Is it possible to choose a compelling song topic when pretty much everything has been sung about?
As pop music evolves, the one thing that seems to have remained constant is: love sells. Whether it’s love as a religious experience (“Locked Out Of Heaven” – Bruno Mars), love that’s not working (“I Knew You Were Trouble” – Taylor Swift), or love that’s just right (“Diamonds” – Rihanna), it seems you can’t go wrong with love.
As a songwriter, you can take advantage of the fact that while people claim there’s nothing like your first love, love always feels new when it’s with someone new. And listeners love to hear music that enhances that feeling for them.
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But it’s very hard to write about a topic that’s been written about literally tens of thousands of times, and hope to find a new angle, a new way of expressing that primal emotion.
You can find that new angle, however, if you try the “dig deeper” method of choosing a song topic. And this will work whether you’re selecting love as your song topic, or world peace, social justice, or just about anything:
- Choose one large, all-encompassing topic/idea (love, peace, caring for a loved one, etc.) as your topic, and write it down.
- Ask yourself the simple question: What about it? Start writing ideas down. Choose one of your ideas and move to the next step.
- Keep digging deeper. If you chose “I’m so sick and tired of violence in our society”, dig deeper. Be more specific. “Gang violence.” Write topics on the left side of your paper, and ideas and thoughts on the right side.
- Keep digging deeper. What about it? “Violent adults start out as loving children,” for example.
Keep repeating step 4 until you feel that you’ve got a unique angle on your topic. The “dig deeper” method ensures that even though your song topic may seem generic, you’ve been able to dig down into that topic and find something that’s special and distinctive.
You don’t need to worry about being overly profound with this. Remember, it’s your lyric that’s going to connect with your audience. You can choose a great topic, but lose your listeners with a bad lyric.
Further to this dig deeper method, it’s a good exercise to try deconstructing well-known songs. In other words, take a hit song and keep going backwards (i.e., digging “upwards”) until you’ve got the large, all-encompassing idea.
Some songs that would make great ones to deconstruct: “One More Night” (Maroon 5), “Ho Hey” (The Lumineers), and “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons). Don’t be surprised if you find that getting the overall topic of a song is sometimes difficult to do. This is especially true where song topics may actually be a metaphor for some other topic.
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