Getting ideas for your various songwriting projects can be one of the biggest challenges to a songwriter. I’m sure you can join me in remembering times when you felt like writing a song, or even felt musically inspired to write, and just seemed to sit and stare at an empty page, never quite coming up with that quality idea. Well, I have a great solution so that you will never or, at least rarely, have to endure that experience.
I propose that you keep with you at all times, a “line and title” notebook. Of course I realize it’s 2012, and you’re more likely to carry a Smart Phone, iPad or other tablet, laptop, or even a portable, digital voice recorder. However, there is nothing that triggers creative juices like holding the pen in your hand and writing it out the “old fashioned” way. Ask Sting. So I still recommend a small notebook; Nothing too big, but just a small, manageable journal book that you can write in.
Songs are social phenomena. They portray our life experiences and deepest feelings. Well, you’ve got a silent co-writer all around you! Life! All you have to do is open your eyes and ears and you will constantly be hearing and seeing things that would make great song titles, song themes or topics, or at least meaningful lines in a song.
We are inundated with so much data that goes through our senses and our minds every day, that it’s almost impossible to remember all the good ideas long after the moment you hear or see them. I can’t count how many times I heard a great line in a conversation with a friend, or got a potential title from a post I read on Facebook, or even picked up some subject matter overhearing a discussion at the next table in a restaurant, only to let it slip away under the barrage of daily living and the deluge of thoughts requiring my mind’s consideration. My solution to remedy this challenge is to carry a small notebook, and immediately jot down what you heard or saw.
What I’ve found works the best for me is to segment my “line and title” notebook into three sections. When I get a phrase or statement in print or that someone says, and it grabs a hold of me and gets my full attention, as is, I put it in my titles list. When someone delivers a line in a conversation that I’m part of or just overhearing while standing in line, or having dinner, and I can imagine that line as a phrase in a song, I put it in my lines section. And when the thing I see or hear is more general but really interesting, and is a broader concept, I will put that in my themes and topics section, remembering that it’s a real winner if it’s an idea that hasn’t been written about too much.
I will ask you to observe one strict rule in this practice, however, and that is if what you see or hear comes from another songwriters song, don’t use it, at least not in its original form. In this special circumstance, it is OK to be inspired by another songwriter’s work, but don’t steal it. If it truly inspires you, let it flow through your mind, heart, and body, and go through the filters of your personal expression, and come out the other end as a usable, original line or title. As a matter of fact, it can become a powerful tool to practice taking lyrics by songwriters you admire, and doing a complete re-write of the lyrics. The directive is to attempt to restate what they have said in a totally different way while constantly remembering to keep the phrasing in appropriate lyric style, that is, whatever is the style of lyrics you generally write. This is something that you can constantly expand as you are influenced by more and more styles.
Keep your eyes and ears engaged and there’s no telling what you’ll come up with, especially if you make use of a “line and title” notebook. And if you want to take your songwriting to the highest level, definitely consider studying with My Songwriting Coach.