I'm interested in hearing about the art of writing "singable" lyrics. Have you been able to
spend much time with singers? Do you work to tailor your words to make them easier for the
singers to produce -- choosing particular vowels for high notes, for instance? Or do you prefer
to trust the singers to have the training and skill to wrap their voices around your
Sunday, 12 August 2001
Your question about "singable" lyrics is a really interesting one, and actually, no one's
ever asked me this before. The answer is that the only way you learn how to write "singable"
lyrics is through time, experience, trial and error. When I started writing lyrics I did have
some basic sense of what would sound pretty with a certain melodic phrase, or what would sound
appropriately harsh with "Madame Guillotine" type of phrase. But there were tons of subtle
things that I have just had to learn through the years. If I wrote a line full of all kinds of
onomatopoetic p's or s's, it might sound great in my head, but then I'd get into the studio and
hear it sung and think, "Oh my God, what have I done?" You learn that being clever can
sometimes be your worst enemy. You learn which vowels sound best at the end of phrases, which
words never sound good when they're sung, etc. For example, most are never thrilled when you
end phrases and high notes with a long "e" sound.
Thankfully, I have indeed been able to spend a lot of time with singers. I love being in the
recording studio. It's like being on another planet in terms of learning a whole new vocabulary
and a whole new way of musical thinking. It's also so much fun.
The last part of your question is tricky. Yes, one does expect professional singers to have
the "training and skill" to be able to handle a challenging lyric. This is, in fact, one of the
main reasons that you have actors audition pieces directly from the show. But there is always
that rare occasion when a singer comes to you and requests a change to make a line sing better,
or when you just can hear for yourself that it's not working. Musicals are all about that
collaborative spirit, so everyone has to be continually flexible.