Sometimes the song words just pop into my head but when they don’t, I go looking for them.
Where to look? Everywhere! Conversations, newspapers, TV, books. Inspiration is all around us, we just have to recognise it when it appears.
One of my first ports of call for ideas is the newspaper, but I’m not looking for a story to write about, I’m just looking for a line, a few words, that seem to go together in an unforgettable way. For instance, I saw a small feature in a Sunday paper telling the story of a photographer’s new project; taking pictures of small-town America at night. His collection was called Midnight on Main Street which, for me, became, almost instantly:
It was midnight on Main Street
And I could still feel the heat
She was standing on the boardwalk
And my heart skipped a beat
This begat two songs, one about parallel lives and one about a woman fighting alcoholism.
Conversations can sometimes reveal interesting ideas or word combinations. The idea for Procal Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale apparently came from overheard chatter in a pub: “….she turned a whiter shade of pale….”. And one of the most successful songs of all time was born.
If I can’t wait around listening for an inspirational gem to appear, my first stop is Amazon. I go to the book section, pick a subject (Romance is a good one) and peruse hundreds of book titles. I always come away with several good ideas beginning to form.
If you’re waiting to catch a plane it doesn’t hurt to kill time checking out the titles in the book shop. Live near a public library? Same thing, peruse the titles.
Clever people have wracked their brains to come up with these words and you can use them to trigger a great idea for a song. (By the way, titles aren’t copyrightable).
Another source of inspiration is your own words. I sift through all my rejected and partly written songs to see if there’s a gem I’ve missed. Freddy Mercury once said Bohemian Rhapsody was an amalgamation of three hitherto unused songs. And if it worked for him?
As a writer, I have thousands of words of prose stored and I often plough through these looking for an idea. For me, a song is a piece of flash fiction set to music so it’s often a fruitful search.
Finally, there’s personal experience. My UK Song Contest 2020 winning song It’s Later Than You Think is basically a true story. I did see those lines written on a restroom wall in a Baltimore bar and I did spend the next three years sailing a small boat around the US and Caribbean. And I still offer young people the advice: Don’t ever let yourself regret the things you didn’t do.
So, that’s how I seek inspiration for my lyrics, I hope some of this helps you in your own quest for song words.