Ever find yourself listening to a song on the radio and thinking, “who decided those would be good words to sing?” It is, naturally, a matter of taste, but sometimes it seems like the songwriters aren’t even trying anymore. (Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons,” anyone?) So maybe it’s time for you to step in. Soundcheck today launches its first-ever lyric-writing contest, with Jesse Harris (who really can write a song and has the Grammy to prove it) as our judge – and the winning lyrics will be set to music and debuted live on the air on October 10 by the Brooklyn “lit-rock” band One Ring Zero. So if you win, you’ll be in pretty good company: ORZ’s previous lyricists have included authors David Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, and others.
This is a particularly good time to try something like this, because in our cut-and-paste culture, virtually anything is fair game. You don’t have to be the second coming of Bob Dylan, but if you’re a master of internal rhyming schemes and tend to write your emails in iambic pentameter, then go for it. But you can also look to the recent examples of songwriters looking at, shall we say, unusual sources of lyrical inspiration: Phil Kline’s “3 Rumsfeld Songs” are, for better or worse, just what the title promises: 3 excerpts of our former Defense Secretary’s most obfuscatory press conferences during the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi war. Gabriel Kahane’s “Craigslistlieder” is a combination indie-rock/art-song setting of, yes, listings on the CraigsList online bulletin board. And Corey Dargel’s brand new “Other People’s Love Songs” is a series of songs written as dedications from one person to another; the lyrics were written only after interviewing both the people involved in that song, and essentially are a series of snapshots from the relationships between them. (Check them out here: http://www.otherpeopleslovesongs.com/index.html )
So whether you’re going to try your hand at this or not, the question has come up – what is going on with lyrics these days? Have they devolved into nothing more than the regurgitation of bits of pop culture, or has the expanded definition of what “lyrics” can be offered new possibilities for songwriting?