Do you struggle to come up with song ideas?
If so, you’re not alone — but it can be especially tough if you’re a new songwriter.
Some days, you can sit down with your instrument and a notebook and everything flows. Other days, it feels like nothing’s clicking.
You might check out some songwriting prompts or flip through notes you’ve written, but no matter what you try, nothing grabs you.
But if you regularly have a hard time knowing what to write about, it might help you to change your mindset. Here’s what I mean:
It might sound cliche to say that inspiration is everywhere, but it’s true.
Once you start recognizing this, you’ll have a stream of never-ending ideas to tap into. And I’d argue that this is one thing pros know that amateurs haven’t yet learned.
So let’s discuss where the best songwriting ideas come from.
How Songwriting Inspiration Works
Creativity, including song ideas, isn’t a faucet you can turn on and off at will. Inspiration doesn’t depend on what you’re doing at the time — for example, when you’re in a room full of writers and you’re expected to produce.
Your muse won’t visit you on command simply because you sat down in front of your guitar or piano. Lyrics don’t flow just because you’ve decided you’re ready to write your next hit.
Songwriting just doesn’t work that way.
Instead, creativity and inspiration are more like a waterfall. They’re a constant flow, and it’s up to you to recognize that flow and tap into it.
That means keeping your eyes, ears, and heart open to ideas constantly.
Have you ever bought a new car and suddenly noticed how many others exactly like it are everywhere? That’s because you’ve trained your brain to notice that particular model and color.
Similarly, once you train yourself to notice the inspiration around you, you’ll find ideas everywhere. You might even become unstoppable.
And yes, when you start tapping into the inspiration that surrounds you in your day-to-day life, you’ll basically be writing songs, or at least thinking about writing songs, 24/7.
Here’s how you can train your brain to recognize that inspiration.
Recognizing Good Song Topic Ideas
A great song offers a different way of looking at the world. Anything that takes your listeners out of the same-old, same-old way of thinking about or describing life is fair game. If you want your songs to stand out, you need a theme that stands out.
Maybe your unique perspective is humorous, maybe it’s heartfelt or emotionally touching, maybe it’s joyous or even a little angry or frustrated. The important thing is that you tap into a strong, relatable emotion.
If your idea can also be a hook — a lyric combined with a rhythm or melody that’s catchy, easy to grasp, and instantly memorable — even better.
Maybe you find a unique way of saying something, a play on words for example, or a creative twist on a common phrase.
Whatever it ends up being, when you’re in inspiration gathering mode, it’s important not to judge. Instead, just record your ideas or write them down.
Don’t be tempted to toss out ideas that you don’t think are strong (yet) because every snippet can be polished later on. An idea that doesn’t feel quite right today may be perfect a month or year from now.
And once you train your brain to start looking everywhere for inspiration, you’ll find yourself collecting more ideas than you’ll ever know what to do with.
Don’t forget to keep your song ideas in an easily accessible, central place so you don’t have to rifle through Post-It notes on your desk, or napkins stuffed in your glove box, before heading off to a writing session.
So where can you look? Start here.
10 Sources of Every Day Song Idea Inspiration
This list isn’t comprehensive but it will definitely get you moving in the right direction.
Everyday conversations are a huge source of inspiration for songwriters. And conversations aren’t limited to ones you’re a part of.
Things that you overhear people say in restaurants, at the farmer’s market, or while standing in line at the post office are all fair game.
You’ll find gold whenever you hear an unusual turn of phrase, a unique way of thinking about something, a punchline in a joke, or anything else that strikes you.
Even if you love the sound of your own voice, there’s never been a better time to practice listening. Here are just two songs that were inspired by conversations:
- One Step Closer — U2
- Sorry Not Sorry — Demi Lovato
2. Real Life Experience
The best songs are often inspired by real life, either yours or someone else’s.
Don’t worry, the stories don’t need to be 100% true, nor do they have to be autobiographical. Instead, take a nugget of inspiration from real life and build something fictional on top of it.
Write down your own stories as well as stories you hear — and if you aren’t already doing it, start a journal. If you can spend even 15 minutes a day free writing, or jotting down anything that comes to mind, you’ll create a rich source of ideas.
You’ll find loads of popular song topics here. While there are certain song topics that will always be popular, don’t be afraid to stretch the boundaries a little. Some examples of songs that draw successfully on real life are:
- 10,000 Hours — Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber
- The House That Built Me — Miranda Lambert
3. People, Places, and Things
Names are popular as song titles, so be sure to collect ones you like — My Sharona or Hey There Delilah, for example.
Take some time to think about colorful, memorable people you’ve encountered in your lifetime, or those who made the biggest impression on you.
Next, think about places only you would know, places that were special to you alone or that you shared with your friends and family.
Even though your listeners might not know those exact places, they’ll probably share similar experiences and relate to your songs
Ask yourself what things you treasure. You can write about your favorite instrument, your first apartment, your dream car, or your grandmother’s holiday rum cake.
Finally, what stories are legend among your friends and family? What are your favorite memories? You don’t have to betray confidences, but you can use those for a great foundation. examples:
- Billie Jean — Michael Jackson
- Mickey — Toni Basil
4. Pop Culture
By all means, look to art, books, movies, television, or even other music for songwriting ideas. There’s no reason to shy away from collecting inspiration from other types of art.
Of course, I’d never suggest that you plagiarize, but you can definitely build on work that others have done. Take an idea and make it your own.
Do you have a favorite book or movie? What does it mean to you? How would you write a theme song for it? Can you take a popular title and write it from a different viewpoint (titles aren’t subject to copyright, after all.)
Think about how your favorite art makes you feel, and then write a song that captures or expresses those emotions. Some pop-culture favorites include:
- Moves Like Jagger — Maroon 5
- For Whom The Bell Tolls — Metallica
5. Popular Phrases and Expressions
Anything that’s in the popular vernacular is fair game, although you might want to avoid flash-in-the-pan fads that will be out of style in a year (or month) or two.
While songs on these topics may be popular now, in a couple of years people might have no idea what your songs are about. So use your best judgment and try to choose topics that have staying power.
In addition to popular sayings, you can also create some pretty cool twists on common phrases or expressions. As a matter of fact, those might be best, because they’ll be memorable and definitely catch your listeners’ attention. Examples:
- Drop It Like It’s Hot — Snoop Dog feat. Pharrell
- What Goes Around… Comes Around — Justin Timberlake
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine — Marvin Gaye
6. Long Walks
Creative people everywhere swear by taking long walks. Not only will you notice things on your walks, but simply getting your body moving gets your creative juices flowing.
You don’t have to set out with any particular objective, like, “I’m going to try to overhear people’s conversations at the park.” Instead, simply clear your mind and be open to whatever happens.
If walking isn’t your thing, or if the weather isn’t cooperating on a certain day, then feel free to embrace some other kind of exercise you enjoy. The key is to find a change of scenery, clear your mind, and get your blood pumping.
7. Other Creative Pursuits
Have you ever noticed that creative people are often creative in many areas of their lives? It’s true. You may have a knack for cooking, graphic design, or photography.
You might write short stories or enjoy landscaping or painting your house. Embrace all the creative things you enjoy. You don’t have to actually be trying to write a song to get inspiration for songs.
Instead, stay in the flow and keep your phone or notebook handy whatever you’re doing and where ever you go.
Planting a succulent garden or whipping up a batch of your signature chili could prove to be just the inspiration you need for a unique and memorable song.
Patterns are everywhere. As humans, we are all connected and ideas build on each other and spawn similar ideas. So what ideas or topics keep coming up over and over in your daily life?
What coincidences have you been noticing? Maybe you keep hearing similar jokes or stories. Maybe your favorite sports team provides a great analogy for coming back from tragedy, or an ingenious YouTube hamster video shows the value of persistence.
If an idea keeps popping into your awareness, why not use it in a song?
If your own personal well runs dry, why not recruit some collaborators and put your heads together? Sometimes the best creative ideas come when you bounce ideas off other people.
When it comes to songwriting, a few heads can often be better than one. So don’t spin your wheels, feeling stuck or frustrated on your own. Instead, grab a few friends. Approach it as a game. And again, don’t judge.
Many of the ideas you come up with might really be unusable, but all you really need is a few gems. When you gather a team of talented folks together in the same room, you’re much more likely to find those gems.
Although this is the last point, it’s actually one of the most important.
One of the best things you can do to boost your creativity is – nothing. Clear your schedule. Eliminate distractions. Turn your notifications off. Go off grid. Take a long drive.
Whatever it takes to calm the busyness of life for a while and let ideas come to you.
While there are a whole lot of jokes about getting ideas when you’re in the shower, it’s been proven to be true. The point is to relax your mind and body, creating the perfect conditions for inspiration to strike.
Your daily shower might be one of the few times you’re alone during the day. If that’s the case, you might want to intentionally create more downtime for yourself.
Find a Never-ending Source of Songwriting Ideas
The key to tapping into a continual stream of song ideas isn’t complicated. It just takes a simple mind shift.
So make the switch today. Stop racking your brain only when it’s writing time. Instead, start noticing all the inspiration that surrounds you day in and day out.
When you get into the habit of constantly looking for inspiration, you’ll find more great songwriting ideas than you could ever use.
And those days of sitting down to write without having any idea what to write about will become fewer and farther between.
If you want to learn how to take those ideas and turn them into a professional-sounding, pitchable song, check out How to Write a Song.