In the past century, the world watched as a number of singer-songwriters emerge in the spotlight. Classic icons like Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, and Stevie Nicks have all penned history by using their personal narratives and a variety of storytelling techniques to deliver lines that resonate with millions of people. Newcomer and rising star Olivia Rodrigo, for instance, samples high school heartaches in her angsty teen lyrics to write new songs. There are so many ways in which a songwriter can start generating ideas. If anything, this is an understatement. There is quite literally no limit to the number of ways in which inspiration can strike a lyricist. It’s one of the reasons there’s truly no end to innovation in music.
With that said, however, there are still plenty of talented musicians who struggle with lyrics. This aspect of the songwriting process isn’t everybody’s strong point (which is why there are really only perhaps a few dozen musicians in history who are specifically described as skilled lyricists). With this in mind, we thought it might be helpful to suggest a few ways in which to seek out lyrical inspiration when it doesn’t come naturally.
It may seem like a lot of effort to get into dating for the sake of songwriting. But the bottom line is, it’s fair to say that this is where most lyrical inspiration comes from! Just a few years ago, an analysis of common themes in music (specifically looking at top hits over a 50-year span) highlighted “loss,” “desire,” “aspiration,” “pain,” and “breakup” all among the top six concepts. Not all of those themes explicitly have to do with love, sex, or dating every time. But it’s clear that they speak to a staggering number of hits that we’ve seen over the years.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can mess around on dating apps for a few days and churn out the next version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” or The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” But exposing yourself to romantic interest and connection can certainly help to spark some lyrical creativity. It has done so for countless musicians for as long as the concept of song lyrics has existed.
We won’t get into specific political stances here. But suffice to say, wherever you may fall on the spectrum, following the drama of politics and the consequences of political decisions can certainly spark some lyrical inspiration.
This might not seem to be the case when you first think about it. But when you consider protest songs specifically, a whole world of memorable lyrics may spring to mind. There have been incredible protest songs through the decade, aimed at political matters ranging from the Vietnam War to recent immigration policies. Sam Cooke’s legendary “A Change Is Gonna Come” is a protest song at its core; Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” screams protest; songs like Eminem’s “Mosh” and Green Day’s “American Idiot” introduced a whole generation to the concept of pop music with a political slant. The list goes on, which is why we thought diving into political intrigue made for a fitting tip.
Poker may seem somewhat niche, but the truth is it’s at the core of a surprisingly large number of iconic lyrical songs. Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady” is all about Vegas’ gambling culture and remains an unofficial anthem of the town more than 50 years after its recording. “Poker Face” is arguably Lady Gaga’s most well-known song (even if poker in that case is purely a metaphor). And “The Gambler” is considered to be one of the essential songs of Kenny Rogers, even though he didn’t write it! Simply put, poker and gambling lyrics seem to stick.
This is also an idea worth considering because it’s fairly easy to get into. You can start playing poker online to get familiar with the game, and some sites don’t require any real-money betting which will allow you to practice for free without any financial risk. Once you’ve played some games, you’ll have a better understanding of poker culture, and can make more sense of relevant films, televised tournaments, or even a trip to a live casino. And eventually you may just tap into the extravagance and romantic side of the game that has inspired so many songs.
It’s not always easy to travel, particularly these days. You need to find time to be away from your day-to-day obligations, plan and budget a trip, and then actually follow through on it and go. Nevertheless, if travel is an option for you, and you struggle to find inspiration for lyrics, you may want to think about just how many terrific songs have to do with the topic in one way or another.
In this expansive category, there are modern hits like “Renegades” by X Ambassadors, “Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford & Sons, and “Malibu” by Miley Cyrus. There are iconic rock songs like “Where The Streets Have No Name” by U2 and “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. And there are older classics stemming from artists ranging from Willie Nelson to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So we think it’s safe to say: If you have it in you to hit the road for a while, you may just find something to write about while you’re at it.
Best of luck seeking your inspiration, and happy writing!