How To Come Up With 100 New Song Ideas

How To Come Up With 100 New Song Ideas

Here’s an important truth about coming up with new song ideas: you should write about what interests and inspires you, not what some dumb internet listicle tells you. So if you were expecting a 100-item list, I’m sorry to deflate your dirigible. Instead, I’m going to show you how to come up with your own (much smarter) list of your own (much more interesting) song ideas. I call it the ‘Give it a twist’ technique. Let’s take a look. So as you might know, songs tell stories. And the hallmark of a good song is that you can summarize its story, or central message, or central idea, in a single sentence. Try it: It’s a song about a single mother who’s forced into sex work to support her kid while she dreams of a better life for him. (Rockabye) It’s a song about a girl who’s lonely at night and wants to dance with somebody to fix that. (I Wanna Dance with Somebody) It’s a song about a guy whose significant other left yesterday, and now he wants to rewind the clock because he was so much happier then. (Yesterday) And how, you might ask, do you turn these old song ideas into new song ideas? The way you turn any old idea into a new idea: give it a twist. Write a song about a recently single mother who’s scared to go into sex work but thinks she’ll have to to support her kid. Write a song about a guy who’s lonely at night and wants to dance with somebody to fix that. Write a song about a...
Why You Should Study The Classics

Why You Should Study The Classics

When I was 17, I ordered a copy of Beethoven’s Complete String Quartets from Amazon. Amazon was pretty new back then, and I remember opening the packaging and pulling out this thick blue book and thinking how cool it was to own a big chunk of history. It was the first time I’d owned any sheet music to study it, and not because I wanted to play it myself. I picked the first movement of one of the quartets, Opus 135, from right at the end of Beethoven’s life, as the subject of my university application essay. So I just started taking it apart, using everything I knew about harmony, melody and structure to try and understand how Beethoven’s mind worked and what made this particular string quartet tick. Every time something came to me, I wrote it on the score until the entire thing was covered in lines, circles and scribbled observations. (I was an intense seventeen-year-old, I know.) I knew probably 10% of what I know about music back then, but it did the trick: it helped me get accepted to study music somewhere really cool. And honestly, I learned a lot of the other 90% I have now by doing this over and over again throughout the past decade. My observations these days are usually more mental than written, and since then I’ve studied everything from Brahms to Bernstein to the Beatles to Clean Bandit. But early on, I realized that that’s a big part of learning to write: studying what already exists and figuring out what it can teach you. As I say in my...
To Begin, Begin

To Begin, Begin

William Wordsworth said it best: “To begin, begin.” And, if I may, I’d like to expand on his pithy philosophy. To begin, begin. To continue, continue. To finish a song, finish a song. To write something new, write something new. To write in a different genre, write in a different genre. To learn something new about songwriting, learn something new about songwriting. To keep going even though it’s hard, keep going even though it’s hard. To keep going even though you worry you’ll never be good enough, keep going even though you worry you’ll never be good enough. To turn off your brain long enough to let go and create a first draft full of imperfections, turn off your brain long enough to let go and create a first draft full of imperfections. To improve your first draft even though rewriting is even more painful than writing in the first place, improve your first draft even though rewriting is even more painful than writing in the first place. To rewrite that bridge for the seventh time on the off-chance this rewrite will be the one that cracks it, rewrite that bridge for the seventh time on the off-chance this rewrite will be the one that cracks it. To write ten songs so you have enough material to choose the four best for your first EP, write ten songs so you have enough material to choose the four best for your first EP. To reach out to that potential co-writer or venue or manager even though they might say no, reach out to that potential co-writer or venue or manager even...
Five Books That Are Nothing and Everything To Do With Songwriting

Five Books That Are Nothing and Everything To Do With Songwriting

One of the big ideas I write about a lot is that songwriting isn’t just about songwriting. Songwriting is about life, because art is about life. You have to be good at being a person before you can be good at being a songwriter. It’s an idea I come back to time and time again in my own book, but here are five of the most important places I picked these ideas up in the first place.   Stephen R. Covey: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Some days it feels like the Internet is 98% self-help advice and 98% of that isn’t great advice. But Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is absolutely the real deal. Whatever you’re trying to do with your life. The seven habits cover private victory – mastering yourself – as well as public victory – mastering interpersonal relationships. It’s hard to do justice to how powerful and life-changing the ideas in this book are. It’s for good reason The Seven Habits has sold over fifteen million copies around the world, and you’re at a serious disadvantage if you don’t own one too.   Brené Brown: Daring Greatly As one of the terrorists in Team America: World Police famously said, “I like balls”. And if you’re a songwriter, you should like balls too. Because nothing worthwhile happens without a healthy dose of chutzpah. In fact, creativity can’t happen without courage. Creativity means uncertainty, and mustering the courage to face that uncertainty is 90% of creative success. But don’t just take my word for it – let Brené Brown explain it much better than I can. If you’re interested in bringing more creativity, vulnerability...
Five Common Things That Hold Songwriters Back

Five Common Things That Hold Songwriters Back

Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Well, it turns out songwriting is the opposite. Every happy songwriter is happy because they’re unique in some way. But the causes behind every stuck, struggling one are usually pretty similar. See, in most cases, what stops would-be songwriters is fear of getting started. Songwriting can be frightening. Songwriting is hard. It’s easier and safer to watch TV. But if you want to get good at songwriting – and since you’re reading this, you probably do – you have to write. And if you want to write – and since you’re reading this, you probably do – you have to get off your ass and start. Even though it’s frightening. Even though it’s hard. Even though Netflix just released the new season of Stranger Things. 90% of success in songwriting is getting started. Because the more you do, the more you realize your fears are unfounded and the easier it gets to overcome them in future. That’s right. Feel scared but do it anyway. Because here’s the thing: in songwriting, like in life, it’s almost always better to do something than nothing. It’s almost always better to do the quote-unquote wrong thing – and learn from it – than do nothing at all. And just in case you’re still round the fire making S’mores at Camp Sit-There-And-Do-Nothing, let’s talk about five common beliefs that might be holding you back – and what you can do about them.   You Think You Don’t Know What You’re Doing OK. I’ve got a newsflash for you. Nobody really knows what...