In part 1, I described a couple of techniques that aspiring lyric writers can use to generate lyric inspiration. These were the Cut Out technique (favoured by Bowie and Cobain amongst others) and Pat Pattinson’s Object Writing approach. I also advocated the benefits of walking and taking exercise. As well as being healthy, I find that lyric inspiration often hits me most frequently when I am walking. And I’ve subsequently had another lyric writer say that he too finds walking to be a primary source of lyric inspiration. Maybe we’ve unearthed a common theme and thousands of songwriters are busy wearing down the soles of their shoes? If so, a lyric writer team might very well clean up if they participated in the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge? 🙂
In part 2, I’m going to continue my exploration of sources of lyric inspiration and offer some more suggestions of ways that you can tap into your creativity. I hope that you will find them useful.
Get lyric inspiration from current news stories
One great way to come up with lyric inspiration is to read, watch or listen to news stories. There’s always a tonne of stuff happening around the world. And tapping into one of those stories often leads to a Eureka moment.
Look for stories that move you emotionally. It could be a sad story, a happy story, a funny story. Whatever emotion it is that it brings out in you, if it has caused your emotional state to change, and his piqued your interest, then it probably has the potential to inspire a lyric.
To give some examples of categories of stories that you could check out, how about news about war or foreign diplomacy? Then, there’s science and technology, sport, business, art. How about celebrity news, religion, education? The list is pretty much endless – you just need to start surfing and picking out some stories that strike a chord with you.
Tip: If you find a news story that you think might help spark lyric inspiration, then see if you can find the same story covered by another publication. And deliberately choose an outlet that is at the other end of the journalistic spectrum. So, if you’ve read a story about the debate on gun control in a left wing newspaper or website, then switch and read an account of it within a right wing publication. Or if you’ve read about a story in a serious broadsheet paper, check out how it’s being covered in a tabloid paper. Doing so will give you different perspectives to play about with and remind you that life is not black and white!
Lyric inspiration case study – Bring your body close to me
So I’ve talked about how a lyric writer might use news stories to generate an idea for a lyric. That’s well and good but let’s back that up now with an example of how I used that approach to create a lyric that ultimately would get turned into a song.
In September 2015 the plight of Syrian refugees came into stark prominence. Many people already knew that the ordinary people of Syria were suffering horrendously as war ripped apart their country and their lives. However, sadly, people have a tendency to largely ignore tragedies that are happening far away. It’s probably a defence mechanism as much as anything; if we allowed space in our hearts for all the awful events that befall people then the pain might be too much to bear.
However, one picture can sometimes cut through defences and indifference where thousands of words will not. And just such a picture was about to emerge. It was of a little boy, a toddler, who was lying face down in the shallows on a beach in Greece. That boy’s name was Alan Kurdi and he was just 3 years old. He and his 5 year old brother had drowned trying to cross to the safety of Greece.
The picture was unbearably sad to look at. It was as if he was sleeping. It felt unreal. Something that unimaginably awful couldn’t be real, could it? But it was. If you want to read the story, then here’s a link to it but I want to warn that the picture is deeply upsetting. So think carefully before clicking.
Anyway, the story moved me. Probably particularly as I had two small kids. I gave money to a charity that was helping the refugees but I also felt compelled to write about my reaction to the story and picture. I think sometimes putting words on paper is a mechanism that I have for working through things that I’m wrestling to make sense of.
Here’s an extract of the lyric that I came up with. I’m not going to over analyse it but at its essence it’s about how sometimes people can find the steady stream of tragic news stories overwhelming.
Bring your body close to me
Somewhere in the world
Someone’s holding peace talks,
Laying down their guns.
And somewhere in the world
Someone’s dropping warheads,
Raining down their bombs.
Yet another conflict
I’ve got battle fatigue,
Sandbags round my sofa
For the latest blitzkrieg.
There are wars we can fight
And wars we can’t win
So choose your battles carefully.
There are terrors in the night
That go when we turn on the light
Baby, bring your body close to me.
Tiny body bags
On a silver sand beach,
Seems that compassion
Is sadly out of reach.
I turned on my TV
And I don’t like what I see,
Grieving parents who
Look a lot like you and me.
Final song: http://www.soundblend.com/store/release/698149
Simon Wright – Lyrics
George Schiessl – Vocals, Music, Production
Viktor Weijola – Guitar
Get lyric inspiration from history
Did you sit bored through History lessons at school? Or were you fascinated by the stories contained within those historical texts? If the former, you were missing out on a great source of lyric inspiration. Not only do you get the drama that any powerful news story contains but also the ability to tell stories that others may not be familiar with. You can educate as well as entertain.
There have been two particular instances where I have used historical stories to generate what I hope are interesting lyrics and they came about in different ways.
Lyric inspiration case study – On King William Island
The first is a lyric called ‘On King William Island’. A Canadian musician on the Kompoz website had produced a bit of music and posted it, asking for people to provide their ideas for lyrics. What made this a bit different was that Pat had been very specific in his creative brief about what he wanted the lyrics to be about.
He stated ‘Franklin’s lost expedition was a British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Captain Sir John Franklin that departed England in 1845 aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. A Royal Navy officer and experienced explorer, Franklin had served on three previous Arctic expeditions, the later two as commanding officer. His fourth and last, undertaken when he was 59, was meant to traverse the last un-navigated section of the Canadian Northwest Passage. After a few early fatalities, the two ships became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. The entire expedition, 129 men including Franklin, was lost.’
I hadn’t heard of the story of John Franklin’s doomed 19th century maritime expedition but I loved the music and was intrigued by the story. Lots of Google searches helped reveal information about the expedition and what had gone wrong. It was really enjoyable to unearth the supporting information.
Here’s a snippet of the lyric that I then came up with:
On King William Island
We set forth from a Greenland port
Forging through the waves
Left the whalers to their sport
Calling more wind to our sails
To King William Island
No cursin’ or drinkin’
‘til we reach firm ground
State of the art, nary a thought
Of an early grave
No expense spared aft and port
The latest propeller blades
In eighteen hundred and forty five
I boarded HMS Terror full of life
Hardy from my years at sea
There were no soft edges left on me.
Worked hard, hands to the rope
Of fame and riches we had hope
For a passageway of open sea
Was this era’s great mystery.
Then the ship struck ice
Which closed around
Stuck for two long years
And not been found.
Lyric inspiration case study – Poor John Druitt
My second example of a lyric that was inspired by a historical event is about a man who was named as a suspect in the infamous Jack the Ripper murders that took place in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888. However, experts are now largely agreed that John Druitt is very unlikely to have been the murderer.
Indeed, he was only named as a suspect after he turned up drowned in The Thames and this was after the last of the Ripper murders had taken place. Druitt was a keen cricketer and competed in many matches. There is evidence from match reports as to his locations on certain dates that renders it improbable that he could have been at the murder locations on the dates and times necessary if he had been the killer.
He is known to have suffered from depression and it seems harsh that he should commit suicide and then see his reputation further tarnished by an unfounded allegation that he was not in a position to rebuff.
Anyway, I got quite interested in reading up on the Ripper murders and reading about all the long list of men (and even women) who have been put forward as the likely murderer! And my focus on the unfair plight of John Druitt led to a lyric that I had great fun constructing. And then got even more joy when James Fraser took it and turned it into an excellent folk song.
Here’s an extract of the lyrics:
Poor John Druitt
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
Dark streets of London
Oh so long ago
Clip of hooves on cobbles
The fog’s drawn in low,
Street vendor shouting
“Hear ye the news
Jack’s struck again
And this time it’s two!”
First had her throat slit
But nothing much more
No pieces missing
Unlike victim four,
Second of the night
Jack had more time
To slice and rip
At the scene of the crime.
The cops and the press had names in the frame
Some destined to get their five minutes of fame
There were cutthroats and poisoners
Usual suspects to blame
But Inspector MacNaughten threw out a name.
John Druitt, John Druitt
Poor John Druitt
Pulled from the Thames
With rocks in his pockets,
John Druitt, John Druitt
Poor John Druitt
A handy scapegoat
But the facts don’t fit.
Final song: https://www.soundblend.com/store/release/842146
YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rqMC2I7Bb8
Simon Wright – Lyrics
James Fraser – Vocals, All Music, Production, YouTube video awesomeness
Be inspired and write great lyrics
I hope that you have found this post (and its first part) useful and that there’s been at least one idea that you think could work for you. A lot of writers comment that they have times when they struggle to come up with ideas and I think that’s to be expected. However, it’s always better to respond to such challenges by doing something proactive rather than just sitting about in the hope that inspiration is going to hit you. And knowing that there are techniques that others have used to generate new ideas should give you confidence that you too can benefit from them
This particular blog post has focused on the power to generate lyric inspiration from stories, whether they are current news stories or historical ones. Think about the stories you are reading. Did they move you to tears or laughter? Did an idea jump out for how you could take an aspect of that story and use it to create a song lyric?
I’d love to hear from you if do decide to use any of these suggested approaches. It would be great to think that some fantastic lyrics or song ideas might result, and that you have fun along the way!