1: Inspiration

A good song tells an interesting story, convenes a strong emotion or just makes you want to dance. Some great songs do all three. When you are at the very beginning of starting to write a song and looking for a little inspiration, try to focus on one of these elements.

If your focus is a story, write out an outline of the story and start thinking about what parts might make different verses. Don’t worry about the chorus yet, just focus on the story’s beginning, middle and end. Once you have a basic story, grab an instrument and try to find a chord progression and rhythm that feels like it might match with the story. Try anything at this point, it might take trying several progressions or rhythms until you find something that works.

If you want to convene a strong emotion (anger, grief, love) grab your instrument and just let it out. I mean REALLY let it out. Record it as a voice memo on your phone or whatever is your easiest way to record sound. Listen to it a day or two later and see if there is anything there worth developing. If so, write down all the lyrics that came out. Sometimes you have to change the words or phrases during this process and much of it won’t be worth writing down, but it gives you the bones of your song. You take a word, phrase or sentence here and there, then fill in the rest later.

If you are just looking to get some butts moving, it’s all about a good groove. It starts with the drum beat, everything will be built around that so make sure it’s solid and not boring. A great bass line is essential to this type of song. It can be simple, but it has to work with that drum beat to get the listener moving. Lyric writing for this type of song can be very different. You need to find words that work with the groove, but don’t always need to tell a strong narrative, especially if you have a good hook. If you go to bed and can’t get a song’s lyric out of your head, that’s an earworm hook and you should lean into that! Use those whenever you can on a fun dance song.

If I find myself with time to write a song, but no real inspiration, I usually will go with the dance song or I might get experimental.  Experimental means different things, but I mean experimenting with things I’ve never done. For example, I might try starting with a bass loop instead of drums, or perhaps I decide to try recording five guitar tracks, using a splitter to send a single signal to several processors or amps (this can result in a very large sound). Even if the song fizzles, the experience of trying these different recording or songwriting techniques will give you another tool to use later.

In general, more than half of the songs I start don’t end up being something worth sharing. So, if I’m hoping to make a 10 song album, I start with around 25 songs. Don’t let this frustrate you, every song is a learning experience and it’s better to let the song go when it’s not working, rather than spend countless hours trying to make it better. Instead, let the failed song inspire the next one by using the best idea or two from that song when starting a new one.