Over the past few years, I've noticed a growing trend. Lyricists have begun referring to lyrics as "songs". It's becoming more & more commonplace on musician/writer forums like Songstuff.com. To be perfectly honest, it bothers me. I've considered mentioning it in posts...on the forum itself, but decided to do it in a blog article. A blog is less likely to be taken personally.
Back when I began to notice this trend, I whipped out my trusty Websters dictionary & looked up the word "song". Much to my surprise, one of the possible definitions listed is...."a poem easily set to music". Go figure! So I guess technically, it's not an inappropriate use of the term. Still, it does seem needlessly confusing. After all, we have a perfectly good, time-tested, accurately descriptive, universally understood term for lyrics...."Lyrics"!
Regardless of Websters one technical exception, use of the word "song" implies a number of characteristics....
- That it's more than simply written text.
- That it's able to be listen-to, or played (as in the case of sheet music).
- That it contains some melodic, musical or rhythmic elements....above & beyond basic lyrical meter.
I'm willing to bet that much of the general listening public shares my preconceived notions. Don't think so? OK then....do a little test for yourself. Ask 10 of your non-writer friends to describe what comes to mind when they hear the word "song". Any bets as to how many of them respond "words-only"?
So why has this practice become so commonplace? I can't know for certain, but I can make a couple of educated guesses. After all, this is a blog.
- It's human nature to embellish whatever we do...along with its value & importance in the overall scheme of things. Bluntly put....it sounds more impressive to say that you write "songs".
- Safety in numbers...someone does it, someone else mimics the behavior...the more we see it, the less anyone bothers to question its' correctness.
So what am I really getting at here?
- First of all, I'm not implying that lyricists aren't a valuable part of the songwriting equation. They certainly are! It's the word "part" that some seem to be ignoring. Here's a quick example of what I'm talking about. An engine is an indispensable part of a car. Fact is, a car won't do you much good without one. Yet, you never hear a mechanic refer to an engine...as "a car". Despite its importance, they recognize it as only a part of the final product. I imagine they also recognize how confusing it would be, if they began calling 2 different things by the same name.
- I'm also a bit bothered by our seemingly endless need to alter the traditional meanings of words. Take the word "hero" for-instance. Use of that term was historically reserved for extreme behavior. Thirty years ago, when you heard the word used to describe someone, it was safe to assume that they had done something truly extraordinary! But nowadays...you can't turn on the news without hearing the term applied to countless situations where people simply did....what common sense would dictate they do. Forgive me, but that's not heroic behavior! That's living your life in a responsible manner! Yes....we should encourage, recognize & reward responsible behavior. We simply shouldn't label it heroic! Give us another 10 years & the word will be virtually meaningless.
- This trend is making effective communication un-necessarily difficult. On musician/writer boards such as Songstuff.com, I regularly see member posts asking people to "review their song". Songstuff has both a "lyric critique" section and a "song critique" section. Which of those 2 sections would you guess that poster is attempting to direct you toward? Fact is....we don't know! We also get many inquiries about "how to post a new song for critique". Quite frankly, we don't know how to answer! You see, the procedure for posting an audio (song) file, is completely different from the procedure for posting a lyric (text-only).
Well that's all I have for this installment. Hopefully...if you're a lyricist, I haven't angered or alienated you. I promise that wasn't my intent. I'm simply trying to improve our ability to communicate.
Help us to help you folks! If it's a lyric, please call it a "lyric".
BTW - If you haven't already figured it out, the answer to the question posed by the title is - "When It's A Lyric"!
Till next time!