107 Song Prompts for When You’re Really Stuck

107 Song Prompts for When You’re Really Stuck

Songs prompts, oh, song prompts. If I’m honest, I have mixed feelings. I don’t really do writing by numbers. I get nervous around anything for songwriters that sounds like spoon-feeding. And I think the most important thing a songwriter – well, anyone – can learn is to think for themself. That’s why most of the content on the site is about the big, fundamental ideas every songwriter should know about. (Including this article about how to come up with your own song ideas.) But, you know, sometimes songwriters feel stuck in a rut. Sometimes songwriters aren’t sure where to begin. Sometimes songwriters get so stuck they just sit curled up in a corner murmuring ‘HELP ME’ to their pot plants.     And if any of that sounds like you, I have some good news: I made you a big list of songs you can write. Specifically, 107 songs you can write. Do I hate myself for doing it? Of course. A little. But will it help you out if you’re not sure where to go next? If you’re ready for some new inspiration in your life? If your pot plants still won’t answer you? Of course. So we’re good.     If you’re new to the site I recommend you read my article on how songs tell stories, and how a song’s style, idea and hook work together before you do anything else. They’ll help you get the most out of the song prompts I’m about to share with you. You can also download a nifty (and printable) version of the list here. Otherwise, have a browse. See which song prompts...
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 internet listicle tells you to. 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...
Idea, Style, Hook: The Holy Trinity of Songwriting

Idea, Style, Hook: The Holy Trinity of Songwriting

They say the best things come in threes: The Hanson brothers. The Little Shop of Horrors backup singers. The examples in this paragraph. And songwriting has its own Holy Trinity too: idea, style and hook. I’ll explain, but first let’s be clear on what these three things are.   A song’s idea is what the frick the song is about. Maybe the idea is ‘Love song’ or ‘Breakup song’ or ‘I just wanted to tell you you’re cool Song’. Or maybe the idea is ‘Dance track’ or ‘Summer anthem’ or ‘Novelty song’. I’m talking about the big idea of the song. The ‘elevator pitch’ if you like: the sentence you’d say to a co-writer or a producer or your Great Aunt to describe what the song is. The style of the song is the musical world it sits in. I’m not talking about specific harmonies or sounds, even if they play a part in making up the style – I’m talking about the overall mood, emotion or world the song’s music conjures up. An upbeat dance track has a different style to an emotional power ballad. A jazz song has a different feel to an R&B song. You get the idea. A song’s hook is a word or phrase that forms the backbone of its lyric. (Yes, the word ‘hook’ is sometimes used to describe a catchy bit of music usually somewhere near the start. That’s a different kind of hook for another time.) Hooks you’ll know already include ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’. They’re anything from a single word to a complete sentence that...
Prosody in Songwriting 101

Prosody in Songwriting 101

Life is full of interesting questions. Why is the sky blue? Can Russian Twitter bots really swing an election? And where do broken hearts go, Whitney? Where? But today, let’s try answering something more practical: What is prosody? And why should you spend the next ten minutes of your life reading about it?   What is Prosody? OK. First things first. Prosody is a big deal in songwriting. A really big deal. It affects how well your song is understood. It affects how enjoyable your song is to listen to. And, believe it or not, it plays a pretty important role in helping people decide whether you’re a dope songwriter or just a dope, period. And while the concept of prosody isn’t widely understood, it’s actually pretty simple. Simple enough, in fact, to tell you what it is in a single sentence: Prosody in songwriting means making sure your words and melody fit well together. This comes down to a really important principle of all art, not just songwriting: in general, in a work of art you want all the parts working together to achieve some larger goal. You want the hills and the sky and the sheep to add up to ‘Pastoral Landscape’. You want the car chase and the hapless heroine and the cheesy catchphrase to add up to ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger movie’. You want the peppy tempo, uplifting lyric and last-chorus key change to add up to ‘Classic 90s Pop Song’. Prosody is like this on a smaller scale. Whether the melody or the lyric comes first, you want to end up with a situation where they...
Five Different Ways to Start a Song

Five Different Ways to Start a Song

One of the most exciting things about creating new things is that there are lots of ways of creating new things. As I talk about in The Art of Songwriting, a song is made up bit by bit and piece by piece. It doesn’t really matter which bit you start with. It doesn’t matter which bit you end with. As long as you keep going until all the bits are in place and working together, it’s all good. That’s why most writers hate the question ‘What is your creative process like?’. Because as any of them will tell you, there is no the process or my process or your process or the one true process to rule them all. There are as many different ways of creating something new as there are new things to create. And it’s in your best interests to keep that process different. It helps you write differently every time. It keeps you fresh. It keeps you interesting. And while personally I’m a big fan of figuring out what your song is about before you start to put the rest of the pieces together, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to write. Here are five different jumping-off points you can try to start your next song.   1. Start with a title Write down thirty or forty different words or phrases. See which ones sound intriguing. See which ones start conjuring up a world beyond just that word or phrase – and see where they lead you. Let the one word or phrase grow into a couple of lines of lyric. Keep building from there. Soon...

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