How important are song ideas?
Hit songwriter Brett James once said once you have 2 or 3 competent songwriters in a room writing a song:
Most mediocre songs are mediocre because the song idea was mediocre.
Most good songs are good because the song idea was good.
Most great songs are great because the song idea was great.
So if you want to write great songs you need to start with great song ideas.
How do you get a steady flow of great song ideas? By writing down a massive pile of song ideas.
Hit songwriter Marty Dodson, go founder of SongTown is known as a great song idea guy. Early in his career he would spend 2 days of the week finding song ideas and 3 days of the week co-writing songs.
Having great song ideas got him into the room with some heavy hitters in the songwriting world.
One suggestion Marty gives is to write down at least 10 new song ideas every day.
There’s some magic in that. When you write down 10 song ideas a day that gives you 70 a week and over 300 song ideas a month. Out of those it’s pretty certain you’re going to hit some pay dirt.
And you’ll always have a song idea you’re excited to write about and a huge pool of song ideas to draw from when you do a co-write with another writer or an artist.
How do you come up with 10 song ideas a day?
Here are some methods that work for me:
Catching Ideas That Are Flashing By You Every Day
Constantly looking for song ideas in the things people say, the things you read, what you see on television or in a movie, on signs, bumper stickers…everywhere you go.
And make sure you have some way of recording your song ideas everywhere you go. I have multiple notebooks and a pile of pens in my car in the glovebox and the console. I have notebooks and pens in my office, in my living room.
I try to remember to carry a notebook wherever I go but if I forget I know I can walk into any place that has gambling (plenty of those in Australia) and use their Keno pencils and forms or walk into a bank and use their pen and a deposit slip. In the past I’ve walked into a supermarket or newsagency and bought a pen and a notebook to write down a song idea.
I never let a song idea escape me.
Actively Listening To Other Songs
I stay current in musical charts by listening to songs that are charting.
I actively listen to those songs looking for lines, parts of lines or phrases I can tweak to turn into a different song idea that’s hot.
I might also mishear a song line or simply get an inspiring idea from listening to music this way.
This is a really powerful method for getting ideas. I can usually get 10-20 ideas in an hour this way.
Describe A Song In A Sentence Method
This works surprisingly well.
You can listen to a song or go through lists of songs you know fairly well from any time period and any genre.
Describe in one sentence what the song is about. Often you’ll find in the description a phrase that makes a great hook for a completely new song.
Here’s an example. The old classic song “As Time Goes By”.
My description would be: “Time moves on but love stays the same.”
I could use that as a song idea by itself. I might also draw two song ideas out of that: “Time keeps moving on” and “love stays the same”.
Spinning Song Ideas
As with any other song idea I’d write those down and I’d try tweaking them to see what other ideas I can spin off those phrases.
Love stays the same
Love never changes
My love never changes
My love stays the same
Love is a game that never changes
and so on.
I don’t sweat it trying to come up with something brilliant. I’m just looking for volume because I know if I do enough of this I’m going to come up with something great.
When I spin off ideas like this I still only count the original idea towards my 10 song ideas for the day so my 10 song ideas might actually end up closer to 50 or more.
Book And Movie Titles
There are some real gems for song ideas in book and movie titles. You can find directories of both online with a google search.
Quotes From Movies And Books
You can google famous movie quotes and book quotes and find some good ideas there.
Movie Trailers On YouTube
In movie trailers they try to compress as much cool stuff as they can into a minute or two and that includes the cool things the actors say in the movie.
Often you can pick up some great ideas from those YouTube movie trailers.
This one is a bit unusual. Often horses have some really cool names that make great song titles.
You can search horse racing results or you can look for horse names at a site like this http://jockeyclub.com.
The Bottom Line
When you start doing this consistently every day your mind starts changing because you’re exercising the song idea muscles in your brain and turning your subconscious into a song idea heat seeking missile.
It simply takes doing the work.
Now go get started writing 10 song ideas.