There are countless different topics that you can write a song about. Of course there are certain themes that underpin the majority of music; love, anger, joy, sadness, nostalgia, death etc., but the specific story or situation that is being written about can vary almost infinitely (if you want a neat example of this, think “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles).
In spite of this, and the vast variety and richness of lived experience, we can sometimes struggle to find inspiration for writing. I would like to share a few techniques that might help to give your creative brain a bit of a shake and find inspiration for your next song.
Travelling – Go out for a walk. One or two hours should do the trick, whether it’s in the countryside, on a beach, in the woods, or in a town you’ve never visited before. Alternatively, take a long train journey. Don’t take your headphones – just soak in your surroundings and let your mind and imagination do the rest. Travelling does wonders to our brains, and personally I have found a literal ‘change of scenery’ to be responsible, at least as a catalyst, for the vast majority of songs I have written.
Books & Films – What was the last film you watched that your really enjoyed? Or the last book that made you really feel something? Think about the characters and the stories that touched you… could these, or the feelings evoked by them, be turned into a song? I don’t necessarily mean you should explicitly write about the film or the book – although it’s been done to good effect (Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights, Scott Walker – The Seventh Seal); you could also try distilling the key elements and transposing them into different situations. For example, if you watched a superhero film, you might be able to lift out an element of the storyline and place it in an office environment. Have fun and be playful.
Your Life – What’s going on in your life at the moment? Write down a list of the five things that have bothered you or emotionally moved you in the past few weeks. Can you write about these? You could even write in the third person, if a different perspective would help; try writing a letter to yourself, from the perspective of a friend, about one of these issues. See if you can lift any quotes from the letter into lines in a song. A quick word of warning though; many cringeworthy attempts have been made at writing songs about not being able to write songs. Think twice before attempting this.
Idea Matrix – Take a blank piece of paper and draw a square with a cross in it so you have four boxes. Label them ‘People’, ‘Places’, ‘Events’ and ‘Objects/Things’. Come up with five things at random to put in each box. Now, try combining these different aspects in various combinations and see if a situation or a scene comes to mind that you could write about. This can be a surprisingly effective way of reaching into your subconscious for inspiration.
Fig 1 – This may or may not be the Idea Matrix used when writing a certain famous nautically themed Beatles song.
Random Title Generators – There are quite a few ‘random generators’ available on the internet that can help to trigger inspiration. My personal favourite is this one: http://muse.fawm.org/titular. In fact I have written two songs based on titles generated by this little website. They can be strangely poetic.
Inspiration and the development of ideas for lyrics is a big part of songwriting and shouldn’t be overlooked. Whilst sometimes the ideas just seem to flow freely, even the best songwriters can be stumped by a lack of inspiration from time to time. Trying a different approach is always worthwhile; even if it doesn’t work, you might find yourself refreshed when you go back to your ‘normal’ way of doing things..
If you have any experiences with any of the above ideas, or any techniques that have worked for you, why not get in touch to let me know or pop a comment below this article?