Of all the songs that have ever been written in the world, it’s pretty inarguable that songs about love (and its close friend, heartbreak) are by far the most common. And it makes sense why: those kinds of feelings are universal, relatable, and often so extreme that they’re some of the easiest ways to spark inspiration for a tune.
But, just for today, let’s challenge ourselves to write outside the box. You’ve had many, many more experiences and emotions throughout your lifetime besides those related to love (or lack thereof), but where do you start? And, more importantly, how can you make it actually work as an interesting, relatable song that will move your listeners?
Here are six topic ideas that have nothing to do with love to get your creative juices flowing, plus examples of how they’ve historically been successful. Granted, these are broad, but the idea is to think about the big topic and figure out what you personally can draw from it.
Try writing about real or fictitious individuals who are interesting in some way. Just like with books and films, conflict creates interest in a plot, so give the character a backstory and fill in the blanks. Create a lore behind these characters. You can even carry them through future albums and songs.
Don’t be afraid to summon historical figures, personalities of interest, and those who inspire you. For example, in Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” he brings in Roy Orbison to talk about the lonely. And in “Stuck Between Stations” by The Hold Steady, Craig Finn brings Jack Kerouac’s character Sal Paradise into the discussion of America’s miserable youth.
Whether you watch the news or go to a show, it doesn’t matter. As long as the event is interesting to you, and you can get that across to the listener, it really doesn’t matter what you choose.
The event can be real or fictitious, as long as something is at stake. For example, Long Island band Brand New wrote a morose song about a little girl who died in a drunk-driving accident. If you’re struggling to think of an event to write about, it sometimes helps to start with the extremes: something tragic (e.g., catastrophes, natural disasters) or something happy: (parties, the birth of a child).
Craft a song about your favorite (or least favorite) city, your hometown, a place you’ve made up, or even a place someone else has made up (think Led Zeppelin’s references to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Minas Tirith in “The Battle of Evermore.”) Be detailed, and describe the streets and different parts of town – perhaps even directions to somewhere particular. If you’re drawing inspiration from a real place, write about memories you have there. Create a world around the place for the listener to make it more interesting.
If you have a deep passion for athletics or just want to challenge yourself, write about sports! Sports actually make an excellent writing topic because there’s always something at stake. You could be very direct, like Morrissey was in hisa song detailing the oft-written-about noble sport of boxing, or you could try molding athletes into the heroes and villains read about in Greek epics. You could even just use a team name to inspire an entire song, like Lorde did for her breakthrough single inspired by the Kansas City Royals.
5. Nerdy Things
Go the early Weezer route and write about playing Dungeons & Dragons in your garage with your friends. Or maybe going on raids in World of Warcraft is a more appealing topic. Remember Pokemon? That’s a can of worms just waiting to be opened. All of these things have worlds ready to discuss and stakes at play. Take advantage of the lore!
Caution: Do not be tempted to write about love! Instead, write about the especially good or bad things that have happened in your past. Either can be nostalgic. Remember that one golden summer? Maybe you miss the freedom from responsibility that college offered like Death Cab For Cutie did, or perhaps it’s your first car that you want to commemorate in a ballad.
The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to write about anything. Love will always be there for you to write about, but if you want to really expand the depth and breadth of your songwriting, it’s important to challenge yourself and write about something different every now and then.
What else do you like to write about besides love? Let us know in the comments below!