Songwriting can’t be that hard, right? With millions of songs in all languages tackling different topics, it’s impossible to think that only the best of the best songwriters can come up with great lyrics to a catchy tune.
If you think about it, most songs are about very relatable things like love, heartache, experiences, and so much more. So even if, let’s say, you don’t know much about love, then you certainly know something about other topics that people can relate to like a summer getaway, an inspiring personality, or even a hobby that you really love.
As with anything that has to do with writing, coming up with lyrics to a song starts with a spark of inspiration. This inspiration can be hard to catch, but they’re everywhere. Inspiration can be found in an experience, a quote, the life of a person you admire, or even just a catchy tune.
So for those of you looking to make a big break in the music industry or just looking to pen a song that you can sing along to, here are some ideas for writing a song.
Unconventional Love Songs
Love songs are everywhere! They’re probably the most common type of song out there because when you’re in love, you can’t help but want to break into song at the thought of the person you love. If you’ve been in love before, you can start off with rattling off a bunch of lines about the way you feel.
Keep in mind that love is a complicated feeling with many different facets. For the most part, those facets have been written about by other people, from rock gods to pop stars. So to stand out with a unique song, try writing a more unconventional type of song.
To start, try to categorize the love you feel. A song about teenage love can be about meeting them at school or through common friends. You can write about the first time you saw them and how your little teenage heart went all a-flutter at the sound of their voice. And you can also mention the hardships you went through with your teenage love like being grounded, going on cheap dates that your allowance can afford, or even the typical shallow fights that come up when your hormones are raging. For inspiration on writing a teenage love song, check out some songs by Taylor Swift.
The more common type of love song is about the love between two adults. This is where love becomes more mature and more prone to issues found in the adult world – like choosing love over your career, wanting to get married, or simply wanting to reignite the flame. You can even tackle more practical issues like finances or dealing with your significant other’s ex-spouse!
Now for the least conventional of love songs, there’s the topic of finding love in old age. Oftentimes, the target market for love songs is teenagers up to people of marrying age. But octogenarians experience love too! They can fall head over heels for someone as much as a teenager can. However, there are interesting topics to tackle within that kind of love like dealing with your new SO’s grandkids, finding fun activities when you both have arthritis, or even just being thankful that you found love at an old age.
Unconventional Breakup Songs
There are probably as many breakup songs as there are love songs. After all, it’s more common for us to go through numerous breakups before finding The One. But to make your song a little more unique, try going a more unconventional route.
We’re all tired of breakup songs that lament lost love as the singer wallows in self-pity. So why not write a more empowering love song that teaches you to love yourself more? Still too conventional? How about a breakup song that highlights how much better your career is going now that you’ve gotten out of a toxic relationship?
Breakup songs are a lot easier to write when you’re fresh out of a breakup. You’ve got all those feelings welled up inside you that you want to express. So to create your breakup song, start off with writing down whatever it is you’re feeling. Write it all down and then pick out the lines that will sound good when combined with a good tune.
Combine the emotion of a love song with the intense anger or sadness of a breakup song and you have a great recipe for a love-hate song. Love-hate songs are more complex because you have to convince your listeners that you’re still in love with someone while hating them at the same time.
Can’t seem to relate to this? One great example of a song with a love-hate topic is the song about a cheating partner. You’re still in love with someone and then they suddenly betray you. You can’t just drop the love and go straight to hating them; you have to come to terms with the pain and sadness while still admitting to yourself that there are things about your partner that you still love.
Now the way you tackle that can be tough in a song, but that’s where your creativity comes in! Do you want to focus on getting rid of your partner? Do you want to focus on reconciling? Do you want to bash the your partner’s lover in with a sledgehammer? Let that inspire you!
With the popularity of EDM, there’s no shortage of dance music out there. And the best part is that dance music usually focuses on a great beat to dance along to. There’s not a lot of focus on the lyrics because the listeners are too busy dancing. If you’re the type who’s not all that confident about writing eloquent lyrics that are full of emotion, then some catchy phrases to a catchy dance tune should be enough.
There is certainly no shortage of dance songs with simple and sometimes borderline idiotic lyrics. Daft Punk’s “Around the World” uses its title as the lyrics of the entire song over and over and over again, and yet it’s a success. As for a song with absolutely vapid lyrics, check out “Stupid Hoe” by Nicki Minaj. The lyrics are downright mind-melting, but you can’t deny the catchy tune!
For the most part, dance songs do have a certain theme in their lyrics. It’s usually about dancing the night away or having the time of your lives at the club. But you can also go a different route by writing sad or angry lyrics to a happy tune. Not convinced that this is a good idea? Check out Outkast’s song called “Hey Ya” and tell us if those aren’t the saddest lyrics to an upbeat tune you’ve ever heard!
If you’re interested in current events and the status quo, then writing a political song might be the way to go. There’s so much inspiration to be drawn from the state of the world that you can write about a multitude of problems that need to be addressed.
To write a political song, you need to choose the angle for your song. A popular angle would be a plea for those in power to fix a certain issue. Issues like poverty, world hunger, bullying, and racism are all popular topics because they’re so prevalent and yet they still require attention from the higher ups. You can do this by telling an inspiring tale in your verses and creating a chorus pleading with society to help those who are dealing with those issues. Take most of the songs by Rise Against; their songs are usually about struggles in society.
Another angle you can go for is a song that can inspire others to help. It’s not directly telling people to go up in arms and solve a problem. Instead, it’s telling the story of how certain groups of people can give us hope. Think of the song “We Are the World.” It’s not directly political, but it does make the listener want to help out children in need.
Political songs can be a little tough to write because it can draw unwanted attention from people with opposing views. However, if you have the skill to write lyrics that seek to inform and inspire without alienating the other side, then you’re the perfect candidate to create a great political song!
Sadness, Death, and Grief
Sad songs are never in short supply in the music industry. And even though these songs aren’t quite as popular as happy love songs and breakup songs, you’ll find that so many songs about sadness are actually incredibly well-written.
When you’re sad, sometimes you want to listen to equally sad songs just to get all those feelings out. It’s a cathartic experience that often paves the way for acceptance.
So how do you write a song about such sad and difficult topics? Start with genuine inspiration from your own experiences. Writing a song off the bat can come across as fake and fabricated, and it’s bound to be obvious to people who are actually going through a difficult time.
For inspiration on writing songs like these, check out Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” It may have been written for a movie, but it was inspired by the death of his young son. Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” is also a beautifully haunting song about addiction and pain. Jimmy Eat World’s “Hear You Me” is another song about grief that was inspired by the death of their close friends.
People Who Inspire You
There are many songs out there about the lives of people who inspired songwriters. Sometimes it’s obvious who the song is alluding to, but there are some that make us wonder who the song is about.
Take the example of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” It was written about the 1959 plane crash that killed rock performers like Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. It also subtly mentions other musical celebrities like Elvis (the king) and Bob Dylan (the jester).
Another example of a song about a person is “Samson” by Regina Spektor. It’s about the biblical Samson and his lover, Delilah. While the biblical story might be straightforward, Regina Spektor managed to make it more soulful and tragic. So in a way, writing a song about a person can show listeners a different angle to their story.
The people you want to write about don’t even have to be famous people. Sometimes, what strikes a chord the best is a song about someone you genuinely know – like an inspiring figure in your life (“Anna Sun” by Walk the Moon), an ex (“Dear John” by Taylor Swift), a child (“Hey Jude” by The Beatles), or even a fellow musician (“Live Forever” by Oasis).
Songs that Tell a Story
While most people think that storytelling songs are mostly in the country genre, there are also a lot of songs in other genres that tell a story. The best thing about writing a song that tells a story is that you pretty much already have a direction for where your song is going. You start off with the introduction, which gives you a setting and tone for the song. Then there’s the chorus, which gives listeners the recurring theme of the song. And finally, the conclusion, which tells listeners how it all ends for the people in the story.
With songs that tell a story, you no longer need to think of a handful of ways to say “I love you,” “I hate you,” or “please die in a fire, you cheating scumbag.” Instead, you already have a story that’s waiting to be told, and you just need to rephrase it in a way that would suit a melody.
We’ve already written an article about songs that tell a story, so check out that list for some inspiration.
Writing with a Rhythm First
Songwriters have different approaches to writing songs. Many of them start off being inspired by a phrase and then creating the tune that it will go with. This line can be the focal point of a song or even the title, and the songwriter just works their way around it until they create their song.
However, there are also times when it’s the music that drives the lyrics. A great rhythm can guide a songwriter to create lyrics that just fit. They might not even know the main topic of the song they’re writing, but they can come up with the right lyrics along the way as the song progresses.
This is the case of The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” Paul McCartney first created the melody of the song as he was experimenting with his piano. He originally called the protagonists of the song Daisy Hawkins and Father McCartney. But the names didn’t quite catch on, and he didn’t want people thinking of his dad knitting his socks. So instead, they reworked the song until it became the classic that it is today.
Writing a Song around a Line that Inspires You
As mentioned earlier, a song can start off as one line before it evolves into a full-blown song. Now as for what that line is, it’s entirely up to you. Perhaps it’s something your significant other suddenly said one day, maybe a different way of saying they love you. It can even be a line that you thought eloquently summed up your relationship with a person. Or it can even be a line inspired by literature.
One example of a song inspired by a line of literature is “Firework” by Katy Perry. Yes, it’s a pop song, but it was definitely inspired by a line from “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. The original quote by Jack Kerouac goes: The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes, “Awww!”
And if you’ve listened to “Firework” lately, you’ll notice that this quote is the central theme of the song itself!
So what’s your inspiration for writing a song? Is it love? Hate? Grief? Or a line you heard a long time ago that you want to write a song around?
Whatever it is that inspires you to create a song, give it a shot and start writing!