Song Ideas: Use TV Scenes

If you find yourself looking for new song ideas and inspiration, here’s a tip that works! Watch television. I know it might sound crazy but many TV scenes are built around common emotional situations the audience can relate to. That’s just what you want for your song.

Just about any drama series will provide you with plenty of good scenes. Look for emotional interaction between two characters. Watch the scene and note the dialogue – you might even write down a few lines to get your song started.

Comedy series are not as easy to use as drama but they will work. If you choose a sitcom, check out the last 5 to 10 minutes of the show when any conflicts or problems are wrapped up and there’s often a heartfelt moment between characters.

Soaps operas, yes, good old-fashioned afternoon soaps, are a good source if you can manage to watch. (There aren’t many left.) They’re slow moving and nothing much happens but that’s because everyone is busy emoting all over the place. There’s enough emotional confrontation, regret, tearful forgiveness, and joyful reunions  to fill a couple hundred songs!

Action series are fun to watch but chase scenes and shootouts won’t give you much to work with. Like comedy series, the emotion is usually in the last  few scenes.

News shows: News shows are filled with emotionally intense drama that just happens to be real. Talk shows and interviews can also be a source. There’s a great story behind the song “I Drive Your Truck.” One of the writers saw an interview on a news show and was inspired to write the song.

Use my article How to Write a Song in 10 Steps to complete any of the following ideas.

SHOW: Classic Perry Mason TV series
Theme: Be Strong
Concept: You have the strength to meet the challenge. Those who love you will help.

  • “I know things look tough.”
  • “You’re carrying a lot of weight on your shoulders.”
  •  “Let me help you.”

Continue reading “Song Ideas: Use TV Scenes”

Elmore Leonard’s Advice to Songwriters

When I hear great fiction writers talk about their craft, I’m often struck by how easily these insights can be applied to songwriting.  We can learn a lot about our own craft by stepping outside and looking at it from another angle. For example, the late, great novelist Elmore Leonard said this in an interview with

A writer has to read. Read all the time. Decide who you like then study that author’s style. Take the author’s book or story and break it down to see how he put it together. 

If you apply this to songwriting you get:

A songwriter has to listen. Listen all the time. Decide who you like then study that songwriter’s style. Take the songwriter’s songs break them down to see how they’re put together.

To become good at your craft, it takes more than talent. Elmore Leonard was certainly a great novelist – Get Shorty is a classic! – and a hugely talented writer of short stories and screenplays. Why did he feel  the need to study other writers? Because he understood the limitations of talent.  Continue reading “Elmore Leonard’s Advice to Songwriters”

Song Starter: Write a song about a place.

There have been many successful songs written about places: New York, Paris, San Francisco, Chicago, and foggy London town.  In these songs, the big city often provides a backdrop for a love affair or nostalgic memories.

But small towns and rural locales can also be inspiring. Jason Aldean’s “Tattoos on This Town” is a great example of a vivid lyric about growing up in a small town. Classics like “Blue Bayou” and “Rocky Mountain High” evoke the feeling of a place.

LYRIC STARTER: Think of a place that holds emotions or memories for you and write a song about it. Paint a picture so your listener can see and feel the place as you do. What is it you remember? What stands out? Why do you feel the way you do? Continue reading “Song Starter: Write a song about a place.”

Use Your Old Song Ideas

Do you have lists of song titles you’ve never used, scraps of lyrics with a verse idea but no chorus, or a pile of melody ideas recorded on your iPhone? Do you look at them every once in a while and wonder: What do I do with these? They’re too good to just toss out but you don’t know how to turn them into a whole song.

You can look at these ideas as a bunch of dead-ends gathering dust. Or you can think of them as a gold mine that’s just waiting to be worked. My suggestion: Go with the gold mine thing.

Mining for lost lyric gold
Consider going back over these old ideas every two to three months. You obviously liked something about these titles, lyric lines, and melodies or you wouldn’t have kept them. An idea that moved you is the first step to writing a powerful song. Respect that.

Look for a lyric or melody line that resonates for you now and choose one – just one – to focus on. You’re going to work on developing this one idea into a whole song. It may not be the same song you would have written with that line a year ago. We all change as time goes on – learning new things, finding new interests, shifting emotional focus – so don’t try to recapture your original idea. Just go where the idea takes you now.  Continue reading “Use Your Old Song Ideas”