Lyricst Product Review by Tom Boyles, (The Paris Directory )

When Virtual Studio Systems introduced their Lyricist software back in 1999, some nay-sayers questioned how necessary it was to use a computer to do something they’d always used a pencil and paper for. After all, if you come up with a song idea while relaxing at the local pub, your cocktail napkin is a lot handier than your PC at the moment of inspiration. But a cocktail napkin is not exactly what you’d call a secure storage medium, and sooner or later you’ve got to put your precious lyrics somewhere a bit safer. Plus you’re probably using a rhyming dictionary, and maybe a thesaurus ultimately, there’s more to songwriting than jotting down a few lines on a beer-stained napkin. Every trade has its tools. And Lyricist quickly demonstrated itself, even to the hardcore non-believers, to be an efficient and well-designed technological means to a creative end. Now that VSS has released Lyricist v3, a piece of software that once might have been described simply as "handy" is now an easy-to-use essential powerful songwriter's tool. If you’re a songwriter, you want Lyricist.

All of the features that made Lyricist v1 and v2 a success are back in version three, of course. The built-in rhyming dictionary and thesaurus are essential for any songwriter. And while I'm on that subject, the Lyricist rhyming includes over 11k of the most common songwriting words and slang in the English language. It's current methodology is quite unique in that it doesn't bog you down with hundreds of thousands of rhymes, instead, it synergizes with the rhyming dictionary already in your head. Although, Lyricist does pack a few extended rhymes in its dictionary, the majority of it's word associations are perfect rhymes. This is not a weekness in the rhymer becuase it was designed to work with your creative process by jogging the best words from your mind for your songs. In fact it is fun and easy to process extended or near rhymes in your head using Lyricist: For example, if I wanted to rhyme the word "time," I would go to Lyricist and gets lots of perfect rhymes: Lime; slime, climb, dime, etc., but, if I didn't find what I was looking for, I could process one near rhyme for "time" in my head, for instance, the word "pie." Then, I could search the Lyricist rhymer for the word "pie" and get cry, defy, die, drive-by, and 50 + other near rhymes. Lyricist synergizes with the rhyming dictionary in your head, and since your head is connected to your heart, it's cool because that is where great songs are written.

The Style buttons let you set the text formatting for your Title, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, and Copyright text. This feature is similar to paragraph styles in Microsoft Word; if you like your titles to be presented in 14pt Arial bold, set the Title Style to that formatting and then apply it to your text with a single click. Lyricist v2 expands upon the previous version’s functionality by giving you two extra Styles to be used however you see fit. Very nice, but these are all features you might expect to find in any number of generic word processors. Lyricist’s strength as a songwriting tool goes well beyond these typical Rich Text features.

One of Lyricist’s strengths is the way in which it stores your songs. Most programs will create a separate file for each document you create; over time, this can lead to obvious problems with organization and backup. Lyricist solves these problems by storing all of your songs in a centralized database, and organizing them into "Albums." Backup involves saving a copy of just one file rather than separate files for each song. And of course there’s no difficulty in trying to remember where you saved your songs. Centralizing your data this way prevents any number of potential headaches. And if you find yourself in need of a separate copy of a song, Lyricist provides an export feature which creates an RTF file of any song in your collection. If you’re like most songwriters, you probably record a quick demo of your songs while they are in work. Maybe you have a few demo MP3 files on your hard drive right now. Lyricist lets you link up to five media files to each song, and launch them from the program’s menu bar or toolbar. This saves you the trouble of having to launch your player and browse for the media file a definite time-saver.


Maybe you’re in a band or other collaborative project, and you want to share your work with your friends. No problem, just use Lyricist’s mail feature. Lyricist will export your song to RTF format, and compress the file into a ZIP file (if you’ve linked a media file to your song, Lyricist lets you include that in the ZIP as well). Lyricist then attaches the ZIP to an outgoing email. That’s it! One mouse-click is all it takes.

That all sounds great, and it is but all of those features were available in version one of the software. Lyricist v2 became a more powerful tool with the introduction of Chord Charting to its arsonal. and not only is it finally here, it’s here in grand style.

Lyricist’s Chord Charting feature represents a major step forward in the way songwriters will use their computers in the realization of their craft. Sure, there have been programs that let you insert chord symbols into your lyrics, but nothing on this scale. If you’re used to apps that place their chord symbols off to one side, or have a limited selection of basic chords with few if any variations in voicing, then Lyricist’s Chord Charting feature will blow you away. The software comes with no fewer than 4,080 chord symbols. That’s 650 different chords, with up to six voicings per chord. The first three voicings have been created for you; the other three are offered as blank templates you can use to create any additional voicings you may need. Lyricist also provides you with the editing tools you need to create any chord your fingers can play.

With Lyricist v2, the folks at VSS added a new addition to the Chord Charting feature: the Chord Wizard. Most songwriters, at one time or another, have stumbled across an unfamiliar chord while experimenting. When that happens, simply plug the notes into the Chord Wizard, and it will identify the chord for you. As an added bonus, the Chord Wizard also provides a list of similar chords that can be created by changing a note or two. This comes in very handy when the chord you're using is close but not quite right. The Chord Wizard ties directly into the Chord Charting feature so that, once you've found the chord you're looking for, you can insert it into your song with ease.

Lyricist v1 offered a single window for viewing your lyrics. The addition of the Chord Charting feature in V2 necessitated the creation of three different "Views" for working on your songs: Lyric View, Chord View, and Arrange View. The latest V3 introduced Support for the Nashville Number System and forced the need for a fourth view. All views are now easily accessable via a user friendly tabbed dialog located on the main Lyricist screen. The Lyric tab is where you do the bulk of your lyric-writing. Once that’s done you can move on to Chordchart tab, which as the name suggests, is where you insert your chord symbols. Just place your mouse cursor anywhere you want to insert a chord, and click a button. Up pops a chord selection dialog box, where you can select the root, flavor, and voicing of the chord you want, with the resulting chord symbol displayed there for your convenience. Enharmonic equivalents (C-sharp and D-flat, for example) are given their own sets of chord symbols, so there’s no need to compromise. Click "Insert Chord" and you’re done. A crisp, well-rendered image of your chord appears at the insertion point. The same functionality applies to Arrange View, which is intended for laying out the chord progressions for each section of your song, without the lyrics in the way. This is extra-useful for recording sessions and band rehearsals. I like to go from the Lyrics tab to the Arrangement tab, and then to Chord Charting. However, you work is the right way of doing things in Lyricist. How about the Nashville tab? Use the V3 Nashville tab to keep a copy of your arrangement or chord chart in Nashville format. This is easy to do. Just select (highlight) copy your arrangement from the Arrangement tab, change to the Nashville tab, paste it into the document and run the new and exciting v3 Transposition feature. Select the key that you are in and Transpose to Nashville setting. Click the Transpose button, and Viola! Your arrangement is now in Nashville format. Cool! Yup, you can also use the Transpose feature to transpose your arrangement or chord chart from any key to any key. You can even transpose from guitar chord symbols to piano style symbols. Man, this is one awsome feature.

Sorry to get side tracked, but, getting back to Chord selection, in the rare event that the voicing you want is not provided by the chord selection dialog, just select a blank voicing template and click "Edit Chord." The blank chord symbol opens automatically in your default graphics program (for most Windows users, that’s Microsoft Paint). The chord selection dialog provides you with tools that let you add fingering dots, fret numbers, open-string "O"s and mute-string "X"s. Anyone with the most rudimentary graphics skills should be able to handle it easily, and Lyricist’s Help system is there to walk you through it if necessary. If you can hit Paste and drag a dot to where you want it, you won’t have any difficulty at all creating your own chord voicings. And once you’ve created a chord symbol, it will continue to be available to you in the future, so you don’t have to rebuild it every time you need it. Again, Lyricist provides an enormous collection of chord symbols, so you’ll rarely need to worry about it anyway.

If you’re at all serious about songwriting, you’re already using a number of tools to help you get the job done. If Lyricist is not among your arsenal, you’re truly missing out. You’d be hard-pressed to find another program that incorporates so many essential features for the songwriter. Lyricist v3 is the most powerful easy-to-use songwriter's scratch-pad in its class. This reviewer has never subscribed to the tongue-in-cheek, yet still widely promoted, aphorism that says "computers make everything better." But even if you’re content with the old pencil-and-paper way of doing things, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Lyricist does make the job a heck of a lot easier, prettier, and more enjoyable. And for a drop-in-the-bucket special introductory retail price of $59.95 USD. It’s a tough deal to pass up. No question, Lyricist v3 is quite an impressive piece of work.