What Should I Write My Song About?
Songwriter’s Guide To Finding Song Inspiration
It’s every songwriter’s secret fear… not knowing what to write about!
It might not be a regular problem but almost every songwriter has dealt with this problem at some point… it’s a variation of:
- What should I write my song about?
- I need song title ideas…
- I don’t know what to write about!
Reasons You Aren’t Starting Your Song:
- You don’t have a system to create song ideas (keep reading… Steps For Songwriting Inspiration, below!)
- You expect instant results… that you will get awesome ideas on demand.
- You have “songwriter’s block” (you don’t, it’s an excuse: Songwriter’s Block is a Myth)
- Expecting that songwriting is fast and easy (it can be, but it can also be hard and slow).
- Fear of of wasting your time writing a bad song
- Fear that you have nothing good to say and nothing new to contribute
- It’s easier to avoid writing by doing “busy work” because writing takes effort and cruising FaceBook is easy.
Fears and unrealistic expectations… the classic blocks we all create for ourselves!
This is a guide to learning how to find songwriting inspiration, it’s not a complete list of every possible solution. Leave a comment at the end of the article if you have suggestions to add to the conversation.
Steps For Songwriting Inspiration
Look, listen and feel for song ideas
Finish the sing and start the next
1. Be Open To Inspiration
Inspiration is all around you, the trick is recognizing it… being open enough to notice it.
I notice ideas with friction between them, two ideas that don’t quite fit together… you can find the song between these ideas. I feel emotions and write about them. I listen for stories that give me ideas that help me create my own stories to tell through song.
My favourite source for song inspiration are short phrases clichés, usually 2-6 words that I can twist to give them fresh meaning.
Example: Factory Fresh, a social commentary song about our relationship with food and the contrast between fresh food and “food” that is manufactured in factories.
2. Look, Listen and Feel For Song Ideas
You can find song ideas in:
- Real life – talking to people, conversations
- The media – headlines, news stories, FaceBook and other social media
- Images – write from visuals, option search your title keywords in Google Images
- Emotions – use emotional situations, either from memories or your imagination
- Situations – real or imaginary, from the past, present or future
- Other art forms – stories, novels, paintings, sculpture, etc.
- Other Songs – use other songs as reference tracks or create your own spin on the theme/subject matter
Emoji Girl, a social commentary song about human relationships in the age of smartphones. After seeing a middle aged couple sitting in a restaurant staring at their phones instead of talking to each other.
Exotic Bean, my wife and I were on vacation and couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee. I hadn’t realized the extent of my coffee addiction until I felt hungover for three days. I wrote about it, instead of quitting coffee.
I Just Want to Teach, a political song about the 2016 labour dispute between the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union and the Liberal Government. Long story short, my secret identity is a public school music teacher. I wrote a song instead of writing letters during a drawn out labour conflict.
Places To Go To Find Inspiration
When it’s not happenings in your music cave, change your location… change your input.
GIGO = garbage in… garbage out,
FIFO=fresh input… fresh output.
You can look for song ideas:
- Out and about – in your daily life
- Talking with other – in conversations
- At social gatherings – at parties or groups of friends, conversations, what others talk about
- In a quiet place where you can listen for it – it doesn’t have to be your music cave
- Co-writing – always bring ideas to a co-write, but talk about things and come up with ideas together
- Doing something else to free up your conscious thinking – go for a walk or a drive, in the shower
- Exercising – go for a walk or run, treadmill, gym. Physical exertion and a change of location can open you up to inspiration
- In the Media – social media, television, movies, podcasts
- Books – fiction or nonfiction of any topic
- My favourite is live concerts… I get home from a show filled with energy and ideas to write about. I get pumped up from the energy at a concert!
3. Record You Ideas
You need to remember you ideas and retrieve them when needed.
I write in pen on loose leaf paper that I keep in folders. I work better when I can lay them out and see several pages at once. I’ve tried binders and notebooks, too. If I’m away from home, I’ll make a quick text or audio note on my phone and transfer it to paper later. Computer files don’t really work for me, they get lost on my hard drive. I need the tactile feel of ink and paper, it’s harder to relate to text on a computer.
I rarely type lyrics until I am close to the final draft. I use a computer to finalize the song, print a final version of the lyrics and chords for my performance binder and to post on my website, on social media and YouTube.
If you have a system that works for you… keep using it.
It’s time to upgrade your system when you have trouble capturing your ideas, or developing them or finding them again when you want them later. Start with pen and paper at home and make quick notes on a convenient app on your phone. Make the effort and create the time to refer to your song ideas regularly and whenever you are about to start a new song.
4. Develop Your Ideas
Instead of trying to write the song linearly from the first to last line, start by:
- Taking a step back and figure out the story you want to tell.
- Create an emotional journey.
- Decide what you want to say in each song section.
- Then brainstorm more ideas than you need.
- Then edit, keep the best and put them in the best order.
- Brainstorm more ideas and edit again until done.
Learn about Brainstorming, my go-to exercise for every song.
For a discussion of the skills you need to develop: How To Start Writing Songs.
Create Your Songwriting Practice Routine, to build your songwriting and use your time productively.
5. Finish the Song
Actually complete it… finished lyrics and a rough demo. Then decide if it’s strong enough to create a professional quality recording.
It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t sound as good as you first imagined. Test, edit again repeat until it’s as good as you can make it (without taking forever). A finished song is worth more than any number of almost done songs.
Finish it… so you can start the next song.
It’s okay to have several songs on the go as long as you finish most of them… Learn How To Finish Your Songs.
This isn’t a complete list, but a guide to getting you started on your songs.
Leave a comment to help other songwriters:
Where and how do you find inspiration for your songs?