Songs can be about anything, so why not look in unconventional places to find the creative spark your next song needs.
Sometimes, even the most prolific songwriters can come up dry when searching for new song ideas. But if you know where to look, inspiration can come from a huge variety of sources. Here are just a few strategies that can help spark the creation of your next song.
You can sing about anything
Memorable and widely popular songs can be written about nearly anything. “What Does The Fox Say” and “Baby Shark” turned quirky animal-themed lyrics into billions of listens. The Grammy-nominated hit “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America is a song mostly about eating peaches. The lyrics for Daft Punk’s ubiquitous “Around The World” are nothing more than the phrase “around the world” repeated over and over. And the list goes on and on.
In your own songwriting, remember that there are absolutely no rules dictating what songs can or cannot not say. Nothing is off limits, no ideas are unworthy. Find any theme or topic that grabs your interest — no matter how weird or random or un-song-like it may seem — and see what happens when you run with it.
Songwriting inspiration can come from a person, place, or thing
Look at nearly any genre of music and you’ll find countless songs inspired by someone the songwriter knew, somewhere the songwriter spent time or dreamed of, or an object that was particularly meaningful.
What about a certain pair of shoes makes them your favorite? What do you remember most poignantly about your lost grandparent, lover, friend, teacher, or adversary? What’s one place that you visited that had a great impact on your life, even though you were there for only an hour? Any such kernel of inspiration can grow into a song that means something important to you, and resonates with your listeners.
Channel intense emotions
I once overheard a theater actor musing about how songs in Broadway-style musicals were supposed to represent moments so emotionally intense that the character just had to burst into song. I don’t know if he conceived that idea himself or was quoting someone else — but either way, the idea stuck with me. And even if Broadway is about as far from your musical preferences as you can get, the idea still has merit.
As you work on your songwriting, think of moments when you’ve experienced emotions so intense that you don’t feel like your body can hold them — and see if you can channel those memories and feelings into the seed of a song. Explosive moments in life can be powerful inspiration for equally explosive songs.
Get songwriting inspiration from history
I recently rediscovered “Cold Missouri Waters” by Cry Cry Cry. It’s a haunting musical story about a man who survives a terrible conflagration while his firefighter compatriots perish. Based on true events, the song is sad, touching, and beautiful. Countless other memorable songs have been written based on past true events, joyful and tragic, big and small — so don’t hesitate to search history books to find inspiration.
As you look for ideas to flesh out into songs, don’t feel that you need to stick to major wars or well-known movements. Sometimes the most obscure nuggets of historical fact — particularly ones that resonate with you on a moral or emotional level — can fuel the creation of the most interesting songs.
Listen to kids
Kids have unique ways of constructing thoughts and language. They can often say things that are remarkably silly, amazingly profound, or both at the same time. And even the musicality of their laughs, screams, and other word-free noises can be intriguing and evocative.
As you go about your life, keep an ear out for words and phrases uttered by young people and see if anything sticks with you. Maybe the way a young child talks about ducks or wind or cookies will resonate and make you think of new lyrical ideas; perhaps the cadence of a child’s cry will move you towards fresh hand percussion rhythms on which to base your next beat.
Play what can’t be spoken
Often, words alone can only go so far. As Victor Hugo wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” And in the words of Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
Use your songwriting as an opportunity to communicate things that everyday language cannot adequately contain. Are your thoughts on a certain event, person, or topic too complicated or confusing to squeeze into normal speech or writing? Use melodies, rhythms, and sonic textures to help you paint new dimensions around your subject and see if you can get closer to expressing your truth through your music.
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Where do you turn when you need fresh inspiration for songwriting? Tell us in the comments below.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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