Find song ideas

Here, There And Everywhere

How to find song ideas

Now that you have defined your creative intent you need to find ways to fulfil it. As we have seen there’s rarely anything unique or surprising about the emotions we are trying to elicit. You need to find a song idea that helps you get your message across in a new way. Fortunately you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike, there are lots of ways to hunt song ideas.

Abstract concepts like love and freedom are really hard to write about directly. It’s often better to focus on tangible experiences. The things many people do in day to day life are ideal. The best songs about big ideas often come from describing simple everyday things.

For your song to work you need to find:

A theme, the thing you are going to write about. This could be a simple everyday activity such as riding the bus or a personal topic like trust.

A clear main message, typically this is something that can be expressed in less than ten words. It’s often the message used in our chorus.

A simple story. Read the lyrics to some of your favourite songs. You will likely notice that the stories within them depict simple situations.

Sensory descriptions to use in our lyrics. Songs describe sensory perceptions to transport the listener into the story or situation.

The following techniques will help you find your message, story and sensory words. Pick a theme based on the answers you have given so far and do the following.

Find ideas with free writing

This is a great technique to unpack things that may be in your head. There is much below the surface of the mind and free writing can unlock some of our best ideas. 

Find something to write with. Many people find paper and pen best for this exercise as it doesn’t impeded the flow of ideas. But you can use a phone or word processor if you prefer.

  1. Write the subject or spark phrase at the top of the page.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Write down anything that comes into your mind in relation to the topic
  4. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
  5. Don’t edit yourself, put every thought down no matter how silly or disgraceful
  6. Resist the temptation to write lyrics. If rhymes or Lyric like lines emerge that’s fine but don’t try to create verses
  7. Don’t stop writing, write “I can’t think of anymore” or similar phrases if you can’t think of anything else but keep the words flowing
  8. Write for the full 25 minutes nonstop

Review the thoughts you have written down. A main message and story may have emerged, if so write them into the song planning canvas. If they haven’t try the next activity. 

Sensory writing

This is one of the most powerful methods in the songwriters use. It generates language that prompts feelings in the audience. It can transport them to a different place and time. Sensory language allows us show the audience what we feel rather than tell.

It’s also a great way to find out if an idea is worth writing about. If you’re drawing a blank when sensory writing you might want to try another topic.

  1. Select a concrete object or a location to write about, this can be anything you have direct experience of. E.g. an apple, Kings Cross Station London
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Consider the following seven senses sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, body and movement. Body sense refers to your perception of internal bodily processes e.g. heartbeat, sweat, pulse, tension, breathing, twitching muscle etc. Movement refers to your perception of movement such as a train rocking side to side or dizziness
  4. Write down all of the sensory perceptions about the place or object. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, don’t worry about complete sentences  
  5. Don’t edit yourself, put every thought down no matter how silly
  6. Resist the temptation to write lyrics. If rhymes or Lyric like lines emerge that’s fine but don’t try to create verses
  7. Write for the full 25 minutes nonstop

Review the thoughts you have written down. If you have found a main message or story write them into the song planning canvas.

If you have sensory words or phrases you like write them into the “connection points” box on the song idea canvas.

If this hasn’t produced a main message and story try using one of the these nine ways to find your song idea. Once you have them write them into the song planning canvas. 

Nine ways to find a song idea

1. Write a sequel

Find an existing song that targets the same mood or moment and extend its story. You can choose to refute the message of the original or take it further. This is a great fun way to create songs.

2. Babble technique

Words carry meaning but they are also sounds. Sometimes an idea for a song emerges from babbling along to an existing piece of music or a riff you have created. Try it out and write down the result no matter how silly.

3. Practise active listening

Listen to conversations, discreetly. Use this method to find inspiration in things people actually say. Try to collect statements connected to the mood or moment you are writing about.

4. Turn any experience into a song

Any experience no matter how mundane can become material to work with. Nine to five by Dolly Parton, working at the carwash anything can spark ideas. Pick experiences from your daily life and find a way to connect them to your topic.

5. Force connections

Smashing together unrelated ideas and topics can yield remarkable results. Use this method to create colourful metaphors. A simple way to do this is to generate a random list of verbs and a random list of nouns. Pair them up and try to make sense of what they may mean.

6. Find ideas in other media

Book titles, newspaper articles, movie scenes and even race horse names can all provide the spark you need to find great ideas. Seek out interesting phrases and try to find connections to your theme.

7. Use locations to spark ideas

Take a note book with you as you go about your daily life. Use sensory and free writing to capture your thoughts and observations of the place. Use a few words to sketch out the people you meet. They may become characters for your stories. 

8. Cut-ups and serendipity

David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Thom Yorke and John Lennon have used this technique for finding great ideas and lyrics. Take words you have written or “found” in magazines and papers. Cut them up into short phrases at random. Put them in a pile or box and draw then out at random. Combine them into sentences and paragraphs. 

9. Find lyric ideas in existing music

If you have already written some music you may be looking for words to complete it. You may find some instrumental music and use it as stimulus. Listen to the music with your eyes closed and imagine it’s the sound track to a movie. What is the movie about? What’s happening in the scene? Try to let the music transport you into the scene. Write down what is happening in the imaginary movie scene.

Now what?

Now you have explored melodic differentiation take a look at making change using rhythm, harmony and lyrics.  

onward to song layout

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