Telling Your Story
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets
to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do”.
- Bob Dylan
The Idea Miner
Developing your listening and observational skills is another important
aspect of songwriting. The gold nuggets are out there, sometimes
you just need to dig a little deeper in order to find them. They
are lurking in the conversations you hear, the road signs you pass,
the T.V. commercials you watch, the newspapers and magazine articles
you read. John Lennon wrote the Beatle's song, "Happiness Is
A Warm Gun" after seeing a gun magazine sitting on a coffee
table with that headline written on it's cover.
Likewise, The first lines of Roger Miller's song, "King of
the Road", were written after seeing the words: "Rooms
To Let 50 Cents" and "Trailers For Sale Or Rent"
on two separate road signs and then reversing them.
Characterize - As you have probably noticed, people love to tell
stories and talk about themselves. As a songwriter, you can use
these tendencies to your advantage. Try putting yourself in someone
else's shoes when they're talking to you. Listen for any repetitive
statements they make. Take mental notes. What stands out? What do
you remember most about the person? What impression are you left
with? Write it down. Fictionalize, exaggerate or minimize the information
to suit your lyric.
Real life stories offer great material too. Consider Bob Dylan's
song "Hurricane" for instance. It's woven around the true-life
story of a black prizefighter by the name of Hurricane Carter. Carter
was falsely accused and then sentenced to life imprisonment for
a murder he did not commit. This event sparked a protest movement
involving some celebrities who made several unsuccessful attempts
to secure his release. Years later, when a major motion picture
staring Denzel Washington was created about the story, Bob Dylan's
song "Hurricane" became a natural choice for the background
You have to write. You have to practice writing to get good at
it. Most songwriters have fairly large libraries of ideas and unpublished
songs. This is because they write all the time.
When Alanis Morisette collaborated with producer Glenn Ballard,
they went through literally hundreds of her songs to find the strongest
material. The songs they knew would touch people’s hearts
and emotions. Where did she find the inspiration for all this material?
The short answer is life. Write what you know from your own personal
experiences. Write about what frustrates you, or makes you happy.
Write about love, hate or the government. Write about your friends,
lovers or enemy’s. But write.
The more you write, the more you write. No, this is not a typo.
Sometimes the toughest part about songwriting is just doing it!
The best way to write a song is to just get on with it. The whole
song will not POP into your head. It will not happen. But if you
keep working at it inspiration will come to you. Don’t worry
about the end at the beginning, in fact don’t even worry about
the beginning yet either. Just get the main parts at first, or any
parts. Work at the craft of songwriting and the inspiration will
come, just probably not where you expect.
learn more about Songwriting