by Karen Randle
How is it that professional songwriters can keep pumping out hit after hit, yet you’re stuck banging your head against the wall just trying to come up with something to write about. You’ve got the musical skills; you just need ideas. Here are the top seven ways songwriters come up with their greatest ideas.
1. Keep a Journal
Journaling is a great way to get in the habit of writing. Every night before bed, take a minute to write down everything that happened to you that day. Not only will it help you get better at writing (practice makes perfect!), but it’ll also help you come up with song topics.
Whenever you’re feeling that all-too-familiar writer’s block, look back through your journal for some inspiration. Something that seemed mundane in the moment might have more substance when you reflect on it.
2. Intense Brainstorm Session
Brainstorming sessions can come at any point during the day. Long car rides, doctor’s office waiting rooms, and even bathroom breaks can be great times to brainstorm songwriting ideas. Put down your cell phone—Instagram will still be there when you get back—and pull out a notepad. Write down all your ideas, regardless of how small or insignificant they might seem. You never know what might end up in a song.
If you play with a band, get your fellow bandmates to help brainstorm ideas. Sit around and spitball topics. Again, they don’t have to be good. Don’t let your perfectionism get in the way of great songwriting. At this stage, you’re going for quantity, not quality. Once you’ve got a few pages filled with ideas, go back and pick out your favorites. Statistically speaking, at least a few of them should be good!
3. Studying Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the study of persuasion. It teaches you how to reach people and how to effectively share your message—two things that are very important in songwriting.
Studying a new topic like rhetoric will help you think about things differently. Not only will it give you ideas, but you’ll also learn new ways to phrase your lyrics to make more of an impact on your audience. Win, win!
It can also help to look to some of history’s greatest speakers for inspiration. Incredible people have changed the world with nothing more than their words. Listen to them speak and pick out the aspects that are most impactful to you. Then, use those same tactics in your songs. If it worked for them, it could work for you too.
4. Use Dramatic Situations
People love drama! They’ll flock to movies, plays, and country music concerts just to get a taste of that juicy drama. So, why not use it in your music?
Think about some of the most dramatic moments your life and turn them into songs. The best part about using real-life stories is that people can relate with them. You’re not the only one who’s ever gone through a bad break up—just ask Taylor Swift or Adele.
If your life hasn’t been that dramatic, borrow ideas from others. Movies, news, and even friends or family members are great sources of drama. Take their stories and turn them into incredible songs. If someone else’s story resonates with you, there’s a good chance it’ll have the same impact on your audience.
5. Read Poetry
One of the most frustrating aspects of songwriting is forming the words into phrases with proper rhythm and rhyme schemes. After hours scouring through dictionaries and thesauruses looking for that perfect word, you still might come up short. Well, you know who’s already done most of the hard work? Poets! And what are songs if not musical poetry?
Reading poetry can help give you new ideas for your songs (poets like drama) and can help you with vocabulary, phrasing, and rhyming. Look to the greats like Shakespeare, Whitman, and Dickenson for song topic and phrasing ideas.
6. Listen in on Conversations
Let’s assume for a second that you’re completely out of song ideas. Well, other people might have some ideas. You just need to listen.
It might sound creepy, but listening to other conversations could give you the spark of inspiration you need to write the next big hit! Mark Knopfler, from the band Dire Straits, wrote one of his biggest hits, “Money for Nothing,” after overhearing two delivery men complain about their jobs while watching MTV music videos in the 80's.
The conversations you overhear don’t even necessarily need to be interesting for you to pull out some juicy new songwriting ideas. Just keep your ears open and you’re bound to find something.
7. Write Down Your Dreams
Dreams are a direct link to your own subconscious for fresh, new material. Whenever you wake up from a strange or interesting dream, write it down! Keep a notebook near your bed and write down what you just experienced before you forget. Be as descriptive as possible. Do you think everything Pink Floyd wrote was inspired entirely by reality?
In the end, the best way to generate song topic ideas is to make note of everything you experience. From daily happenings and conversations to stories and dreams, inspiration is all around you. You just need to notice it.
For information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net