Turn Up the Hum: Unveiling the Power of Lyrics

I had the pleasure to see artist and friend Ziggy Marley perform a sold out tribute to his father, the legendary Bob Marley, at the Hollywood Bowl recently. It was the first time that Ziggy had ever performed live with an orchestra. I admit I had been a bit apprehensive about hearing the popular leader of Roots Reggae perform against the backdrop of an orchestra but, thanks to tasteful arrangements, timeless songs, an incredibly tight band, and Ziggy himself commanding the stage like the Legend in his prime, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The sound and show were nothing short of amazing.

What resonated most with me as my girlfriend and I danced down the hillside following the show, however, was not the thrill and quality of the performance. It was those timeless and unforgettable words scribed by one of the most important music prophets of our time, Bob Marley, resonating in my heart and mind. It would be hard to create anything but a sense of unity and good feeling with ten thousand people singing “One Love” together, or to avoid alleviating the stresses of the day by chanting along to a few refrains of “Three Little Birds”.

Music + Words = The Powermix

One of the most powerful ways to influence emotions and consciousness is to set words to memorable music. Add engaging images to this mix and you have what holders of ancient wisdom have known for thousands of years as the ultimate power over the populace. Great songs have long been used to inspire hope, create a sense of unity, galvanize beliefs and move people to action. And it is the content of these songs that shapes the thoughts and beliefs across generations and cultures.

“A good meal can feed a man for a day, but a great song, a really great song, can inspire a million souls for a lifetime.” - from The Technologies of Emotion – Frank Fitzpatrick

Lyrics – A New Frontier

We are living in an intriguing time in which science and technology are converging to help us analyze, understand and hypercharge the power of lyrics. Until now, most scientific studies and data analysis about music have focused on instrumental music. Companies like Gracenote and Echo Nest have developed mood and other comparative analytics of millions of popular pieces of music to build the personalize recommendation engines behind companies like iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and Amazon. Lyrics however, filled with metaphors and colloquialisms, are extremely difficult to analyze using existing technologies. As search, AI, and new technology advance, so does the interest and inclusion of lyrics into the tracking of human preferences and behavior. The spotlight on lyrics has taken some important leaps this past year. Google has upped its search ranking on lyrics, while making a major move to redirect those searches to it’s own sources (along with the notable revenue streams previously collected by third party lyric libraries). This is not surprising, seeing that lyrics were the number one searched item on the web at one time, ranking higher than porn.

Although re-positioned to dominate search, Google is not alone in the new frontier of lyrics. Companies like Lyric Find have invested heavily into digital rights for lyrics integration software, much in the same way that iTunes and Spotify created enterprises in the legal downloading and streaming of song recordings, previously dominated by Napster. Key analytic engines like Gracenote and Echo Nest, recently partnered with the lyric service MusiXmatch, are exploring new ways to fill in the missing link in their algorithms and meet customer demands.

Hats Off to The Lyricist

Beyond technology, lyricists received a major accolade and credibility nod this year when another modern day musical prophet, Bob Dylan, receive the Nobel Prize in Literature for his lyrics – a historical first.

The importance of lyrics will continue to increase as analytics and AI’s interpretation of metaphor and colloquialisms improve. Lyrics can influence our beliefs and behaviors as much as books or the evening news. Imagine when Spotify-acquired Echo Nest, designers of the back end data and behavior analysis to hundreds of apps reaching over a billion users, can predict human behavior based on the lyrics that an individual has been listening to in their favorite songs.

The good news is that we can shift our own state and shape our future by the music and lyrics we chose, and we can help our children learn to do the same. In our WHY Music curriculum, part of the WHY Music Campaign, we offer the following exercise to help students fully experience the power of lyrics and music. Give it a try and see how you feel.

TURN UP THE HUM: Creating the Power Playlist

A. Creating the Playlist

  • Put together a playlist containing a dozen of your favorite songs.
  • Take time to write out the lyrics for each.

B. Refining the Playlist

  • Review each lyric, noting any lyrics that inspire and reaffirm the qualities of the person whom you aspire to be as your highest self. Identify any lyrics that neither inspire you nor align with your values or positive self-image.
  • Replace songs that fall into the latter category with songs that inspire you lyrically, as well as musically.

C. Apply the Magic

  • Once you have your playlist refined to contain only songs whose lyrics have a positive effect on your thoughts and wellbeing, save that playlist and listen to it every day for 30 days.
  • To supercharge the experience even further, sing along.
  • Notice the shift that takes place in your energy, in your thoughts, in the way you feel about yourself, and in the way you interact with others.


About the Author: In addition to creating original music and films, Frank Fitzpatrick speaks around the world, and consults leaders and organizations, on the Technologies of Emotion; the Power of Music, creating social impact; and leveraging media and technology for good. More at FrankFitzpatrick.com and EarthTones.org.

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