebody who would probably drink aquariums worth 00:14:11.74 --> 00:14:15. of alcohol and then it says I assassin down the avenue 00:14:15.67 --> 00:14:19. and that's like just to say that you know those words 00:14:19.09 --> 00:14:21. the way they play together it's I think that song's 00:14:21.53 --> 00:14:23. about a relationship you know trying to break your 00:14:23.83 --> 00:14:26. heart and it's and you know maybe it's maybe means 00:14:26.87 --> 00:14:28. you know something about how he's 00:14:29.86 --> 00:14:32. hard to deal with you know but it is not a great way 00:14:32.58 --> 00:14:35. to say yeah using those kind of yeah metaphor he's 00:14:35.72 --> 00:14:38. so good with with words yes I would definitely check 00:14:38.14 --> 00:14:42. out you know some of that but just bottom line being 00:14:42.6 --> 00:14:44. I mean you guys know what you love you're not here 00:14:44.83 --> 00:14:47. for us to tell you like you know our favorite ours 00:14:47.2 --> 00:14:50. especially but just go check out what what makes you 00:14:51.0 --> 00:14:54. get excited in lyrics and and you know maybe some 00:14:54.62 --> 00:14:56. of those techniques will resonate with some of the 00:14:56.13 --> 00:14:59. things we're saying here yeah cool thank you 00:15:00.91 --> 00:15:03. so any big takeaways from this section 00:15:04.86 --> 00:15:07. like you guys were saying about like coming back to 00:15:07.15 --> 00:15:09. something after you've already finished it cause I 00:15:09.74 --> 00:15:11. found whenever I'm like making a song or whatever 00:15:11.93 --> 00:15:15. like I'll finish it and like even if it's not good 00:15:15.02 --> 00:15:18. or it's just like half done or whatever like you know 00:15:18.47 --> 00:15:21. totally finish it you know bounce it or whatever and 00:15:21.38 --> 00:15:24. just like leave it and then if you come back to it 00:15:24.38 --> 00:15:26. after you know having a finished product whether it's 00:15:26.91 --> 00:15:29. good or not you know you kind of like listen to it 00:15:29.53 --> 00:15:32. differently than you worth time and come up with something 00:15:32.62 --> 00:15:34. new and better and then you go back and edit it and 00:15:35.14 --> 00:15:38. the more you do that it seems like the more better 00:15:38.31 --> 00:15:40. it gets so that really resonated with me it was like 00:15:40.79 --> 00:15:44. yeah I could see that right on yeah it's it's it's 00:15:44.92 --> 00:15:47. kind of comforting to know right that like not everybody 00:15:47.97 --> 00:15:50. the first thing they make it's gold you gotta be able 00:15:50.88 --> 00:15:53. to give yourself the leeway to come back and re work 00:15:53.52 --> 00:15:53. something. 00:15:56.06 --> 00:15:59. It's. A process? Yeah, it's process. This is a process. 00:16:02.13 --> 00:16:04. I like a lot of what you guys were talking about with 00:16:04.95 --> 00:16:06. the show. And don't tell. Never really thought of it from that kind of an angle. But going over these bits of lyrics that you put together and everything it's, personally, it opens up my mind a lot more different possibilities for voicing different things. And and I think, that's, something that probably happens and song writing a lot more than the regular person would notice. So I know I'm going to be a lot more cautious about that kind of thing, too. That's. Great. I think one thing we didn't talk about that I'll just touch on. Really briefly is just the idea being contrived in in your songwriting, it's, something that I like, we I think we both talked about, don't focus on it too much if you're just starting out writing, but words are like love and the storm, and, you know, those kinds of words are just like so over. Usually they're cliches. Yeah, and so I still write in cliches when I'm like, in my first traps a lot, again, at least hold yourself. Freedom. Yeah, do what? Just to kind of get that feeling of it out there. But it's, good to kind of make sure that you say it in a way that makes sense to you, but still unique, which can be hard to dio. Yeah, yeah, good point. Do you wanna play some songs? Sure, you saw song called silver tree. Cool, let's, do it. Now, this time, I really want you to feel it. Okay? I don't know how to do that. Yeah, right, king. And the song was. I thought it was good for the section because it was based on what was inspired by a poem that I read by shel silverstein? Yeah, I didn't realize how influential he was on, 00:18:12.225 --> 00:18:15. like johnny cash and waylon jennings. And he wrote 00:18:15.19 --> 00:18:18. songs for bobby bear. And like all the old outlaw 00:18:18.01 --> 00:18:21. country guys like super involved in that world, a 00:18:21.98 --> 00:18:24. boy named sue by johnny cash. He wrote the lyrics 00:18:24.03 --> 00:18:27. to that which I never knew. But I found that out after 00:18:27.74 --> 00:18:30. I was inspired to write this song from his poem and 00:18:30.99 --> 00:18:34. a za poem called garden this'll. Tickle silver trees. 00:18:47.8 --> 00:18:49. I hear you call me 00:18:51.53 --> 00:18:52. branches bread 00:18:54.41 --> 00:18:55. in the way. 00:18:58.15 --> 00:19:01. Through the leads, on the concrete 00:19:02.85 --> 00:19:04. going to grow, 00:19:05.8 --> 00:19:09. teo can. 00:19:12.95 --> 00:19:15. God gives 00:19:18.77 --> 00:19:21. sprats come glow 00:19:23.48 --> 00:19:24. through 00:19:26.27 --> 00:19:28. jake goldin. 00:19:31.55 --> 00:19:33. Over a tree. 00:19:37.36 --> 00:19:38. Legacy 00:19:42.3 --> 00:19:43. finally, 00:19:45.25 --> 00:19:45. what? 00:19:46.77 --> 00:19:47. Speak. 00:20:01.25 --> 00:20:12. The invisible choir sings. You were voiceless way. 00:20:12.58 --> 00:20:21. So you ways. Remember what we owe of your decisions that your death? Lives. How to get when it seemed like there was nothing left. Much more tio. Yeah, no way. Go! Hey, look, viser there. Stop slow. I loathe clothes. No. Yeah. I'm scared, man. No, thanks, chris. What you gonna play, place, uncles. I lied. Um, yeah, slide really know from just from your first. Yeah, this is, uh, from the first album. Come on. Yeah, I really want us to stay about, I guess. Just let it let the music speak the music's. Enough is, david was always say right. Which I love. I love that. It gets very worthy, saying I wasn't trying to make fun of it. Cody in a land slide, as it hurts me, it's. My. Still strong on the hillside. No, wait on on the wait on the way, john the wait, wait! Yeah, no. Wait, slide. Oh, me, full lesh, turn. You don't mean tio. This is, oh! Thiss wrong. Rocks. In no. Wait on the wait on the job in the wait on the job. Ah! We'll slide. In a way till the fire clears. No way! Teo! Fire clears my really coaches, I fills my my no way, no zion fills my my hate only wants she given, and then you're going only one, she said. Then another one. Only she give you lose control of your life, it's your life, holy one more changes to feel again, don't fast in and out of cereal again it's your life, it's, your life, beach, it's, your no, really go on on the wait on the show, he no, wait.

Class Description

Learn the seven elements of successful songwriting in Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class with Rocky Votolato and Kris Orlowski. 

Robert Lang Studios, one of the Northwest’s most iconic recording studios, is world-renowned for recording bands like the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Dave Matthews and Deathcab for Cutie

The studio’s unique stone and marble live room (built into the side of a mountain) along with the very best of analog and digital gear has attracted producers, engineers, and artists from all the world. 

Rocky and Kris will teach real-world techniques that are guaranteed to make you a better songwriter. 

You’ll learn about: 

  • Lyrics and phrasing
  • Inspiration, process and technique
  • Collaboration, and song format and structure.

Robert Lang Studios Songwriting Class with Rocky Votolato and Kris Orlowski, shot in Studio A’s live room, puts you into the writer’s room with two of the Pacific Northwest’s most respected songwriters and teaches you songwriting techniques you’ll use again and again.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Ashton Thebault

I'm mixed with this class... there are some good insights and useful tidbits of information to be had but nothing to really blow open your world. Really, that's the point - you need to do the work so inspiration finds you and there is no silver bullet to successful songwriting. Both hosts are great songwriters and that helps them punctuate the points they make. It's not an amazing class but it is useful and simple which is enough to be inspiring for some.

David Nelson

Alright, here's the thing. This course is the perfect course for young songwriters who are wondering where to start and how to write songs when they've done very little or haven't been writing for a long time. It gives a great overview of how to find inspiration, how to write with others, and how to overcome the urge to write cliche, typical lyrics. It provides the basic building blocks for beginning songwriters to find direction. If you're an intermediate songwriter, or have been in the business for awhile, you won't learn much from this course. There isn't a lot on specifics, on structure, on stuff like that. However, it provides a wonderful starting point for those of us seeking direction in how to start writing songs and communicating the ideas we have most effectively.

Oxford User

This was a fun course, that was easy to understand as a complete beginner, and as someone who isn't musically gifted but is more interested in the lyrical side of things, I did feel like I definitely learned what I wanted to from the lessons. Also the duo have a great dynamic, highly reccommend!