Rick Boardman, hit songwriter, producer and former member of Delphic, recently joined forces with Will Gresford and Holly Lintell of TripTik Management to launch label, management and publishing company, Matter Music.
The management arm of Matter Music look after songwriting collective and production powerhouse, The Six. Founded by Rick, the collective also includes Sarah Blanchard, a lyricist who is recognised as one of PRS’ top 100 most influential female songwriters in the UK for 2020.
Following news of the Matter Music launch, we asked Rick and Sarah to give us the skinny on improving your writing game.
Have confidence in what you want to say. Feelings and emotions are subjective, so don’t be afraid to write these out in your own way. Plus, like with many things in life, nobody really knows what they’re doing.
What is your focal point? Some call it a tag, a hook or just a title, but every song should have a clear focal point. What is the message of the song? Don’t be afraid to repeat this. Remember that people are exposed to so many songs going about their lives that your song will most likely be one of many songs they listen to at any one time. Hammer home your message so that after listening to all those songs in a row, it’s your song that sticks with them... for good reason!
Trust Your Gut
Learn to trust your instincts and if something is telling you things aren’t quite right, get a trusted outside opinion or live with the lyrics for a moment until you have a bit more objectivity.
If you feel stuck, don’t be afraid to find inspiration from taking long walks, reading or watching movies etc. It’s all part of finding a connection to creativity. Challenge yourself to write down 10 titles or words as a starting place. Or just write anything at all down for 10 minutes! Usually, the starting point is the hardest bit and you may even find it starts flowing after that. Listen to other songs too. Don’t be afraid to be influenced and inspired by other music. True originality doesn’t really exist, all the greats have been inspired by other people and music throughout the ages. The key is to combine different elements from different songs and splice them together to make something brand new.
If you are writing for other artists and you are not able to be in the room with them, you have to put yourself if in their shoes. Learn what stories they like to tell and what language they like to use. Is it metaphorical or is it conversational? Are their lyrics understated or are they in your face? There is a difference between writing lyrics for an act like Little Mix than someone like Billie Eilish. There’s a feeling that they both capture about the empowerment of women, but this is done in two completely different ways. Both can be liberating to different people and it’s the lyrics that allow this.
Figure out what works
best for you. Do you like writing alone or do you prefer a co-writer to bounce off? If you know you prefer to bounce off someone else, then sometimes writing on your own can be damaging if you let yourself doubt your ideas too much or question everything… or it may be that you don’t question your ideas enough and other people can be really useful in being a filter. For example, some producers you work with may not write lyrics and may say ‘Yes I love that’ or ‘ I'm not sure’, often because you either have or haven’t sold them the feeling clearly enough. It is difficult to always land on the same creative page as other people but if someone else can’t understand your lyrics, that is often a useful indication of whether the wider public or an A&R will connect with them. The listener will never be privy to the process. They won’t know if it has come easy or taken two years to write. They won’t know or care if it was written totally on your own, or 10 people. Just push to make it the best it can be, however it gets there. The end result is all that matters.
Describe the Action
‘Dry Your Eyes Mate’ from The Streets is a perfect example of an action that evokes a strong feeling. It doesn't say ‘I’m talking to my friend and he's upset’, you understand this from the action of the lyric. ‘I love you’, ‘I’m sad’, ‘I’m lonely’ has all been said before. But there are a billion ways these feelings manifest in people, so talk about that so it feels new, more personal and more inspired.
Don’t Over Complicate It
Keep it simple. Often when songwriters first start, they try and be clever to impress each other or challenge themselves. But with more experience they learn that simplicity wins and that the listeners experience is the most important thing. Our motto is ‘just interesting enough’! Don’t make it so complicated that someone switches off, remember people are listening to a lot more music than just your song. They’re exposed to hundreds of songs a week, so let it be interesting enough to capture their attention, but simple enough not to take too much brain power to listen to.
Same Old Story, New Storyteller
Say what’s been said before, but in a new way. Of course, we don’t want to hear songs about something like carpentry, we mostly want to hear songs about personal lives and real life. Things like relationships - falling in love, losing someone etc. The key is to focus on these universal themes, but try and say it in a new way. Bad lyrics often take a form of no real emotion, too complicated, too obvious or too cliched. When I listen to other people’s songs that I wish I had written, it usually starts with a really clever concept and I’m like ‘Wow how did they say that same old love story in such a unique and exciting way?’. People will pick up on if you are being insincere or too sincere.
Think about the rub. If a song is very dark sounding, do you necessarily want very dark sounding lyrics? Try and juxtapose those elements so you don’t fall into cliches. If you have a very pretty melody, maybe in the '60s you would write a pretty love song over it, but in the modern age, we are trying to make things sound new, so maybe a darker lyric over a pretty melody is more interesting.