As with music, an effective brief is crucial to getting the lyrics you need.
For example, are the lyrics intended for a song in a film? Are they sung by a character in the film, or sung and recorded by a pop singer to be played under a particular scene or sequence? Are they used for ironic or comic effect as in “Stuck In The Middle With You” in Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS, or to intensify the empathy for the character as in “Both Sides Now” in LOVE ACTUALLY?
What comes first, the words or music?
When it comes to lyrics for musical theatre, Scott recognises that they not only express an idea, they also reveal character within the context of a broader story. True cabaret songs are more self-contained to tell a complete story, but otherwise share many conventions with musical theatre.
From genre to genre, lyric conventions range from colloquial to formal; playful to serious but it is important to note that lyrics are NOT poetry.
Poems are meant to be read and mulled over, but lyrics – especially in musical theatre – must be comprehensible on first listening. Most importantly they must be singable. This means that the combinations of hard and soft consonants and short or sustained vowels must be sympathetic to both the phrasing and pitch of the melody and the singer’s anatomy.
Notice for example how the word, “like” ends in a hard “k” sound, whereas “love” ends with a resonant “v”. Neither is innately good or bad, but must be used appropriately depending on whether a crisp or warm sound is is most effective in conveying the intent of the lyric.
Being a singer, Scott appreciates how to write lyrics that “breathe” to assist both performer and meaning.