The world’s most popular and influential songs have lyrical narratives that usually explore what it feels like to be human, with topics like falling in and out of love, coping with death, or even just facing the tedium of daily life. As a songwriter, learning to draw musical inspiration and meaning from your own life is one of the most important valuable actions you can take, but you’ll end up limiting yourself in a big way if you stop there.
What your music can and can’t be about
You can make music about literally anything you want. Any idea, no matter how absurd, true, untrue, or random, can become a song. You don’t, and probably shouldn’t, write songs purely based on your own experiences because much of what a person sees and does on a daily basis is quite boring, obviously. A concept album about your non-musical day job is probably not going to be a hit, unless you have a knack for weaving poetry into your descriptions of mundane things.
When you open up your music to things that transcend your literal experiences, you give your songs countless new potential creative directions to explore that you couldn’t have had access to before. You can write music about historical events, places you’ve never been, fictional characters and worlds, jokes, world events––literally anything you want. But the key thing to remember is your audience. If your songs are too cryptic and hard for other people to understand, then people will probably not connect with them. Your epic sci-fi concept album will have a much better chance at finding an audience if the music feels and sounds emotive, with human stories that listeners can hear themselves in. Your music can be about anything you want, including things you’ve literally experienced and things you haven’t, but songs with authentic, human stories are the ones that usually go on to find audiences.
How to move past writing only about your own experiences
If you’ve never explored songs that aren’t just about things you’ve personally seen, done, or endured, then branching out might feel a little intimidating at first. A good place to start is by keeping a songwriting journal and jotting down the things you think about the most. If a world event keeps popping into your mind, for example, then that’s a good starting point for a new song. You can apply the same music-writing approach you usually do when it comes to matching melodies with lyrics, or lyrics to melodies depending on what you write first. Give yourself permission to fail if this is your first time branching out from just covering literal experiences in your music, and don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable with this process because that’s a normal part of trying something new.
And, most importantly, explore whatever you want to for the subjects of your songs, but try not to force inspiration when it’s not there. If you try to write about something you don’t know about or aren’t really interested in, it will come across in your songs. If you bring the things you’re truly passionate and knowledgeable about to your music, your songs will feel human and authentic, whether they include your lived experiences or not.