Lots of potentially phenomenal songwriters often fantasize about writing music but can’t bring themselves to write a song. For some, the problem is rooted in a lack of confidence and the paralyzing fear of being made vulnerable through music. But for other musicians, a complete lack of knowing what to write about is the culprit.
Knowing what to write songs about can be a challenge even for experienced songwriters, so this is a problem that plagues most writers eventually. Here’s five tips designed to help get you thinking about what to write about in your music:
1. Write a fictional story and develop characters
In 2018, there’s more to write music about than ever before, but understanding and interpreting the increasingly fraught world around us through music is no easy task. Using fictional narratives and characters in your music as a way to talk about the complexities of the world around you and within yourself is a good way to make meaningful music. And while fictional stories in music can help you talk about serious things, the stories in your songs don’t always have to be heavy.
2. Make music about your family
This tip certainly won’t work for every musician, but the nuance and complexity within your own family is something most people can relate to. Incredible music has been inspired by births, deaths, and estrangements, so using your family as songwriting fodder is certainly capable of producing great results.
3. Find something interesting in your daily routine and write about it
There’s most likely emotional value and nuance in your work and personal life whether you realize it or not. Rather than relying on something hackneyed and unartistic like the sunrise you see every morning on your way to work, try looking for the more subtle joys, observations, and devastations hiding in the world around you. This isn’t easy, but the most impactful music is able to reach and relate to people, so keep that in mind when looking for parts of your daily life experience to write about.
4. Write about your struggles
The musicians who hate this advice are the ones who would most likely benefit the most from it. Though there’s plenty of exceptions, most impactful music out there was written under times of heartbreak, struggle, and loss. Now, I’m not talking about the “my girlfriend of two months dumped me” kind of situation but something much deeper. If you can be real, transparent, and unflinchingly honest about your struggles within your music, you’ll have the best chance of speaking to listeners in a way they’ll remember and appreciate. The best songs have an ability to comfort and resonate with people, and you won’t be able to get into that sort of emotional headspace if you’re too concerned with looking cool, strong, and together. If you take the time to honestly think about the losses you’ve faced in your life, you’ll realize you have more to write about than you can probably imagine.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.