You want to write a song and you have lots of time but no ideas? Coming up with an idea for a song or lyric can prove more difficult than you think. We've compiled a list of ideas to get you started, broken down by subject area:
- The joy of finding new love
- The pain of a recent break up
- The suffering of a relationship you can't get out of
- Jealousy over a former lover being with someone else
- Unrequited love for someone you can't have
- Interference from someone else into your relationship
- A description of your physical attraction to another
- Your dreams for the future of your relationship or future partner
- Your disgust at love and all that it represents
- Your hatred for other happy couples
- How you don't understand your partner
- Reminiscing over a former lover
- The love you have for your mother or father
- Your feelings towards someone who has lied to you
- Your plan to break up with someone
- The distance between you and a lover
- Telling someone you love them
- Your description of someone you admire
- The enjoyment you get talking to someone
- The monotony of your relationship
- Your apology to someone
- Your desperation for someone
- The virtues of the person you love
- How you'll always be there for someone
- Your love for a town, city or country
- Your love for a season or a country scene
- Your love for an animal/bird/natural object
- The wishes for your future
- The story of your life
- The lessons you have learnt
- Your admiration for a famous person
- A story about a person you once knew
- How a stranger has affected your life
- Your longing for freedom
- The story of your travels
- Your failures
- Your home
- A cry for help
- Your recovery from a setback
- Illusion and deception
- Your descent into despair
- Your hatred for someone
- Some advice you are able to give
- Your comments on the latest news
- Your protest about a current war or other negative event
- Your take on the nature of society
- How you don't understand why certain people have done certain things
- The different sides of an argument
- Your religious views or your love for god or other spirituality
- How history is repeating itself
5 tips to help develop fruitful music collaborations
1). Record yourself: If you’re a musician or a singer, you will almost certainly have a "style" all of your own. Your preferred tempo, your pitch, your technique and your playing approach will all contribute to your signature style. When looking for other musicians to work with, it’s good to let them hear what you do. Give them a taste of your flavour by making a recording of yourself and letting people hear it.
If you’ve been making music for some time, you’ve almost certainly got plenty of recordings you’ve already made. That doesn’t matter. It’s worthwhile making a new recording to capture your style as it sounds today. Just sit and play your best stuff. Afterwards, listen back to yourself and think about what would compliment you. Finding other musicians is about knowing yourself and understanding what you sound like. Think about what other musicians hear when they listen to your recordings.
2). Establish your ambitions: On the more practical side of things, it’s a good idea to know what you want from a musical collaboration. Do you want to play live gigs? Do you want to share the songwriting credits, or are you better when you write alone? Are you a “front-man” or “band-member”? All these questions will help establish the sort of musician you are looking for, and make the path to successful collaboration a smooth one.
3). Try collaborating at a distance: Nothing can quite match the feeling of making music with others in the same room, jamming and creating in the same spontaneous moment. But there are other ways. With the web, collaboration can take place over large distances. If you’re looking for a musician to play with, they needn’t live around the next block. I know a very talented, hands-on keyboardist who is currently enjoying a fertile collaboration with an electronic musician via email and Dropbox. They live miles apart, so if they are working on a track they simply pass it back and forth between them, each one adding a bit more each time. It works because it’s a pure exchange of music without egos getting in the way.
The other exciting thing about collaborating at a distance is that people from very diverse musical backgrounds can get together. What would your music sound like with a musician from Japan, Brazil, South Africa or Mexico playing with you?
4). Post you details: It goes without saying that the web is great place to make new contacts. You've probably searched through listings pages for adverts posted by other musicians, but why not post an avert yourself? There are plenty of free listings pages or forums where you can start talking about yourself and attracting attention. Here at Verse-Chorus, you can post an advert for free.
5). Don’t be afraid to try something new: To create new music is a leap into the unknown. Of course you’ve got to practice and hone your technique, but just as crucial in the mix is experimentation. It’s only by trying out new things that originality can prosper. So when looking for other musicians to work with, don’t be afraid to try new avenues. Be open to chance meetings, unusual collaborations, less traditional instrument combinations, that sort of thing. We've already mentioned the idea of collaborating with musicians from around the world. Alternatively you could try working with musicians from a musical background that is different to yours. Could you collaborate with a folk singer, or a punk musician, or someone into electronica? Try it, and see what happens.
Songwriting is a craft which can take years to develop. You may need to write tens of songs before you create something you can call good. I've compiled a few tips to help you save time and energy and hopefully cut down the time it takes to get to your desired songwriting level.
On the lookout
As a songwriter you should always be thinking about your next track. This means keeping your eye on everything around you and taking inspiration from your environment, always being ready to note down your thoughts, either by using a notepad or recording device. You may be able to use your mobile phone to record yourself, or at least keep a record of your ideas.
It's also a good idea to listen carefully to what people say and how they say it. You can pick up interesting lines and phrases from those around you. Often the best lyrics are a different take on a common phrase. This way, listeners can relate to your song but not be put off by clichés.
Find a hook
The most successful songs contain a part of the track which catches the ear more than any other part. It can stick in peoples heads long after they have listened to the song and can turn an average song into a hit. Pop songs will often play the hook at the beginning of the song and then repeat on numerous occasions, normally in the chorus.
A hook is usually the hardest part to write as it requires stepping outside any obvious melody. A good tip would be to try using simple, short and familiar words which sound good together and are sung in a different way to the rest of the song. For example, if the other lyrics are sung quickly, then try singing longer notes in the hook, but keep the number of words to a minimum. Similarly, long drawn out verses could be punctuated by a fast and sharp hook.
Riff on the lick
This is a similar concept to the hook, in which the listener can be drawn into the track with speed, but using music rather than lyrics. A lively and energetic set of guitar notes, repeated several times during the songs intro can work wonders. Many famous songs have begun this way, often starting with the lick in solo, before the drums and bass kick in to emphasize the guitar even more. The same trick can be used with piano and other instruments.
Keep the lick simple, using only a few notes and keep them close together in the scale you are using. It's also good practice to be objective about your lick. Don't spend too long on perfecting it. Record an idea, then have a break from it. You can then come back later with fresh ears and continue. If you realise this idea wasn't one of your best, you can start a new one. It may take a while, but with a bit of persistence, you will be successful.
Song structure comes in many forms and there have been various trends and fashions over the years. Broadly speaking, a song can be broken down into the following sections:
Normally this section is instrumental and builds up with different instruments coming in one by one, or in pairs. This is where the lick would sit, often played over the chords used in the verse, setting the tone ready for the vocals to come in. The idea behind the intro is to tell the listener what kind of song this is, the genre and the tempo. Of course, some songwriters have been known to trick the listener and have an opening different to the rest of the track. This approach is less likely to work but can produce interesting results.
The verse follows the introduction and contains the bulk of the lyrical content. It is a very important part of the song and lead the listener towards the hook in the chorus. There may be multiple verses in a song, usually with the same melody but different lyrics, and separated by the chorus. Great songwriters are able to tell a story in the verse using the different verses to talk about different aspects of the story, much like chapters in a novel. Verses are not so reliant on a memorable melody as the chorus is, so lyrical content is key to creating a great verse.
Moving from the verse to the chorus can be done in different ways. If your two sections are similar in tempo and music, they will probably flow nicely into each other. However, if they are vastly different, you may need a pre-chorus to bridge the gap.
A good tip is to move from a major to minor key or vice versa. This gives a different feel to the pre-chorus, setting up the chorus. Alternatively you can break up the instrumentation or have no words. The chorus can benefit dramatically from a pre-chorus using these methods.
Your hook can be used here once or multiple times to increase the emotional tension in the song. The chorus is normally the same each time it is played, or with a slight variation towards the end of the song.
Subsequent verses follow from the chorus and this pattern can be repeated several times, depending on the length of each part. You may wish to include a short repeat of the intro before each verse to separate parts of your story.
Popular songs in the first half of the twentieth century tended to begin with a chorus and then move into the verse and some songs today do the same.
To break up the potential monotony of the verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern, you can introduce a complete change to the sound of your song, altering tempo, instrumentation or melody. The eight represents eight bars in length and middle to convey the position in the song, often after the second chorus.
Completing the song
At this point in the song, you should have written the majority of the lyrics and melody and the final section maybe left until the track is recorded. It will probably contain an instrumental section, a further repeat of the chorus and an outro which should have similarities to the intro, completing the circle of the song. These decisions should be left until the rest of the song is complete and should flow naturally.
Key changes at the end of a song to emphasize a final chorus should be avoided at all costs as they signal a desperation for the songwriter to grab the listeners attention. Your song should be strong enough without this.
Lyrics and melody
As mentioned previously, your lyrics should tell a story or portray an emotion. It's also important that the words sound good when sung. Rhyming is the most obvious way to achieve this, but you shouldn't forget the importance of a beautifully sounding word at any point in the song.
Melody is normally constructed over a chord sequence, with moody and melancholic melodies associated with minor keys and upbeat, happy ones on the major scale. There is no magic formula for a great melody, other than practice, hard-work and a bit of luck.
Writing songs can be a lonely process, which is why many musicians and writers seek out a collaborative partner to work with and gain feedback from.
It is interesting to find that some of the best music collaborations between musicians and lyricists occur with a degree of separation between the artists. Many songwriters working together find that locking themselves in the same room until the song is finished is not the best method.
The creative process needs time and space to realize its path, and the creators need room to breathe and accomplish their own perspective on the work. It’s not always straight forward, and a new song will usually go through several revisions before it is ready.
The celebrated partnership of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote a series of hits together including Walk On By, and Do You Know the Way to San Jose adopted a relaxed style of writing together, as Bacharach recalled:
“Our writing process was very interesting. We would sit in a room in the Brill Building and maybe Hal would have an idea — a couple of lines, a title — or I would have a music fragment. And we would go from there. It wasn't like we would sit in that room and finish a song. That never happened. Hal would take his story, get on the train, and go home to Roslyn out in Long Island. And I would take whatever music I had and go back to my apartment. Then we'd meet a day or two later, or maybe talk it through on the phone.”
For Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the process is shaped by the creative independence of the two collaborators, as Elton described in a mid-career interview:
“He writes the lyrics first and gives them to me, and then I write the songs for them. In the old days I would slice bits of verses out and cut things here and there – it’s not so bad now. But it’s always been lyrics first. Very, very rarely have I sometimes suggested a title for a song or maybe a melody. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is the only one I can think of. It’s always a non-collaboration really: he gives me the lyric and I go away and write it without him hearing it, and then he hears it.”
Johnny Marr and Morrissey wrote a string of albums together for The Smiths over a five year period. Their method was to work closely together but to allow each other the freedom they needed to express themselves.
In a South Bank Show TV interview, Morrissy described his approach to penning lyrics: “How do I write those songs? I write them in a very natural way, but in a very detached way also. But not to say I simply sit down a guess, but it is very detached, which I think is also important because not everybody has fantastically endlessly romping private lives.”
In a later interview, Johnny Marr reflected on the integrity of the band’s musical approach: “We weren’t one of those bands who designed songs over a period with different producers or an A&R man. We were a bunch of young guys who were super-tight, very close, and isolated, who would get in a car or a van and go into the studio with just us and Stephen Street or sometimes John Porter. And we would just put our vibe, or our world, into the sound of the songs we’d written. It wasn’t music made by a committee or by the record company. We were left alone to do it ourselves, to get on with it and just do it. Whatever was going on with the group on a day-to-day basis was worked into the sound of the band.”
Not all songwriting partnerships achieved their best work by working apart. The writing partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which Johnny Marr described as a big influence on The Smiths, was built on a close collaboration, producing such hits as Hound Dog and Stand By Me. In a interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Leiber and Stoller recalled their earliest songwriting sessions:
Leiber: We used to go to Mike's house, where the upright piano was. We went there every day and wrote. We worked ten, eleven, twelve hours a day.
Stoller: When we started working, we'd write five songs at a session. Then we'd go home, and we'd call each other up. "I've written six more songs!" "I've written four more." Our critical faculties, obviously, were not as developed and we just kept on writing and writing.
Leiber: "Hound Dog" took like twelve minutes. That's not a complicated piece of work. But the rhyme scheme was difficult. Also the metric structure of the music was not easy. "Kansas City" was maybe eight minutes, if that. Writing the early blues was spontaneous. You can hear the energy in the work.
Stoller: In the early days we'd go back and forth note for note, syllable for syllable, word for word in the process of creating.
Suggestions for other great song writing collaborations would be welcome.
See the full South Bank Show programme about The Smiths: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbr57W70UdE
See the full interview with Johnny Marr: http://www.avclub.com/articles/johnny-marr-has-no-negative-thoughts-about-the-smi,73276/
See the full interview Leiber and Stoller: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/leiber-stoller-rolling-stones-1990-interview-with-the-songwriting-legends-20110822
How do you start a song? What lyrical options are available? Here we come up with 7 suggestions on how you can get going with the art of songwriting.
1). Why not start with a statement about yourself, or a description about where you are in life, as Joni Mitchell does in "All I Want":
I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
traveling, traveling, traveling
Looking for something, what can it be?
2). Not a million miles away, start with a fact or a basic observation as Paul Simon's does in his song "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes":
She’s a rich girl
She don’t try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes
3). Why not try a line that sets the scene in more poetic terms, as Neil Young does in his song "Pocahontas", using the image of a winter night time to create an opening image:
The icy sky at night
Paddles cut the water
In a long and hurried flight
The Smiths song "This Charming Man" follows the same basic pattern:
On a hillside desolate
4). Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" starts with a more abstract description, perhaps best described as a mental state of affairs:
Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
5). Try starting with dialogue, as Paul Simon (again) uses in his song "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover":
“The problem is all inside your head”
She said to me.
“The answer is easy if you
Take it logically"
The same songwriter begins the opening verse to his song "America" with someone speaking:
“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And walked off to look for America
6). Alternatively you could begin by addressing another person, as Leonard Cohen does in his song "So Long Marianne",
Come over to the window my little darling, I'd like to try to read your palm,
I used to think I was some kind of gypsy boy until I let you take me home
7). How about starting your song with a description of another person, as Laura Marling does in her song "Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)"
You were so smart then,
in your jacket and coat.
My softest red scarf was warming your throat.
So there are 7 different ways to begin a song. Why not let us know your own ideas for kick-starting the opening verse.
It doesn't take long for me to be put off a song once I hear a lyric which is both extremely familiar and utterly unoriginal. No matter how good the music is or how impressive the vocal performance might be, if the lyrics are sub-standard and full of clichés, the song cannot be regarded as anything more than average.
That said, I have spoken to many people who don't listen to the lyrics of a song and don't care what is being said as long as they like the melody or another aspect of the song. They simply let the words wash over them.
I find this hard to understand, since the story of the song plays a large part in my listening experience. It is at least 25% of the whole. Any discerning songwriter who wants to gain critical respect needs to focus on writing an honest and interesting lyric.
Below I have listed five clichés to avoid, the ones that seem to appear time and time again throughout songs over many generations. Of course, they were once original, and the writers should be commended rather than ridiculed. However those who just steal and reuse without any thought to their craft, should be laughed at.
1 The rhyming of fire and desire. I first heard this beauty in U2's song Desire. At the time it sounded like a good lyric, being my first experience of it. But in fact there were many many previous examples already out there and many more to come. Notable musical giants such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Michael Jackson and many others have all used it in one form or another. Most recently, Scissor Sisters went for the jugular multiple fire/desire rhyme chorus in their song Fire With Fire:
You said, "Fight fire with fire
Fire with fire
Fire with fire
Through desire, desire -sire, desire
Through your desire."
2. I don't know where I'm going but I know where I've been. Not only is this phrase completely overused, but it is often excruciating to hear. The line is often split in two, making the predictability of the second part painful to the ear. It is also such an obvious line as naturally everyone knows about their past and where they have been, but not many people can have exact knowledge of their future.
3. The break of dawn/day. I have heard this phrase across a range of genres and it's a phase I quite like, but once you hear it countless occasions, it loses its appeal rather quickly.
4. Fly/sky/high. This simple rhyme is very easy to come up with; in fact once you have a line containing the word 'fly', the first rhyming words you might think of would be sky or high. Yet very successful artists get away with it and their million selling songs don’t seem to suffer. R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly is a prime example and full of fly/sky combinations as well as equally nauseous lines like 'If I can see it, then I can do it' and 'If I just believe it, there's nothing to it'.
5 Down on my knees and begging you please. Again, over-used and often sung like it is an original line born from many hours of hard work.
There you have five examples of lyrical clichés to avoid.
For some inspiration, here's a great line from the Simon & Garfunkel song Homeward Bound: 'Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me'.