Jump to content
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
GoatLord

Are you lyrical, or musical? Or both?

Recommended Posts

It seems to me that there are three main types of music listeners: Those primarily concerned with lyrics, those primarily concerned with the musicianship, and those who give more or less equal weight to both. What type are you? I fit in the second category, as lyrics have rarely been of importance to me. The earliest musical memories I have are of the soundtrack to Carl Sagan's PBS show "Cosmos," which is entirely instrumental and highly sophisticated.

As I got older and started to listen to "radio music," I would play back the melodies in my head, but the words were largely absent, replaced by nonsense vocalizations that approximated what I heard. Even now, as an adult, I hear only a few scattered words, in pop music and otherwise. Every now and then, something amusing or provocative may catch my attention, like the lyrics of The Residents, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa or Mr. Bungle, but even then, I'm still only partially dedicated to their words. A close friend of mine once remarked that he hopes to see a day when humanity becomes bored with lyrics, and we return to primarily instrumental music.

Share this post


Link to post

Lyrics very rarely mean much to me. If they're well written and well thought out, that's an added bonus in my book, but I'm not going to let the lyrical content of an album drag me down if the quality of the music is otherwise quite stellar. I guess it really depends on whether or not the lyrics are so abysmal that they detract from the enjoyment of the music, though. :P But for the most part, I don't really pay much attention one way or another. Hell, I still don't know all the lyrics to some of my favorite songs, even though I've listened to them over a hundred times.

For the most part I treat vocals like I do any other instrument. If it sounds good and fits the mood and style of the music, then clearly they've done their job.

Share this post


Link to post

Both, though it can be genre-dependent. A good example would be just about any metal - I can't take myself seriously if I start to pay attention to the lyrics. It's probably something like 60% musical, 40% lyrical, and 2% butterscotch ripple.

Share this post


Link to post

Metal lyrics are negligent. As long as they aren't so embarrassingly juvenile that I start to dart my eyes, hoping no one catches me listening to it, then who cares? In most cases the singing, even when clean, is difficult to decipher over the amplified, heavily distorted guitars. It's definitely a genre where lyrics matter very little. The main concern for me is whether the singer is any good at what he's trying to achieve; there are plenty of metal bands with decent guitar work, but absolute shit for vocals, whether it's the whiny "clean" singing of a lot of modern bands, or goregrind fuckers who burp and squeal their way through each song.

Share this post


Link to post

It can depend on what I'm listening to, but I'd have to say musicianship takes priority over lyrics.

Share this post


Link to post

i listen to a crapload of instrumental music and usually don't care about lyrics much. but hey, if it's nick cave singing, i will listen to what he says, because he's the best storyteller in the music industry. his music is about the lyrics. tori amos or mark knopfler will also get my attention. also anathema when i want to be reassured i'm a worthless drunk who slowly poisons and destroys all his loved ones.

Share this post


Link to post
Snakes said:

Both, though it can be genre-dependent. A good example would be just about any metal - I can't take myself seriously if I start to pay attention to the lyrics.

Share this post


Link to post

Usually I stay on the musical side, which is how it's been ever since I was a little kid. This is pretty much reflected in my own music as well. However, if a certain group's lyrics do end up hitting me, then I tend to pay attention more equally to both their lyrics and music after a while. They don't have to be amazingly good lyrics, just ones that connect to me on a personal level. Like I listen to Front 242 or Front Line Assembly for their music, but I'll listen to KMFDM for the lyrics.

Sometimes I like having lyrics in music just because they add to the music themselves. It doesn't matter what they're saying, just that they're saying something. It's like the extra timbres and weird rhythmical variations fill out a song that would otherwise sound uninteresting. Skinny Puppy might be a more extreme example here.

Share this post


Link to post

"It doesn't matter what they're saying, just that they're saying something. It's like the extra timbres and weird rhythmical variations fill out a song that would otherwise sound uninteresting." Nicely worded. Good singing is good singing. Look at The Beatles, possibly the greatest pop outfit of all time. Most of their lyrics are silly, even worthless. But the vocal harmonies are so beautiful it doesn't matter.

Share this post


Link to post

Eh, both I guess. Some musicians I like for their music, others I like for their lyrics. Some are awesome at both. Those are usually my favorites.

Share this post


Link to post

An interesting topic. I mean, presumably we're not counting in these sorts of tracks:



Usually both the lyrics and the music will work together in order to flesh out the most wholesome and multi-layered composition, but certainly I don't think of myself as being more musically or lyrically inclined when addressing a piece of music I haven't heard before (unless I'm familiar with the artist). If the artist is committed more to one than the other, then most of the time the piece itself will tell me what to pay attention to.

For instance, if the sound demands that I pay attention to the lyrics - either by accident, the artist's intending it or because the production quality steers the attention of the listener toward the lead singer - then I'll be more critical of the wording and as a result could become more involved or more removed in the music. If it's clear that the lyrics aren't important either because of a well-trodden subject matter removing interest, the sound demanding that I direct my attention to itself, or some other reason, then I'll unthinkingly do so...: The problem of how to get the most out of the song I'm listening to is solved for me by the sound dictating where I should be investing my attention.*

The wonderful thing about music as an art is that there are just so many particular, interesting and unexplored relationships between music and lyrics that to try and do anything but allow the music to decide what's most important or whether either takes precedent over the other is a forceful departure from the intended experience.

* A certain kind of bad music is the sort that directs one's attention to either lyrics or sound in only for that centerpiece to reveal itself as absolutely woeful. I wouldn't be able to tolerate Bob Dylan's Hurricane if the words were replaced by something incapable of sustaining a 9 minute running time.

Share this post


Link to post

The music itself is slightly more important, in my head. Good lyrics can enhance a good song and bad ones can detract from one. However, no amount of good lyrics can make a crappy song less crappy.

Share this post


Link to post

I prefer no lyrics, except Rush songs (mostly their older stuff though). But I don't listen to music much anymore these days. Silence is great, and sadly uncommon in modern society.

Share this post


Link to post

For me, I don't give preference to either; I care about how the end result "feels," if that makes any sense.

I've listened to music that sometimes lacks either lyrics or melody (instrumental vs. A Capella), and if its fun to listen to, or just has a large impact on me in some way, I'll enjoy it. Of course, music is not always all the way to one side of that scale, and I prefer good music backed by good lyrics (IOW, they have to fit well together).

Share this post


Link to post

I don't care about lyrics at all. They don't affect me, I don't read them, and I can't take them seriously. I don't mind vocals sometimes, but I never think to myself "I wish this song had vocals".

The only exception is the funny rap music I like, with gross and dumb lyrics. That's the only time where the lyrics matter to me.

Share this post


Link to post

i'm very much a "sound" person.
when i listen to music i listen to the way that it sounds, including any vocals. because of this, i highly value the harmonies and rhythms that the vocals help fill out the song with, but they are not necessary if the song is already complex musically. the actual words being sung/said are not as important to me as the sound.

nevertheless, as a writer i try very hard to incorporate well-written lyrics into my own music. most of my stuff has very minimal vocals though, since i usually use up a lot of the space in the mix before i get around to incorporating vocals.

i do plan on eventually recording a kind of electronic-folk album though. minimal synth-driven music with sung-story vocals taking precedence. maybe i'll do that next. it seems like a very good challenge for someone like me.

Share this post


Link to post

Music for me takes precedence over lyrics but only by a slight margin. I find the lyrics the most compelling part of, say, Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, and many others. On the opposite spectrum, bands like King Crimson, where the lyrics are rarely that interesting, and then bands somewhere in between like Genesis where both sides converge in albums The Lamb Lies Down. Then I love bands like Magma, where the lyrics are essentially gibberish, but works like M.D.K. wouldn't be nearly the same without them, or stuff like Can where the backing track is great, but without guys like Mooney or Suzuki rambling or mumbling they fade into background pieces.

Share this post


Link to post
Snakes said:

It's probably something like 60% musical, 40% lyrical, and 2% butterscotch ripple.


That totals 102% :)

I know some people who read along to the lyric sheet the first time they hear a record. I was never able to do that because it ruins my appreciation of the music. If I try to read while listening, I get distracted from the arrangements, so I wait and learn the lyrics after a few spins of the album.

That said, because I'm a singer I pay a lot of attention to vocals in any music project. I note how the vocalist chooses to craft the vocal melody and cadence against the riff, and what techniques he or she uses. After that I always notice guitar next. Usually the band has to be really good for me to pay attention to the drums or bass though.

Share this post


Link to post

I think I may actually be neither (or a really weak both?) as I find that I frequently hear lyrics in songs incorrectly and also slowly discover the various nuances to the musical sound over quite a length of time. Even songs I've been listening to for years are still becoming something I appreciate as more complex than they seemed initially - or I'm slowly picking out the individual sounds that each instrument is making so that the music actually stops being one overall noise for me and instead becomes a harmony of the parts that make up the whole.

I'm going to run under the assumption that I must just not pay much attention to music most of the time.

Share this post


Link to post

Really depends on the music.
If I listen to some metal for instance, I couldn't care less what they re singing about.

If it's someone like Tom Waits, it's another story. The lyrical expression is a part of what makes him really interesting. Not exclusively, but certainly an important ingredient.

Share this post


Link to post

Depends. For the most part I don't care about lyrics, but if a song has outright terrible and corny lyrics I have trouble listening to it even if it's musically good. Fortunately I mostly listen to instrumental or foreign music so bad lyrics aren't much of an issue.

Share this post


Link to post

A little of both. I've always been the sort of person who is interested in what the lyrics in a song have to say, and what they mean. I also like listening to the individual parts of a song.

Share this post


Link to post

I guess I'm more "musical" than "lyrical," but a third thing that might be even more important for me than either of those is "context." Music becomes far more interesting to me when it's a part of something that gives it meaning and importance, like a movie or a game.

This is something that I consider as a disability. It would be nice if I could enjoy listening to music on a CD player or iPod like everybody else.

Share this post


Link to post

I used to be huge into lyrics. I still sort of am, but I don't actively look them up like I used to. I just try to enjoy the song, and if moves me enough, I might look further into it.

Share this post


Link to post

I think I'm more into musical, but on and off with lyrics.

One of the things that really bothers me, especially when hearing mainstream songs or music on the radio, is when entire choruses are repeated more than once. I'm also really annoyed when a singer says "Yeah" or "Uh" or "OH OH OH" or "La La La" in their songs. Fucking time fillers eith stupid improvised lyrics that aren't even words.

I've listened to some bands that were very good instrumentally, but were also had some really well-written lyrics. Powerviolence bands often cram tons of words into 25 second songs. Other bands' vocalists are just really fucking talented writers. One of my favorite bands is Cursed for this reason.


C - O - N - T - R - O - L
Feed you young on the fear of hell
And when you reach down to pull the plug
They turn you white with the fear of god

One day I looked down and saw
the man feeding rosaries down our throats
was holding hands with the businessman
who was wringing the blood from all these stones.

They said "Do you believe in life after death?"
I said I believed in life after birth,
and the holy church
swallowed hard for the body of Christ.

So when they say it's a sin,
they mean it's high treason
to kill the mule before his back gives out.
This is company time.
And we never close, we never close.
We'll sink you with crosses and bury you in rows.

When they say "Every Day is a Gift"
they mean
"Blessed Are the Working Poor, whose high hopes pay for all these golden crosses."
Never catching up but never stopping,
taxed to death and still repenting

When they say that you'll burn up in hell
if you die with this mark on your soul.
But there can't be any worse things below
than Pascal's sainted bureaucrats got in mind for the hopeful masses.

The scheme is hatched and the priest dispatched.
The scheme is hatched and the priest dispatched.
The scheme is hatched and the priest dispatched.

And when they say Amen they mean
"I Hope You Live Forever"
Hand To Mouth.
I've got plans
both my hands on the plug of your gods
Wasted love.
Both hands on the plug of your gods
Wasted love.

Kill the bosses
Kill the priests
Kill the shepherds
Save the sheep

Share this post


Link to post

I'm both. Most recently I wrote these lyrics and was really pleased with them.

...Unfortunately I have yet to write a song around them. x(

Share this post


Link to post

I only care for the sound and the melody of the vocals, but good lyrics that speak to me make a song that I already like a lot better. But they can also ruin a song I would like by singing about total bullshit or disgusting stuff. :/

One example for this would be Tenacious D. Their instrumental stuff is amazing and they have a lot of that bluesy and southern rock-vibe that I enjoy so much in their songs, but as soon as Jack Black starts to sing about shooting his juice right into her caboose I start to cringe.
I know its supposed to be funny, but all this sex stuff and dick jokes is not really my humor.

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×