[SONGWRITING TIPS #1] Where Great Song Ideas Really Come From

What would it feel like to hear THOUSANDS of people singing your songs?

Really, really great, believe me.

I remember the first time that it happened for me and the THRILL that I felt realizing that God had actually used me to bring something valuable to a group of people – – that they actually felt closer to Him because of words I’d written

Nothing quite like it.

In all the years since that day, I’ve realized that the quality of a song will never exceed the quality of the IDEA and it’s hook. It can’t, right?

That’s like saying you can build a million-dollar mansion with sticks and twigs. You might love those sticks and twigs, but you’ll never make them any more than they are.

It’s the same with songs.

So that means that if you spend more time finding GREAT IDEAS and developing them, the quality of your songs will DRAMATICALLY INCREASE and more people will love and engage with you and your songs.

But where do great song ideas really come from?

Here are three places you can look NOW to increase your song power immediately and begin to engage listeners today:

Read. If you want to write beautiful words, you must be filled with beautiful words. Reading more will open your mind to different phrases than you’re currently writing. If you find yourself writing the same phrases over and over, you just need some new ones. Reading books expands your song idea options. My biggest song is “O Mighty Cross” co-written with my friend, David Baroni, that is already appearing in hymnals (even though I’m not dead yet). I read it somewhere. I didn’t “create” that idea or hook. But when I read it I immediately knew that it should become a song. Read more. Write better.

Listen. Many of my song ideas have come from listening to other people’s music. Don’t you want to write more when you’re listening to music that inspires you? I’ve found a lot of ideas hidden in the lyrics of other lyrics that I then took and reworked into a new song. A line out of Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” became a hit for me with The Gaither Vocal Band when I heard “I don’t care what consequence it brings/I have been a fool for lesser things” and took the second phrase to fashion a whole new song called “Fool for Lesser Things.” It isn’t stealing. I used it as a new hook to build an entirely new song from. Listen more. Write better.

Look. Just like reading and listening for hooks and great ideas increases the chances you’re going to find them, opening your eyes to messages happening all around you every day will result in more great song ideas, too. Ads, billboards, Tweets, Instagrams, Facebook posts and thousands of images with messages attached flash at you every day. Now, you seldom will take them as they are to write a new song but you can use many of them to spark a new idea in your mind. The more common a phrase like Nike’s “Just Do It” the less likely you’ll want to use it for obvious reasons. But Matthew West’s song “Do Something” is a similar message, for example. I have no idea if Matthew was inspired by Nike but it’s not impossible to imagine that it may have and it’s certainly a great suggestion for finding great new ideas for your songs. Look more. Write better.

Here’s a foolproof equation I keep in mind in my songwriting:

GREAT IDEA + GREAT LYRIC + GREAT MELODY = GREAT SONG

If you don’t start with a great IDEA you won’t finish with a GREAT SONG.

Simple.

To your songwriting success,
John Chisum

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John Chisum

John Chisum is a pioneer in the Christian music business, serving alongside people such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, Don Moen, and many more. As Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters, John seeks to empower Christian songwriters worldwide to discover and fulfill their call to write.

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