Lyrics/Poetical: A small introduction
Before you begin writing lyrics you need to decide how you are going to combine your lyrics with the melody (let’s call this pairing). And yes, there are surprisingly many ways you can do this – and not all of them work by synchronising the lyrics with the melody (exactly or only approximately so), while there are even some situations where Poetical is not only not the best choice but it’s not even possible to use Poetical to output lyrics (because working line by line just won’t work).
Surprisingly, the more advanced pairing methods involve having the lyrics ‘fit the music’ in nonstandard ways that do not involve having to sync them to the melody, though at first you’d expect that doing so would be easier. However, even though it’s true that in such cases technically it may be easier to write lyrics that are less demanding in terms of structuring, the truth is that putting the whole thing together in the end becomes harder because you need to be able to get your audience to imagine how you are singing these (e.g.) out-of-sync lyrics, and do so convincingly. At the same time, it can become a lot harder to play back the lyrics with the music, since the usual cues that help you remember where you are supposed to sing or act next won’t be there anymore.
You will also need to know the song very well and be able to imagine yourself singing it so that instinctively you can follow where you are supposed to output each line of lyrics. Also, exactly because in many such cases the lyrics are truly meant to ‘come to the front’ (with the music often being of secondary importance), in order for them to succeed in working well with the music, they must also be of sufficient depth and quality; and you must also strive for a particularly high overall presentation that may not fit the traditional line-by-line output style. Hence, Poetical may not even be applicable in some of these cases; because producing the lyrics output line-by-line may not give the right effect you’re going for.
One example of a song we met which had such potential and which could have gone in that direction is ‘Recollection’, where the lyrics could only be synced approximately to appropriate sections of the melody; and if longer and more complex lyrics had been used instead, we might have needed to have two lines show at a time in a particular visual format (e.g. in order to showcase the poem’s structure better).
Of course, another way of going about this is to start with a poem or story which become the lyrics for a melody we write afterwards, which is usually a more complex process; but again we must decide on similar considerations about how we will pair them together, although now we have the freedom to modify the poem and the MIDI file as we can work in both directions.
For example, it’s possible to sync the melody present in the ABC file to pre-written lyrics; but this requires modifying or even re-writing substantial parts of the MIDI file. An easier approach is usually to decide how many verses/stanzas we are going to write that still fit the MIDI melody, and accordingly extend or reduce parts of the MIDI to accommodate our extended or reduced amount of lyrics. We will discuss this in more detail below.
All I will say here is that there are different ways (pairing methods) of approaching this type of rendering lyrics but it is beyond the scope of this guide.
In this little guide I will only focus on one pairing method: the method of working with lyrics that can be synced to a pre-determined melody explicitly (or almost explicitly, e.g. by exploiting the presence of a secondary melody in parts, if necessary) which is already present in the ABC file. I will also ignore emoting, duets, dances and other complications and only focus on the steps needed to write and produce lyrics for a solo voice using Poetical v1.1.
Before you begin
Writing lyrics is often like writing a little story, only you have a specific time and format available to work with, and so you have to learn to work with what you have. However, you may not be in a position to finish what you wanted to write in the time allocated by the song. In this case, you need to decide if you need to alter the original MIDI file by adding an extra loop somewhere to accommodate an extra verse you want to add or not; and so on.
For example, let us say that the original MIDI file has an intro where lyrics don’t fit and then the melody fits two verses for lyrics, say v1 and v2, and also has an ending where lyrics don’t fit. But let us say you want to add verses v3, v4 and v5 (all of the same length as v1 and v2). What you can do then is start with the intro, play for v1 and v2, skip the ending, transpose the melody up half a tone, play for v3 and v4 where v1 and v2 were before, and then add v5 at the place where the melody corresponds to v2 (and v4) and finally add the (transposed) ending.
So if M1 stands for ‘melody 1’, M2 for ‘melody 2’ and t denotes transposition, the original MIDI can be symbolically denoted as
INTRO, M1, M2, END
but what you’ll end up working with is
INTRO, M1, M2, tM1, tM2, tM2, tEND.
If ~ denotes correspondence, and NL stands for ‘no lyrics here’, then what we have in terms of lyrics is:
NL ~ INTRO, V1 ~ M1, V2 ~ M2, V3 ~ tM1, V4 ~ tM2, V5 ~ tM2, NL ~ tEND.
Once you know what MIDI you will be writing lyrics for (or at least have an idea about how many verses you will be going for and how they are supposed to fit and you know how you are going to modify the original MIDI to accommodate your sync needs) then you can begin writing your lyrics.
STEP 1: Listen, decide on how to sync, copy down original lyrics or scat your own
Listen to the final MIDI or ABC you will be working with (or to the original MIDI but cf. ‘Before you begin’). Then listen to it again. Notice precisely where the main melody plays and follow it, trying to sing along in your head (no need to know the original lyrics, if there are any). Make a note of any points in the melody where the main melody’s instrument doesn’t play as you’d expect it to do so from the original.
For example: let us say the main melody is track 6 played by a flute. Now the flute may pause at a few places and another track ‘covers’ the melody (either as secondary melody or as some jazzy variation of the main melody etc.) Decide if you want your lyrics to fit track 6 only or if you’d like them to extend to the extra track as well.
Now, if this song has actual lyrics associated with it, look them up online and save them in a Word document. If not, then you will need to come up with random sentences (nonsensical but actual words if possible or scatting if you prefer) that fit the melody exactly. If desirable (and possible), introduce words and rhyming patterns at this stage (which will be copied over when you write your own lyrics).
In both cases, count the number of syllables on each line and write it down on the same line. Keep in mind the accentuation (breathing) of the sentence (namely where you place a ‘stress’ as you sing) and any other parameters you’d like to remember. You could indicate the accentuation with a bold typeface and rhyming pairs with italics, by underlining or both or however else you desire. Keep all these notes in your Word document with the original lyrics/own scatting.
(Optional) STEP 2: Adjust original lyrics (if needed)
Either way, you will have a document file with rough lyrics (either the original song’s or your own random nonsense words or scatting) that fit the melody.
If you created your own nonsense lyrics there is nothing else to do in this step.
However, if you had original lyrics, then listen to the song again and try to follow the original lyrics. You will likely discover (especially if you followed the instructions before STEP 1) that the MIDI/ABC author (if she isn’t you) has either chopped off parts that fit the original lyrics or has added something, even if it is just a few notes, in an attempt to emulate the voice’s part (= instrument playing the main melody) in her own way. Whatever it is the author actually changed, make a note of it and make sure you adjust the original lyrics accordingly to fit the ABC/MIDI melody exactly (the sync must be perfect or almost perfect).
Note that sometimes this means adding an extra word or two, as the MIDI introduces extra notes in the melody to emulate the voice in some manner; and at other times, it means chopping off a few extra words that were present in the original lyrics.
For example, if the original lyrics have the words “Beasts that hissed” (3 syllables) and you discover that the MIDI introduces a fourth syllable with an accent at the front of the sentence, you could change them to “Foul beasts that hissed” (where I used here bold typeface to remind myself where the accent goes). When you are done, save your adjusted original lyrics in the same Word document.
STEP 3: Add comments
It is essential that you keep comments throughout these adjusted lyrics that help you remember where each new part begins, where you need to pause or when something changes.
Before we do that however, first we need to associate a ‘comments’ symbol on Poetical and make sure we use that symbol throughout our lyrics Word documents.
The one I use is two stars (**). This means that in Poetical, any string of characters following the two stars gets ignored; and if a line begins with ** it gets skipped (and will appear dimmed) moving the focus to the next non-commented line in the lyrics.
There is nothing magical about using two stars; we could have used %% or something else. However, you should avoid using a single character in case that needs to turn up in the lyrics, in which case that part of the line will get ignored by mistake.
For example, we often use *...* to put emphasis on a word, like *this*. So, if I had a single star as my comment symbol, anything after the first occurrence of the * would get ignored (in the above example, the string this* and anything that follows to the right of the same line).
So one thing to remember here is that if you import lyrics from someone else who happens to use a different comment symbol from yours, you must first make sure that you replace all of his comment symbols with your own, save the changes in the Word document, and then copy and paste the altered lyrics (with your own comment symbols) in Poetical.
So how do we set our own comment symbol on Poetical?
Open Poetical in the game from the account and computer you will be singing the most. Click on Settings. Go to Comment Prefix. Replace whatever is there with ** and click Save.
(While you’re on SETTINGS, also make sure Default Prefix is empty, Blank Line Action is ‘Skip line’, Delay is ‘No Delay’, Windows Opacity is around 0.97 and Toggle Button Opacity is around 0.86.)
Now sync Poetical’s settings with the other characters on this account and then with the other characters on your other LotRO game accounts. (We will learn how to sync the Poetical settings further down.)
You will only need to do the above once, ever (unless you decide to change your comments symbol).
Keeping comments is invaluable in reminding you about things you want to remember during a performance, when it’s easy to forget something. For this reason, make sure that your Poetical window is big enough to show a larger number of lines so that you can ‘look ahead’ in the lyrics and prepare yourself for what’s coming next.
An example (from ‘Cold As Ice’ which we performed at Winterstock):
~• ...and wave goodbye to all! No more Lossoth, hurray!
~• Nenuial will loom south in a week and a day
** guitar solo till 1:47
~• The lake is not far
Here, we remind ourselves that after the line that ends with the words ‘…and a day’ there is a long pause until 1m47s into the song (timing is always calculated using the ABC Player’s timing). This way, when we practise this song using the ABC Player, we will remember that the next line ‘No…more…ice’ begins at 1:47. Of course, we don’t have a timer in the game, but by the time you get to sing the lyrics, you will know when 1:47 is coming up from practice (by ear).
STEP 4: Gather your resources
As a minimum, I find the following online resources useful when writing lyrics:
http://dictionary.reference.com/ (Dictionary.Com online dictionary)
http://www.thesaurus.com/ (Dictionary.Com’s associated thesaurus)
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/ (Cambridge online dictionary and thesaurus)
http://www.merriam-webster.com/ (Merriam Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus)
http://www.rhymer.com/ (A site that helps you find simple rhymes)
http://www.rhymezone.com/ (A site that provides more subtle/complex rhymes)
http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/ (The online Arda Encyclopedia with many useful lore entries)
https://lotro-wiki.com/ (The LotRO Wiki)
http://symbolcodes.tlt.psu.edu/accents/codealt.html#accent (ALT codes for letters with accents used in lore)
There is also a host of online entries on Old English, Old Norse, Tolkien Elvish and Neo-Dwarvish which are only important in special cases, well beyond the scope of the lyrics we’re focusing on here.
A few words on these sites.
The importance of dictionaries, thesauri and rhyming sites is pretty self-explanatory. Note that Dictionary.Com and Merriam Webster are almost completely focused on American English so be careful about using an expression found there.
The Cambridge Dictionary in particular is essential if you are looking for a word in British English, including its pronunciation and usage. For example, ‘route’ rhymes with ‘lute’ in British English, and not with ‘shout’ as it does in American English and such usage would also carry over to Tolkien. Also, spelling can differ; e.g. it is ‘to practise’ and not ‘to practice’. Also it has an American English section which is very useful because you can test a particular word or idiom you wish to research and find out if it is American or British and then you can decide further if it also makes sense in Tolkien’s universe or not.
Arda Encyclopedia is an essential tool which I highly recommend for easy, accurate and quick access to essential lore entries and maps. I do not recommend the Wikipedia Tolkien Gateway because its accuracy of information is often disputed by experts. The books I recommend below complement this source.
The ALT codes are needed for all the special characters we use in LotRO.
Beyond these, I recommend two books as well. One is Robert Foster’s “The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth” (revised edition) (2001) and Karen Wynn Fonstad’s “The Atlas of Middle-Earth”. They are not essential, but can be useful.
However, when writing lyrics that need to be more lore-specific, please do remember that you must also adjust the information given in these books with the lore of LotRO, which is why you also need to look at the LotRO Wiki as well. You will have to decide if you are writing lyrics in character (IC) with the LotRO game world as it also appears in the game, or something that would fit as a ‘Tolkien song’ even outside the game. Depending on context, you may have to do both; or sometimes do something entirely different (e.g. combine mythological elements from Old England with Tolkien lore to create a song that fits the LotRO universe, like we did with “Felaróf”).
Actually, the next step will be to decide precisely the direction you wish to take with your lyrics.
STEP 5: Choose a category for your lyrics
A Cat (short for category) followed by one of the numerals 1, 2 or 3 is a convenient method that Briallan and I came up with in order to describe the different types of lyrics we worked on.
Cat 1 indicates lyrics that are almost identical to the original lyrics and theme with only minor changes made in order to “LOtrO-fy” the lyrics (i.e. make them IC). A good example of a Cat 1 song is ‘Footloose’ which cleverly makes subtle changes to the original lyrics by making it almost completely fitting for LotRO.
Cat 2 indicates making more substantial changes to the original lyrics but keeping close to the original theme. A subtle way of reminding people of the original without reducing to Cat 1 is to keep similar rhyming patterns which rhyme with the original lyrics at the same places.
For example, if the original has the word ‘back’ rhyming with ‘shack’ then your new (completely different) lyrics could have ‘rack’ rhyming with ‘knack’ at the corresponding places. A good example of a Cat 2 song is ‘Mystic Dreams’ (original: Electric Dreams) which we played last year for WCS.
Cat 3 means writing completely original lyrics. This can either be because the original has no lyrics at all (e.g. either of the two lyrics we did for ‘Chariots of Fire’ had to be Cat 3 as the original piece has no singing) or because you decide to change them completely (e.g. the dwarf story in Rivendell, replacing the lyrics for ‘Only the Good (Die Young)’ with something completely different).
To write completely original lyrics, it is normally recommended that you move away from the original theme completely, although it is possible to keep an indirect connection with the original theme and lyrics to introduce an extra layer of complexity to your lyrics. In this case your song is somewhere between Cat 2 and Cat 3.
A good example of this is ‘Linda Linda’ (The ‘Blue Hearts’ version) which we played last at the Server Merger Culmination event, where the lyrics are completely different from the original but there is a subtle yet firm connection with the original theme and lyrics. In this sense the lyrics for this are more Cat 2 than Cat 3, but not merely Cat 2, so we could say they are Cat 2/3 to indicate this.
For important events (like Weatherstock) we should aim for Cat 2/3 or Cat 3 lyrics.
STEP 6: Create!
Get the seed of an idea, research it using the above resources, immerse yourself in the right location in your mind’s eye, learn as much as you can about the imaginary location, story and peoples from books and from your imagination, not forgetting to research the people (and even ‘mobs’) who reside in the mythological universe. Or – If it’s about reciting a story from lore, or which lends heavily to the lore in some other fashion – try to learn as much as you can about all the background first, including peripheral information about lineages, events and peoples within the specific time period of interest.
Having said this, remember that songs ‘in real life’, especially in medieval times, tend to be ‘over the top’; and also that ‘real’ people do get the lore wrong (sometimes even on purpose, mixing myths with actual events). Lore is not history. In other words, you would expect hyperbole and errors to be present in songs, particularly folk songs, and this is true especially if you wish to keep IC.
A dwarf and an elf may never (or at least almost never) end up going out together and certainly not living together at Thorin’s Hall as inferred in the Cat 3 lyrics for ‘Livin La Vida Loca’; but it’s funny, outrageous and over-the-top; and actually the sort of song you might expect dwarves to sing there (in jest) though perhaps with slightly less Latin-style music :).
On the other hand, a scholar elf who has lived for a long time and recalls most of the events she recites in her songs would probably get a lot more things right in terms of events and history; though again remember that people do not know everything; so to keep IC you may also have to take into consideration what she is supposed to know, e.g. based on what was probably known to her people at the time.
Sometimes you may also wish to write a parody using ‘fourth wall’ imagery, like we did with the Guild’s ‘Avatar’, or make an in-game parody like ‘Let It Lag’, and so forth.
In such cases you may wish to keep American English grammar and syntax, since you are singing about the people behind the characters and you may even use expressions that are not met in British English (at least in the styles Tolkien adopts).
If you do use British English, it should be in a style that would make sense for Tolkien and LotRO. For example, you can’t use modern slang expressions like ‘Alright, mate?’ or ‘Cheers then’. Also, you may wish to use some special words used by the game’s denizens. You can find more information on this at Arda’s Encyclopedia here:
In short, there are many ways to write; and most of these are perfectly acceptable for use in LotRO gigs.
STEP 7: Save your work! (Optional:) Sync Poetical!
Always save your lyrics in a different Word document on your computer (not in the one where you keep your original or scatting lyrics) – never just in the game; and always back up these files.
Make all changes to the Word document first, even if it is just a comma. Never make changes directly in Poetical (unless you don’t have a choice) because you will come to a point where you will not remember what you changed where, and more importantly where the latest version was (on what character/account).
Once your own lyrics are safely on your computer’s hard drive and backed up, then what you need to do is go to the game and copy and paste the lyrics into Poetical. Do a quick run of the lyrics in the game to make sure that the chat bubbles and /say output look okay.
Keep the game filter on to make sure you don’t have some word that gets filtered out, as not everyone from the audience removes their filter and in big gigs it’s preferable to avoid such issues (it may look as if you are swearing when you’re not).
Once you’re satisfied that the lyrics look okay, paste over any other lyrics you wish as well.
Once you are done, you may wish to sync Poetical’s settings and loaded lyrics across all accounts. This is essential to do if you wish to have identical lyrics and settings on all accounts and machines you play from. Another benefit of syncing Poetical is in case your main singer loses her connection while in the game for whatever reasons, in which case you can immediately switch over and sing using one of your alts still in the game (assuming the lyrics fit their race and gender, of course). If you don’t intend to do any of that and you only intend to sing your lyrics from characters on a specific account and computer, then you don’t need to sync Poetical.
If you do decide to sync Poetical, though, this is how to do it:
How to sync Poetical
Suppose USERNAME1 is your username on the computer you’re on (say on drive C:) and that you have two accounts with usernames ACCOUNT1 and ACCOUNT2. Let’s also say you have another computer named MACHINE2 (in the same network as your current machine is) which you’re using for LotRO with username USERNAME2. Finally, suppose that you already copied and pasted the new lyrics and made changes to Poetical’s settings on ACCOUNT1 (on the current machine).
Our aim is to sync Poetical’s saved settings and loaded lyrics across the board. The reason is that, after we sync Poetical, then we can load Poetical from any of these two machines and from any of the two accounts we have (using any character from any of these two accounts) and we will get the same lyrics loaded in Poetical with the same settings.
So then: to sync Poetical across the board, first go to your current machine at the path
C:\Users\USERNAME1\Documents\The Lord of the Rings Online\PluginData\ACCOUNT1\AllServers\
and copy the files
(by left clicking on the first and then shift-left clicking on the second to highlight both and then pressing control C).
Now go to
C:\Users\USERNAME1\Documents\The Lord of the Rings Online\PluginData\ACCOUNT2\AllServers\
and paste these two files there (with control V), overwriting the old ones.
Next go to
\\MACHINE2\Users\USERNAME2\Documents\The Lord of the Rings Online\PluginData\ACCOUNT1\AllServers\
and paste these two files again, overwriting the old ones.
\\MACHINE2\Users\USERNAME2\Documents\The Lord of the Rings Online\PluginData\ACCOUNT2\AllServers\
and now both the current machine and MACHINE2 have both accounts (ACCOUNT1 and ACCOUNT2) updated with the current lyrics.
STEP 8: Prepare for a show!
When it comes to playing in a gig and you have more than one set of lyrics to perform, you don’t want to be scrolling around needlessly all the time. Only keep the lyrics you need in Poetical. Give them names that correspond to the order they will be played during the gig; e.g.
01 Cold As Ice
04 Look A Lot
and then use the little arrow at the top right of Poetical to place them in order:
01 Cold As Ice
04 Look A Lot
The notation means that you are playing lyrics for the first song (Cold As Ice), second (Avatar) but not for the third one and then again for the fourth one (Look A Lot); and no more. 01 appears at the top and 04 at the bottom. This way it becomes easy to find the lyrics during a performance when you have so many other things to juggle (syncing lyrics, checking /backstage and other user channels, raid chat etc.)
If you wish to practise your lyrics in private before a show, you can set up your own user channel (let’s say that it gets associated with /3 in the game) and output the lyrics there by going to the ‘Default Prefix’ in Poetical’s Settings and adding /3 in the box, then Save.
However, remember that before you play in a gig the ‘Default Prefix’ in Poetical’s Settings must be empty so everything you output appears on the /say channel (unless in rare cases you are to sing on a different channel, like /shout, in which case the default prefix will need to be changed to that channel instead).
Last edited by Nibun on Wed Mar 16, 2016 1:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
Oh Baud and Bri, you are so very thorough! Thank you for this great tutorial!
and Malvy & Mirvie on Crickhollow, Belegaer and everywhere!