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How to Pick a Topic for a Song: 5 Simple Steps

Finding the right topic to write about in a song can get a little tricky. It’s common for songwriters to get stuck while choosing a topic and feel unsure of how to start. There are just so many topics out there to write about. Here are 5 steps that I personally find useful in deciding what topic I should write about and to narrow down what to write for a song. 

To pick a topic in just 5 easy steps, first, write down and describe the way you’re currently feeling. Don’t think too much. Just write it down. Look at your ideas and figure out what the general topic is (love, sadness, peace, life etc). Afterwards, continue brainstorming more words about that particular topic. Think about how you can expand your idea. And finally, figure out a story that you can tell.

The process of choosing the right song topic can sometimes get confusing. Especially for those who have way too many ideas! In order to find out more about these steps and how they can help with your songwriting, read on!

Step 1 – Think and write down what’s on your mind 

The easiest way to figure out a topic for your song is write down whatever it is that you’re feeling at the moment. It can be about your current mood, recent events, news that you’ve heard. Anything! Start getting those brain juices flowing and put it all down on a sheet of paper. 

If you’re still having trouble figuring out what to write down, there are a few tricks to get your mind inspired!

  • Listen to a few of your favorite songs. Go through their lyrics. 
  • Write about your family and friends. Maybe a story they’ve told you can spark your imagination. 
  • Look at old photos. How do you feel looking at some of your past memories? 
  • If you play an instrument, play some chords and ask yourself how those chords make you feel.

By writing down ideas that’s on your mind, you’re creating a visual of all the different ideas that you can potentially write about. After spending a few minutes doing this first step, you’ll start to see some common ideas being written down. Having similar ideas is a good thing because it means that deep down there’s something in that topic that interests you and you should go explore it!

Read Next: How To Write A Song in 5 Easy Steps: With Song Breakdown

Step 2 – Figure out the general topics of your initial thoughts

Once you see a pattern forming on your sheet, you can start putting them together as a general topic.  What is a general topic? It can be anything like love, friendship, world peace, or even something random like ‘bread’!

After my initial thoughts, i’ve categorized the ideas as “love”.

Whatever you initially thought of writing about, think about what topic it would fall under. 

When we start putting together ideas followed by putting them into a category, we are slowly taking abstract thoughts and turning them into something more concrete. We’re able to understand and put into words what we are thinking about. This will help get into your topic a little more and make it easier for you to write your song. 

Step 3 – Brainstorming the topic 

Once you have a general topic, you can start brainstorming and giving it more “substance”. What that means is now you can start expanding on your initial ideas and write more. On my brainstorm sheet, “love” is my general topic. And I’ve added deeper thoughts into this. 

I add more ideas to my general topic

As you can see, I’ve added more to the general topic of “love” and written down a few romantic moments that I could think of. So now my brainstorm sheet is not simply about ‘love’ but rather ‘romantic love’. With this in mind, I can go deeper into the topic and write down things that remind me of ‘romantic love’.

It can be objects, stories you’ve read before or even a show that you’ve seen on Netflix. 

Just write down whatever you first think of when you think about ‘romantic love’. I suggest writing down about 5-10 things when brainstorming. Having more than that will start to complicate the process and you don’t want that. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just need to write down the first few thoughts and “images” that you have in your head.

Step 4 – Expand your idea and go more in depth

Once you have a nice brainstorm flow happening within your general topic and some ideas to work with, it’s time to expand those ideas and go a little more in-depth with them. We want to give your song more meaning and build multiple layers within it. 

A more in-depth look into my brainstorm sheet

So in my example, I have “things that we do” as a branch of “romantic love”. Under that section I wrote things that can be done like “riding down the highway”, “sunset watching” and “ride on magic carpet”. This gives more imagery to the song that you’re going to write. For my song, I can use this “scene” and create the lyrics “driving down the highway in the morning sun” or something like that.

Once you add to your brainstorm and go deeper into the ideas that you’ve written out, you’ll have a better idea of where you’re going with the song and what it’s going to be about. 

Step 5 – Tell a story

Storytelling is crucial in writing a good song

This is by far the most important step to help you pick a good topic for your song. Figure out what story you’re going to tell. The story based on your brainstorm will be a unique take on that topic. No matter how generic your song topic may seem, this story will help you make it unique and different from songs that are already out there.

You can start thinking about who’s in your story. What are the character’s doing and where are they? Ask a few more of these questions to create that story in your head. Continue to use the brainstorm sheet to add to your story.

For my topic, I’ve written “driving down the highway in the morning sun”. I can add a story to that and say “the couple are newly married and are driving from their wedding.” That imagery is going to help me while I write the song. In this step, you can have as many story lines as you want and as detailed as you want. You’re trying to “create a movie” with multiple scenes before you start your lyrics. 

If you have a clear image of what you’re writing, you’ll be able to write something that your audience can “see” as well. So look at your brainstorm and all it’s in-depth ideas. Start thinking about what you’re trying to convey. Look at what the story can be and how it unfolds.

Once you have a bunch of “scenes” in your head and have all the characters set up, you can start writing your lyrics.

What are some of the most popular song topics?

I know coming up with song topics can be hard so I’ve compiled some of the most popular topics and examples that you can use for your song. Feel free to use these topics and brainstorm ideas starting from step 3.

  • Love “Yellow” by Coldplay
  • Starting Again – “Here comes the sun” by the Beatles
  • Feminism – “I’m Just a Girl” By No Doubt
  • Death – “Tears in heaven” – Eric Clapton
  • Isolation – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day
  • Family – “Daughters” – John Mayer
  • Friendship – “You got a friend in me” by Randy Newman
  • Self love – “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera 
  • Growing Up – “Wake Up” by The Arcade Fire
  • Heartbreak – “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
  • Positivity – “Shake it off” – Taylor swift

Final Thoughts

Picking a good topic for your song can seem challenging at first. But the more you practice these steps, the easier it will get. But don’t forget, no matter what topic you choose, the lyrics will be what helps the audience relate to your song. Think of a good story, and write your lyrics. Your unique take on the topic will be what makes your song memorable and special. 

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