How to Write Lyrics to a Beat – Come Up with Matching Lyrics!

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Technology has made it official that we live in a limitless creative world, especially for today’s producers and songwriters. Even before the pandemic, I started seeing a lot of remote collaborations between people from all over the world.

There’s an amazing project called The Foreign Exchange, named that way because the duo never even met in person! They just sent each other some beats until they had a record. One made the beat, the other wrote the lyrics.

Beats are basically song structures that loop in even-bar phrases with a cool beat behind it, or even just a drum beat with a hip-hop-style sample underneath it. They can be a whole song or 16-32 bars.

So, to start a modern collaboration, you need two ingredients: the beat maker and the topliner. The beatmaker creates the track and sometimes the melody, while the topliner writes the hooks and the lyrics.

Let’s dig in and explore how to write the best lyrics to match a beat and turn it into a hit!

Toplining

Have you ever checked out YouTube to see the cool stuff that beat makers and topliners come up with? There’s a ton of chemistry in the hip-hop and pop scenes, and people have actually filmed sessions where big-time artists and producers team up.

You can find clips of Justin Timberlake and Pharrell, Scott Storch, Chris Brown, and Timbaland flowing over real-time beats. I’ve been in sessions like that, where the artist is already on the mic and starts mumbling melodies.

And then suddenly, that mumbling turns into a verse, b section, or bridge of the song. They also add random lyrics that come to mind; it’s all stream-of-consciousness, but it yields great results.

You should definitely give this a try the next time you’re writing over a beat. Just go for it with no restrictions.

Hooks & Dummy Lyrics

Alright, so when you’re toplining a song, the most important part is coming up with the catchy chorus, or “hook”, that’s going to stick in your listener’s head and make them want to play it on repeat.

Personally, I always like to start with the hook and then build the lyrics around it. Even if it takes me a while to come up with the perfect hook, it’s totally worth it because it’s the main highlight of the song.

When I’m trying to match lyrics to a potential hook, I like to come up with some nonsense words or even just hum a tune to try and trigger some inspiration or ideas. It’s all about keeping the flow going and not getting stuck.

Once you’ve got some dummy lyrics, just live with them for a bit and see if any of the words or phrases stand out to you. Maybe you’ll hear something that sparks an idea for a real lyric.

Fun fact: Sometimes artists give songs funny names before they’ve finished writing the lyrics. For example, INXS’ “Suicide Blonde” was originally called “Soup Inside the Bowl” because that was a totally ridiculous dummy lyric they had before coming up with the real one.

Rhythm & Accents

One of the most important things is getting the rhythm and accents right. Take the song “Suicide Blonde” by INXS.

If you try singing “Soup Inside the Bowl” instead, you’ll find that they actually have the same number of syllables and rhythm. That’s because they stretched “Suicide Blonde” to five syllables.

Another example is “Roxanne” by The Police. In the second verse, Sting plays around with the rhythm by putting “I loved you since I knew you” on the downbeats, and “I’d never talk down to ya” on the upbeats. It creates a question-and-answer effect.

When you’re writing your own lyrics, make sure they match the swing, rhythm, and stressed or unstressed accents of the syllables in the melody.

Themes

Once you have a melody that sounds like it has the potential to be a hit, it’s time to start thinking about the story of the song. What is your song about?

Many times, dummy lyrics start forming a story in your mind. I’ve been in sessions where a singer subconsciously talks about childhood dreams. When it’s time to write the lyrics, we start writing down their childhood experiences related to their dreams and form a narrative – that’s the theme.

Sometimes, the beat itself feels like a theme. If somebody sent you a beat that obviously has a sensual or sexy vibe, it could be the harmonies or an underlying sample that makes it feel intimate. This then becomes your theme.

Repetition

Repetition can be a secret weapon for creating hit lyrics, especially for hooks. In fact, if you closely examine the lyrics of many hit songs, you’ll notice they’re almost like nursery rhymes with their repetition, but in a cool way.

Take Rihanna’s smash hit “Umbrella” as an example of this type of lyric writing to a beat. The entire hook is just the end of the word “Umbrella.” She says “Umbrella, Ella Ella.”

That’s exactly what you should aim for when adding lyrics to a hook: something cool, catchy, and preferably a little different from all the other hit songs out there.

Interpolations

So, here’s the deal: if you’re a lyricist, you might want to try this technique. It’s like when you sample a song, but instead of music, you’re using lyrics. It’s called “interpolating lyrics”.

You take a catchy hook from another song and mix it with your melody, but not exactly the same. You change it up a bit so it’s not a total rip-off.

If you do it right, it’s super cool.

Frank Ocean did this in his song “Super Rich Kids”. He took the hook from Mary J. Blige’s hit “Real Love” and sang “Real love, I’m searching for a real love” after the second chorus.

It had the same lyrics, meter, and rhythm as Mary’s hit, but it sounded different because the chords and overall harmony were different. This technique is a classic move in hip-hop and urban music.

Final Thoughts

When you’re trying to match lyrics to a beat, the most important thing is to make them as catchy as possible. There are so many hit songs out there, so as a songwriter and artist, you really need to stand out.

You can achieve this with something super annoying but undeniably catchy, like “I am a Gummy Bear” or “Baby Shark,” or something cooler and more danceable, like David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium.”

“Titanium” uses repetition and an EDM studio trick called sidechaining, where the whole hook pumps to the word “titanium.” Whatever your opinion is on the song, you can’t deny that it’s an earworm.

It’s memorable and stays with you because the word “titanium” is being pumped into your head by the relentless beat.

As a producer in LA who’s been in a bunch of sessions with Grammy-winning writers and artists, I’ve learned that the hook is king. It’s the first thing that gets written, revised, and approved. Then, the rest of the lyrics match the story and theme of the hook.

That way you don’t get distracted. It’s all hook, no filler.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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