There's Nothing New To Write About

In this lesson Josh May addresses the reason why beginner lyric writers have trouble writing new songs, and how you can overcome that problem.

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Here's a little help for beginner Lyric Writers. You'll probably hate me a little after reading this. But take a moment and think for just a sec... When you sit down with your pen in hand, you probably try to think of a song idea that no one has EVER written before - more often than not - and then get frustrated when you can't think of anything, right? Have you ever wondered why this happens? It's because there's nothing new to write about. Yeah, It's true! The truth is the world has existed long before we got here - and music has existed for almost as long as people have been around. ...and it's all been done, my friend! Every situation you're going through has been lived through by someone else. Every feeling you have has been experienced by other people. And every idea you'll ever think of has been made into a song at least a dozen times. So you're not going to think of anything new to write...sorry but it'll never happen. Now be honest...You want to write about an idea that's totally new because you think "unique idea = great song". I don't mean to turn your world upside-down (well, yeah I do), but songwriting is NOT about thinking of new ideas or impressing others...and most of the time "unique ideas" = "terrible songs". I need you to check your ego before you begin your next lyrics project! Stop trying to outdo every writer before you - and every song before yours. That's not what songwriting is about. Songwriting is not about you...not really. Songwriting is about giving people a way to 'connect' to other people through a COMMON idea, feeling or situation. That's why unique ideas make terrible songs...because not many people can relate to them. When you write lyrics, you build an "emotional bridge" people can walk across to meet each other - or meet you. And only when they can achieve that emotional connection do they thank you for writing the song. So "common (old) ideas = great songs". "But how do you make an old idea into a new song that's all your own?" Well I have a funny magnet on my refrigerator that reads: "You're unique...just like everyone else." It's meant as a joke, but it's 100% true. Here's the message, even though many have gone through what you're going through - and have felt what you're feeling - no one will ever see life through your eyes or explain it the way you can. In a nutshell, songwriting can be summed up by asking yourself 1 question: "how can YOU tell the same story in YOUR voice; paint the same picture with YOUR hand?" So use an old idea to write your lyrics! I guarantee your songs will be unique each and every time you write. Take care! Joshua May

64 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Mundus
    enjoyable reading nice few quotes as well, good idea towards song writing, sounds progressive. BodaciousBob true more of a rant btw...
    Xusutu
    By the way, good column, I already looked at things this way, but it's good to be reminded of it.
    zeppelinisno.1
    well, you had a good point, but music changes almost every decade, and i want to bring back the 60's-80's because theres some really good songs and i dont want to copyright or people to be like "u stole the" or anything like that
    dwightleach
    i see wat ur talkin about but only songs about a feeling or experince have been writen already but music such as rock operas still can be written without being repetative
    Xusutu
    451F wrote: jrob816 wrote: I mean, I think this is wrong. This isn't an argument, you are just saying this and hoping people will accept it as true because you wrote about it. Just as every single experience on earth is new, a song can be written about it. Has a song already been written about the exact events of tomorrow? Has a song been written about how 27 people died on a space mission to Pluto? Nope. Saying that there is nothing new to write about is a cop out for not being original. Look, all songs fit into 3 broad categories: 1. Happy (major keys mainly) A. Love songs B. Isn't life great? C. Success/celebration 2. Sad (minor keys) A. Other love songs B. Death C. Failure 3. Either way (either key) A. True events Everything basically fits somewhere in there. Now your example of a song about a future true story may not have been done yet, but there are plenty of songs that have been done about things that have happened. I think the author was entirely justified in what he said. Specific events may not have been done yet, no, but something like it has.
    Songs are more like... 1. Elation 2. Frustration 3. Love 4. Hate 5. Etc. All (good)songs are based on an emotion or a specific feeling towards something that has happened.
    guitalando
    yea...you're right!!! I actually making a unique song but can't make one...thanks for this article I realize that that would be terrible..
    jrob816
    I mean, I think this is wrong. This isn't an argument, you are just saying this and hoping people will accept it as true because you wrote about it. Just as every single experience on earth is new, a song can be written about it. Has a song already been written about the exact events of tomorrow? Has a song been written about how 27 people died on a space mission to Pluto? Nope. Saying that there is nothing new to write about is a cop out for not being original.
    451F
    jrob816 wrote: I mean, I think this is wrong. This isn't an argument, you are just saying this and hoping people will accept it as true because you wrote about it. Just as every single experience on earth is new, a song can be written about it. Has a song already been written about the exact events of tomorrow? Has a song been written about how 27 people died on a space mission to Pluto? Nope. Saying that there is nothing new to write about is a cop out for not being original.
    Look, all songs fit into 3 broad categories: 1. Happy (major keys mainly) A. Love songs B. Isn't life great? C. Success/celebration 2. Sad (minor keys) A. Other love songs B. Death C. Failure 3. Either way (either key) A. True events Everything basically fits somewhere in there. Now your example of a song about a future true story may not have been done yet, but there are plenty of songs that have been done about things that have happened. I think the author was entirely justified in what he said. Specific events may not have been done yet, no, but something like it has.
    tands
    im going to disagree with this, unique songs are always better songs, people shouldnt give up on writting about unique subjects, Alot of great bands wont even sing about love/girls/sex/drugs etc. and they do amazing works
    yoshy69
    the points u point out r true, the problem is u sound like u bustin everyones chops, these lessons should encourage new writers to broaden there horizons and be creative, they dont need to be told that wat there gonna do has already been done wile that may be true this does nothin but discourage them from writin
    PaNdApWnG
    Damn dude! **** you!!! Jk, jk. This is so true.... And so right. This "lesson" is bad as, and tells so much. I like it a lot lol. It's just climbing another mountain... xD Get over yoursel.
    Pen-Cap-Chew
    I enjoyed this, because I was thinking the exact same thing. In art, it seems like there's nothing new to be found under the sun. What I found the most useful was what you proposed to do for getting around that.
    TheWannabe
    This pedantic revelation of yours isn't really that accurate,
    Its because theres nothing new to write about. Yeah, It's true! The truth is the world has existed long before we got here and music has existed for almost as long as people have been around. ...and its all been done, my friend! Every situation youre going through has been lived through by someone else. Every feeling you have has been experienced by other people. And every idea youll ever think of has been made into a song at least a dozen times. So youre not going to think of anything new to write...sorry but itll never happen.
    While this is true I think that being original counts as doing something without copying somebody elses work, and even though at least somebody has felt the same way we have before doesnt mean they were a poet or a writer. Also with all the styles and different languages I think that there will always be new ways to be original, not to mention the fact that different kind of emotions become more populer with time. New inventions and world events can be an original inspiration. You should give more thought about the fact that the world hasnt ended and while music has existed for a very long time I cant imagine cavemen or Mozart singing about babes alcohol and drugs.
    WIREDTOTHEMOON
    dude this wasnt a lesson but more a totally true piece of philosophey. i loved it so remembor: im unique...just like everyone else...
    Tortugo
    I like this article and have been thinking this way for years. People don't see our experiences through our eyes..this is true. However, I think it's the subtle differences of everyone's situation plus the perception of it (like you said) that allow us to convey things in a different way as songwriters.
    Shelbs1215
    That seems so obvious but for some reason it's not! What you said about songs is also true about your writing above...something that is not a new idea but feels new when someone else says it because each person experiences everything in a different way. That is great advice. Thanks for putting that out there!
    freak_sho246
    This is a great lesson, this totally made me think about songwriting in a completely different way. I love this lesson!
    fret_shredder_1
    I may not be a songwriter, but this was pretty friggan awsome. That was, is and will always be 100% true, and thats a fact of life.that will probably help many people write songs, and if i ever do, ill remember this.
    McFadin
    I've tried to write songs b4 but they always sound and are s***. I like ur way of looking at it, may b I'll try again...
    K.I.A.
    Nice writing style, your rant was very engaging. And I agree, music is supposed to make a connection of some kind, so it's best to use common emotions or thoughts.
    ChucklesMginty
    So a song about a farmer, who eats a crisp, the crisp flies up and lands in his eye, and then he goes blind has been done? That's starting to sound like a pretty cool song.. Anyway, your words were very true, good job!
    lizzylizzy
    I well your 90% right because some people want to wright something but he they just don't have it in them.I mean they try but it simply doesn't go and even if they succeed to wright something it would most of the time suck.Anyway it's a good way of seeing it tough.
    Kuhstoss
    Very true i will give you that. Well written, well taught, well explained, definitly a ten.
    Sheherazade
    hey, that's quite philosophical! I didn't expect to get to solve my "problem" (well, I don't have a big problem with writing songs, but it's also not that easy) on this way. I'm very impressed. Thanx!
    Ingrez
    Your right I hate you... Just kidding, this is very helpful and makes you look at things maybe the way you don't want to at first. In the end I think this helps alot. (I even just pretty much said what everyone else above said, but hey! isn't that what you just said? )
    lilalia
    very interesting and well thought out. it helped me a lot. thankx :]
    weorge
    i alreayd learnt thsi through experience my friend but u summed it up in a much better way than i could of. but jsut a word of warning ot everyone who takes the idea of old ideas =great song too far, avoid cliches they make the song sound cheesy, liek this guy sayd use your own style to express something.
    Haemoglobin
    100% the truth and it was great to read it. i think i'm not that frustrated now when i'm writing. thanks, man!