Posts Tagged ‘story’

Topics for songs

October 27, 2009

This question recently dropped in my inbox.

How do I decide on a topic when I’m thinking about writing a song?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Here’s what I do to get around the problem. Hopefully there will be something in here that helps you.

My strongest songs are always the ones written about a specific topic (or person, place, idea, etc) I really care about. It can be anything from my pet iguana to my baseball card collection, from chess to downhill skiing, from social causes to my favorite cartoon.

It doesn’t matter what your topic is, as long as you are passionate about it. Whenever I try to write a song on a topic that I’m not really interested in, it turns out lame, or I lose interest altogether before finishing it. It helps to be a passionate person with a lot of interests.

What kinds of things are you passionate about – think of your hobbies, your interests, your loves (and that can mean romantic love, love for your mom, your kids or your hotrod).

Another source of topics and ideas for songs is quotations. I subscribe to a free daily inspirational email quote service. There are many of these on the web. You can also get a book of quotations at your library or bookstore.

Here’s an example. I’m passionate about my guitar, no surprise there. But one time with Valentine’s Day approaching, my songwriting partner and I thought we should try to write a love song for our respective wives. It turned out a little different than we expected.

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Tell a story

September 24, 2008

Storytelling is an ancient art form that crosses all cultures. Before the written word, storytelling was the only way to preserve the accumulated knowledge of the tribe. (OK, there were cave drawings, but try putting your kids to sleep with a bedtime cave drawing.)

Despite the invention of the printing press, we still tell stories. Stories are a powerful way for parents to teach children their values. Even in this day of TiVo, DVD, the Internet and other mass media entertainment, we still tell stories. Perhaps that helps to explain the success of the Chicken Soup series.

I suspect the first song was simply somebody putting a melody to a story he or she was telling (maybe with a little prehistoric hip hop). And I contend the best songs are those that tell a story. A song that tells a story draws the listener in and communicates your message with subtlety and power.

Some songs don’t lend themselves to a story line however. In this case I would still advise, if not a plot, at least some movement, some change or transition. Another way to think of it is that the lyrics bring the listener to a new point of view by the end of the song, building a case as the song progresses from beginning to end.

Yet another way to create some movement in the ‘story’ is to think in terms of conflict and resolution. I’m not saying your song should consist of a conflict and a simple happy ending like a fifties sitcom (Father Knows Best comes to mind). I mean conflict and resolution in a more literary sense.

Finally, you don’t have to make up your own story. You can base a song on any story that moves you, whether you heard it from a friend or in the news, read it in a book or an email, found it on the web, or remember it from childhood, maybe told at bedtime or around a campfire…