Not enough people take risks and think outside the box when it comes to songwriting. Not enough songwriters are really letting their lyrics pack an extra punch and connect with the music and melodies in their song. Not enough people put in the creativity that good music deserves! I myself am guilty of this and wish I did more things like word painting.
Word painting, sometimes called tone painting or text painting, is a songwriting technique where you create melodic elements that reflect the literal meaning of a song's lyrics or story elements. I want to share a few different ways I plan to implement word-painting into my music and I hope you'll be inspired to do so as well. I'll provide a few examples in popular music where this type of approach to songwriting has been successfully done and you might not have even realized it!
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One common way that artists like to word paint is with their vocal melody. Many popular songs go up in melody or down in melody along with a lyrical part explaining the ups or downs in life. A good example is Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places" where he sings the word "low" in his lower register.
Your vocal painting doesn't need to be limited to up and down direction only. You can repeat lyrics to give an echo effect for example, or give the sense of something coming back over and over again like Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around" does in the chorus.
Vocal painting can be done with your sung melody, or it can be sung with a different inflection or vocal effect on your voice. You can take a risk with some voice acting skills of your own to get a lyrical point across. Or, try to use post-production effects like panning or a flanger like Queen did in their song "Killer Queen" when the lyrics mentioned a laser beam.
Another popular way that artists use work painting is with the help of instrumentation changes in addition to vocal melody changes. For example, when singing the word stop, you can end the sung note abruptly and stop the instrumentation as well to give a full-stop effect in a song. Brittney Spears' "Lucky" does this in verse 2, in addition to a kick drum knocking in verse 1 to paint the story element where someone is knocking on the door.
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This is a great way to make instrumentation and a producer's skills really stand out in pop music. The hit song "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi features a slow introduction in the entire production to the first hook while the lyric "Despacito" literally translates to the word slowly. I always thought it was so simple and effective at the same time!
While some songs might be an easy fit because they relate to a direction that can be done melodically, try to focus the painting on words that truly add a lot to the song's overall story. This is what will help the technique stand out in the listener's mind and want to play the song again. Panting words that are emotionally resonant will also help here
Don't try to stress yourself in the early stages of your songwriting process by making sure you add word painting. This can hurt the overall creativity that will go into the song, so keep it simple at first. You will be surprised how many simple word-painting edits can be done after you've already got lyrics and melodies down.
Word painting in itself will seem a little cheesy and on the nose when you try it. Don't be discouraged by this! It will likely be well-received by your listeners as long as you don't go overboard. Sometimes, the cheesier the better in terms of making a hit song that will get stuck in someone's head. Word painting really works great for kids' songs especially.
If you're going to try something with your melody, don't go attempting something that can only be done in the studio and not sung in a live performance setting. You will dread doing this song live and possibly disappoint fans by trying to skip that part or cheat your way out of it. If you've added some crazy vocal acrobats to emphasize crazy lyrics, be sure to practice it over and over until it's polished.
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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