Saturday, June 29, 2019

5 Ideas for Generating Song Ideas

Stuck in a rut, but know you need to write something soon? Every songwriter gets there eventually. Perhaps you are coming off of a massive living room tour, or are so discouraged that no one is buying your songs, or feel like you have nothing left to say to the world. These things happen to the best writers out there. Even Dylan had a sparse spot from time to time. So, don't give up! Here are five tried and true ideas for getting your songwriting brain juices flowing.

1. Rewrite Your Favorite Songs - This might not lead you to a song that you can record and sell, as depending on how much you change it around it might still be recognizable as your favorite song. However, rewriting songs that you love by giving them new lyrics, or changing the melody, or changing the chords, or whatever can be a springboard into writing something original that will help you grow. I think of this exercise as akin to an art student learning to draw a still life. The still life will probably not be that artist's "Last Supper," but it is a starting point that might lead to something more meaningful to come.

2. Write about a Past Tragedy - This could be a personal tragedy, or something you read about. It doesn't really matter. If it is a personal tragedy, it might be a big cork in your life that's plugging up your creative flow. Maybe by hitting it head on it'll unlock a great deal of your emotional power. If it is a past tragedy that you read about, then something about what you read, or heard, tugs at some part of your humanity that connects you to other people. So if you are moved by the event, then other people will be moved by it as well.

3. Write about a Past Struggle You Overcame - Everyone likes the underdog story. What did you have to experience that you rose above? Maybe even couch the story of your life event in poetic language. What if the event took place in medieval times? What if it takes place in that weird quasi timeless netherworld that Dylan's songs evoke? What if it takes place in Tom Waits' dive bar at the end of the universe? Anyway, working on a past struggle and then placing it into a different context is always a cool way to approach writing a song.

4. Write about your Dream - What is it you dream about? What do you want to achieve? Maybe other people can relate too, and want to be inspired. If you write an anthem song that millions of people will relate to, then maybe you will have a song that will be played over and over at every ball game or political rally from now until the end of time! Or you could take this point another way, what weird dreams have you had that would  make a cool song? Either way, this point can get you working on a song in no time at all!

5. Tell A Story - Maybe personal delving is what got you into this mess in the first place. Maybe you've written all of your personal details out there for the world to see and you don't have anything else left to give. Well, then make it up. Tell a story in your song that entertains you. "Lawyers, Guns and Money," "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" or "Werewolves of London,"  all by Warren Zevon were songs like this, and they were very entertaining. Maybe you have some crazy story rolling around in your head that we need to hear. 

Hopefully these five points will give you something to spring off of until the next time. Until then, get writing! If you found these tips helpful, you can find out more about songwriting tips and tricks in my new book: "Lyrics and Music: Music Theory for Aspiring Songwriters" available now at, or with several additional Appendices at Barnes and Noble.

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