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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 theme.

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 Most songwriters have fairly large libraries of ideas and unpublished songs.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.

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