Developing Ideas for Songs

Ideas and Themes

Finding ideas for songs can be a daunting task; however, it doesn’t have to be. Ideas can come from just about any source and songs can be written about any topic. For example, some songs are written about love and some are developed around hardships that people have endured throughout time. Yet, other songs are created to evoke the emotion of joy, happiness, and pleasure. There are many possibilities as there are splices of life; however, at the very core you will find very similar themes; love, despair, happiness, sadness, etc.

What is important to note is how a songwriter structures and manipulates the words used in their songs to arouse an emotion in a listener.  This manipulation of words can make a song successful or not. It is the way a song is structured to capture the core of a particular idea and how a songwriter can generate emotion to create that next big hit or popular song.

Because of the similar themes, it is even more important for a writer to come up with creative song ideas that can inspire audiences. Those creative ideas can be found in many different ways.  There is no right or wrong way to gather these ideas but rather to use surroundings that inspire. Sometimes it can be difficult to develop the right idea and then follow through with effective techniques, but the results can be extremely rewarding if done correctly. First it’s about getting the idea, then the words and tune, and then using the right instrument to convey the message to the listener. One of the most difficult parts about writing music is not letting your inhibitions stifle your creativity. Simply, it’s just letting those ideas flow.

Many songwriters will sit for hours trying to come up with new ideas for a song when in fact many great songs have come from simple everyday occurrences or are even generated from something that we read.

News headlines

Reviewing the daily headlines of your favorite newspaper is a great way to help get those creative juices flowing. It is mostly about being open from where your next new song material may come. It is often when we least expect it, that a new idea will be developed.

Once an idea has been selected, the best way is to begin building your chorus around that concept.  At first it may seem underdeveloped and not refined; however, writing a great song is not usually completed on the first draft.  Most times it takes many drafts before a song can be considered truly finalized.

Let’s start with a well-known newspaper – The Los Angeles Times. Once you’ve selected a headline that you find is interesting, continue to search that article for even more material. You may be surprised at what you will find. For example, say you locate an article that talks about a mother who has found success through hardship and once was “down and out.” You probably know this article is going to contain material that may be heart wrenching; however, you know that in the end good things prevailed and the mother turned this into a positive.  The story alone could spark new ideas for a lyric or even just the title of the article could be used for developing a chorus.

Now take the words “down and out” and use them to your advantage. Many listeners can relate to this because most people have experienced good times and bad times throughout their lives and they can relate to this.  Use the power of the words.  If the words “down and out” are placed into a chorus, this phrase alone could touch almost every person in some way or another.  If these words are strategically placed in a chorus they could be extremely effective.

Let’s look at this example where the phrase “down and out” is being used.

I feel like I’m falling down to the sea

And this pain has got the best of me

No love, no light, only filled with doubt

I’ve hit my low – I know I’m down and out

In this chorus we are working to convey a downhearted message. In the first three lines, imagery was used to enhance this message.  The lines such as “I feel like I’m falling down to the sea”  and also the use of keywords such as “pain” and “doubt” were included to ensure the listener stayed in this mode.  In addition, smaller phrases such as “no love” and “no light” were also included.  Using the words “down and out” at the very end of the chorus drove home the main idea to make sure we had captured the listener’s attention.  As you can see, a song idea and a chorus can basically be derived from a straightforward headline story found in a newspaper.

Television Commercials and Marketing Slogans

Television commercials are also a great resource for songwriting. Commercials are short yet so much information is densely packed into a 60 second segment to capture the attention of a viewer.  Using this strategy is important to a songwriter.  It is about structuring and packing powerful words into tiny phrases and segments to get the most effect. Most of us can recall the saying, “I love what you do for me—Toyota!” Though this saying was used for a car commercial, the marketing team knew it was a phrase that could be applied to human relationships and thus the new slogan was born. It connected to all people.

Let’s analyze the phrase “I love what you do for me” from a human relationship standpoint.

Girl, I love everything about you

I love, love, love what you do for me

You always have a clear perception and view

I love, love, love, what you do for me

In this example, the lyric is centered on the concept of love. To convey the message we used the phrase “I love everything about you” and used the keyword “love” three times as a rhythmic motif. We then used the commercial saying, “I love what you do for me” and repeated it two times to drive home the main idea in the chorus.  It was as simple as that. Note that this phase was derived from simply using everyday words that bombard our daily lives.  Ideas for songs can come from just about anywhere. It is just about being open and aware of the material around you.

Magazines

Magazines can also be a great tool to gather ideas for a song. Magazines are filled with imagery and ideas that are often fresh and innovative.  This use of imagery and ideas can be used to the songwriter’s advantage.  As a songwriter looking for new ideas, sometimes it can be beneficial to start with a blank canvas so that opportunities for ideas are not missed.  Sometimes just strolling through your local grocery store and seeing a magazine headline at the checkout counter can generate a new idea.

Another great way to locate information is to visit your local library and thumb through magazines for ideas. A method that could be used is to set a timeframe as you flip through the pages for material.  Once you have set a timeframe that may work for you, begin the process.  Skim the pages looking at headlines and then focus on the actual associated text.  It’s the same process as reviewing newspaper headlines.  Don’t focus on lyrics at this time but rather on the task of just gathering new ideas for a song.

Once the new ideas have been written down, the songwriter can then sift through them to see which ones can be developed further.  It is these types of techniques that will generate strong songwriters.  It is about using the material that is around you and enhancing your imagery skills to strengthen your songwriting abilities. Writing songs is like any other profession.  The more you work at it the better you become.

Let’s take a magazine perfume ad and see how it can be used for songwriting.  Again, these ads are full of imagery so let those descriptions work for you.  Suppose a perfume ad uses a field of flowers to get their reader in the mood to sell their product. The songwriter could use this simple imagery of a “field of flowers” to capture an idea for a song.  A songwriter can use this imagery to convey freedom, freshness, openness, or a joyous emotion into their song and then begin developing the lyrics and chorus.

Below is an example of using the perfume ad with the imagery of flowers.

It’s an open field of flowers

I can taste the air

Everything around me has become so clear

It’s the open sky that calls to me

I am free

I am free

There is an infinite amount of information coming at us on a daily basis and finding ways to capture that data in useful ways for songwriting is essential.  That’s how great songs are sometimes written. It is just about being open to our surroundings and the tools that are available. We are constantly being bombarded by material on a daily basis so don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage.

Having a digital recorder or a small notepad to jot down these ideas is important.  Many times ideas will come to us at the most inopportune time and if they are not captured in some way, they may be easily lost. It’s important to have a library of ideas to review at your leisure.  A songwriter can then begin the process of developing the ideas further.

The best songwriters are those who continually practice their craft and look for fresh ideas. Creativity will come when you least expect it; however, it’s also important to use the tools and materials around you to help develop and enhance your skills as a songwriter.

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