Lyric Sheet Telepathy

Mental telepathy, telekinesis, Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, Dumbledore’s pensive, and the Vulcan mind-meld – all valid ways to transfer information between two brains without speaking. For those of us not born with pointy ears, giant brains, or magical powers there are a few other options: body language, googley-eyes, and of course, the lyric sheet.

The Laboratory
Creating a pro quality demo recording is the first step towards pitching a completed song. For most independent songwriters this means hiring a demo producer to record it for you. A typical demo session usually involves bringing in a certain musician, say a pedal-steel player, who will record their parts on a batch of four or five songs in one sitting. Recording sessions with vocalists are similar – the singer will come in and cut the vocals for several songs in one session. When your song comes up as part of a session, the singer will see your lyrics and hear your song for the first time just moments before recording it. As the songwriter, you need a way to stream messages directly into their brain; instructions on exactly how you want your song performed. I recommend mental telepathy or the Vulcan mind-meld. As a third choice, you can use a lyric sheet.

Beginning the Transfer

A good lyric sheet is much more than words typed out on a piece of paper. Achieving complete brain-transference means properly formatting your lyric sheet with visual clues that make it easy for the singer to understand what you want. Let’s start with the obvious: use an easy font to read. No cutsie crap. Times New Roman works best. Center the title at the top, in bold, and put your name and contact info in a footer at the bottom. Every single lyric sheet you make (every single piece of correspondence you send, for that matter) should include your contact info. In the hustle and bustle of a working studio it is not unheard of for a lyric sheet to be misplaced. Make it obvious which song it is, and who should be contacted with questions.

Begin the first verse by aligning the text to the left. Use proper spelling, capitalization, and punctuation (IOW, no txting , k?). Also, avoid getting artsy with line breaks – we’re not writing poetry here. To a singer, a line break means a pause, a chance to take a breath. Therefore, each line of text should end where the vocal phrase ends. Dividing your lines up any other way leads to confusion.

At the end of each song section, leave a space before the following section. If there is a pre-chorus or build section, indent it one tab-space to the right. This is a visual cue that the song is building towards the chorus.

Indent chorus sections two tab-spaces to the right (or just one, if there is no pre-chorus), and italicize the entire thing. At this point in the song, the vocal performance is climaxing. The singer is thinking about their breathing, diction, and emotional delivery, and needs to be able to glance at the page and spot the choruses without searching for them.

Mind-Lock Complete

One recurring point of confusion for demo singers is prosody. Having heard the lyrics only a few times, they are unsure of which syllables to stress. Of particular importance is the first stress of each line – or in musical lingo, the syllable that “falls on the one”. If the singer can land on this syllable correctly, the rest of a well-written line will usually unfold itself properly. Underlining this word or syllable gives a vocalist the cue they need to get it right. If a line is particularly tricky, you can underline others syllables as cues, but avoid this if you can.

Lastly, limit the length of your lyric sheet to one piece of paper. Make the singer’s job as easy as possible by not forcing them to flip pages. If you have hired a demo studio to record your song for you, chances are you’re looking to pitch it. Therefore, your song should be short enough that this shouldn’t be a problem.

A well-formatted lyric sheet is your best bet for getting the performance you want from the demo singer that records your song. In the meantime, keep trying to bend spoons with your mind.

For you visual learners, here is an example of a lyric sheet formatted as described above:

*Photo by Darkumber.


Post a Comment