13 Love Song Ideas That Listeners Love

love songs heart guitar by MsPhoenix

There are at least 13 different kinds of love song. How many have you written?

Writing love songs has been a staple of songwriters throughout history, dating back at least 1,000 years to the troubadours and trobairitz (female troubadours).

When you write a love song, you explore themes that everybody can relate to: from the rush of flirting with an attractive stranger, to the constant tug of infatuation that distracts a lover’s mind all day. The shaky knees, the sick-to-your-stomach heartbreak… the world is in love with love songs.

If you’re ever stuck for things to write about, scan the list below. I bet at least one of these 13 types of love song will trigger an idea, and you’ll be writing a new lyric in no time.

Young Love & First Love

First girlfriends, first boyfriends, first kisses, and “puppy love” all fall under this category. Gillian Welch wrote a song called “My First Lover” in this vein. Many songs of this type also contain elements of a coming-of-age story; “Strawberry Wine” is a great example of a lyric about young love and growing up.

Desire & Seduction

Songs about flirting, seduction, and desire come in many varieties. They range from cute and wholesome to hot and heavy. Compare the writing of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” to “Let’s Get it On”. Seduction doesn’t necessarily have to happen between strangers, by the way — you could also write a song about a longstanding couple reigniting their passion. “Kiss Me” by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan is a fiery example.

Taboos & Forbidden Love

In this type of song, there’s a logical or a social reason why one or both people shouldn’t be engaging in the relationship, but they’re drawn to each other anyway for intense emotional reasons. Romeo & Juliet has enjoyed 400 years of popularity, and it’s still going strong — this theme is timeless. So, for a dash of excitement, try writing a song about a taboo or a forbidden liaison.

Searching & Singlehood

These are songs written about looking for love. A song in this theme could be a triumphant announcement that a character’s single and available — or the tone could be frustrated. Songs in this category might also be about what the song’s narrator wants from a significant other. For example, Alanis Morissette wrote: “21 Things I Want in a Lover”.

Loneliness & Longing

Songs about loneliness, heartache, and unrequited love. Also known as torch songs. This includes songs that are about missing a specific person — maybe the missing one ended the relationship. Or maybe they were taken away by a fatal accident, old age, a new job in a new city… and so on. In some lyrics the person is just away for a while, so the mood’s playful and light. Other lyrics can be quite somber, as the person is gone forever. Still other lyrics in this category aren’t about a specific person at all — instead, they’re just about a general desire to be loved or feel wanted. Great songs about longing include “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, Wilco’s “Hate it Here”, and Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”.

Crushes, Infatuation, & New Loves

Songs of this type are all about that breathless rush of attraction when you first meet somebody you like — shaky knees and all. Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance” is a great example of a song written from the perspective of a totally infatuated character. He gushes about every little thing his love interest does. While writing this type of song, many songwriters also include passages about hoping, or sometimes even asking directly — does the other person feel the same way?

Romance & Commitment

This type of song is all about romantic love, commitments, and promises… And also renewal of commitment. This category could include songs about asking whether a person would like to begin dating exclusively. It could include marriage proposals and renewal of vows. In other words, any plans or commitments that one or both partners might make fall under this category.

Intimacy & Companionship

Beyond lust and attraction, every healthy relationship has an element of closeness and friendship. This category could include songs that pour out appreciation for a partner, or express closeness and empathy. If you ask me, there aren’t enough good songs out there about couples bonding. You may have heard somebody say “I’m married to my best friend”. This long-term companionship is exactly what they’re talking about. It’s what happens when love settles in and gets comfortable.

Jealousy & Rivalry

This category covers songs about love triangles and rivalry between would-be suitors. “Jolene” by Dolly Parton is a great example of this. Nagging suspicions, fears of infidelity, and quiet jealousy are common in real-world relationships, so listeners can relate very well to songs on those themes.

Complications & Conflicts

In Disney films, the prince and the princess live happily ever after. In the unscripted real world, though, romance is complex. Songs about complication and conflict deal directly with these difficult issues — in a lyric a sudden fight might erupt, or a relationship may slowly derail over a long period of time. Confessions could be considered a form of confrontation, too: one or both partners are finally airing something (maybe something unpleasant or scary) about their relationship, and beginning to deal with it for better or worse. The couple may be confronting a serious issue together, or one partner may be confronting the other.

Apologies, Compromise, & Reconciliation

Songs of reconciliation & forgiveness fit in this category. “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is an example of an apology song. The kind of humility that it takes to make an apology can be very attractive to listeners.

Rejections, Breakups, & Divorce

Here we’ve got songs about ending relationships, severing ties, and dealing with the fallout. There’s a variety of situations to write about here: breakups can be one-sided, or they can be mutual. There can be a feeling of relief about moving on, or intense grieving. Some songs of this type lay blame at the other partner; other songs of this type express guilt or regret. Some breakups are full of understanding and compassion — others are cruel and unfair. “The Thrill is Gone” is a classic in this theme.

Love Itself — Reflections & Advice

In this category, the character muses about the nature of love itself, perhaps making a judgment about it. The lyric of John Cale’s version of “Hallelujah” is a great example of this kind of theme brought to life through literary allusions, metaphor, and compelling imagery. Sometimes this kind of song takes the form of a jaded, wounded, or wise person giving romantic warnings or advice to others.

Try This

Whenever you find yourself short on song ideas, return to this list. Despite the tens of thousands of love songs already written, there’s still plenty of fresh material to be found in the 13 themes above, especially when you take any one of those themes from a fresh and original angle.

 Photo by Ms Phoenix

Read Poetry to Escape the Clichés of Lyric Writing

7183815590_de3f64bca6_z-by-smplstc

You may have heard the phrase “Music is a language.”

The inverse is equally true: language is music.

Have you ever spent time listening to a language you don’t speak? The cadences, the sounds of the consonants and vowels, the inflections…I could listen to French, for example, all day. Go find a French person, give her a big stack of legal fine print to read aloud, and switch a microphone on — I’ll buy a 10-disc set of that. I don’t understand a word of French, so it all sounds like poetry to me.

And actually that’s what poetry is all about: the sounds. The rhythms. The cadences. The beauty of language itself.

As songwriters we share whole horizons of common ground and history with poets. There’s a long tradition (we’re talking centuries and centuries) of classical composers setting poems to music. The word “sonnet” literally means “little song”. The word “lyric” itself originally referred to short, personal poems starting about five centuries ago. More recently, Leonard Cohen published several books of poetry before ever releasing his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967. And this is just skimming the surface.

There are countless intersections between poetry and lyric writing. The two art forms are simpatico.

As a songwriter, anything you can learn about the craft of poetry will put you at an advantage in writing lyrics. Even the simple act of reading poetry will dilate your sense of what’s possible in lyric writing far, far past the limits of mainstream music. It’ll infuse your mind with fresh images, connections, and ideas. It’ll trigger memories and ideas that are uniquely yours.

All that, yes—and aside from all that, reading poetry is a joy in its own right. [Read more...]

“Inspiration” is a Myth — Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing Songs

“I just don’t feel inspired”, songwriters often say. Yet we still find ourselves inspired to watch TV and poke around on Facebook. Funny how that works, eh?

You can always put off songwriting until tomorrow, but don’t kid yourself — if you put it off, you’re not gonna feel any more motivated tomorrow. Days go by, weeks go by, a season goes by. Before you know it, years have slipped through your fingers and you realize you’ve made little progress toward your musical goals. It can be quite an unhappy realization.

If you’re serious about writing songs, though, you can still find ways to make it a priority. Life is short. None of us knows how much time we’ve got left in a lifetime, and getting good at songwriting takes a lot of time —better get started.

Songwriting’s hard work, and you’ll find yourself inventing reasons not to do it today. “Inspired” or not, write songs anyway. Read on for ideas on how to jump back into the craft.

 Songwriting is work

Right about here is where a lot of people push back. They say: “I don’t want songwriting to become like work! It sucks all the fun out.” If you’re just writing songs for occasional kicks, or for therapeutic reasons, that’s absolutely fine. Just be aware that casual effort brings small, casual rewards. If you want more from this craft, you’ve got to invest more time and effort. And that usually means that you’ll have to show up every day, even when you “don’t feel like it”. Buckling down and getting serious is kind of scary, right? It raises the stakes. But raising the stakes is better than letting time slip away from you and ending up with deathbed regrets someday.

Things you can do without inspiration

You don’t have to feel like writing in order to write. Here are some tricks I’ve learned for tricking myself into writing songs, even when I didn’t feel like it:

  • Set a timer when you begin a practice or songwriting session. Start with small sessions: just 10-15 minutes to begin with.
  • Set some small short-term goals. Take pleasure in working on little things: like learning the notes on your guitar fretboard, practicing your notation reading skills, or free writing in search of a lyric idea.
  • Give yourself a deadline. “Thursday of next week, I’ll attend an open mic and play one original song.” Mark it on the calendar. Write it on the wall.
  • Turn off your phone. While you’re supposed to be writing songs or practicing, turn off your cell phone’s ringer. Turn off the vibrator, too, and put it where you can’t see the screen. Even momentary distractions break focus. Your creative focus is sacred — protect it from distractions!
  • Bribe yourself. Some of the dirty work of songwriting isn’t especially exciting. I’m never thrilled to do half an hour of ear training. Offer yourself an immediate reward that you can have after you do the work today: personally, I’ve bribed myself with cookies, beer, TV time, and other things that I would be embarrassed to even mention.

The following activities require zero inspiration. You can sit down and do them anytime.

  • Follow a writing prompt
  • Take out a book and learn some new technique on your instrument
  • Take out a book and study some music theory
  • Free write
  • Read about a musician you admire
  • Listen to a favorite song — analyze its chords, melody, and lyrics

Set a timer for just 10 or 20 minutes and work on something — just to get it started. The funny thing is, once you’ve gotten started, you’ll often find yourself wanting more. You’ll get a little kick of satisfaction from doing creative work, and you’ll find yourself craving more of that. For now, though, put just 20 minutes on the timer. That’s all you’re committing to today.

Start Now.

Songwriting may be tough to work into your daily routine, but it gives you lasting satisfaction, self-expression, and self-respect. Time spent writing songs is time well-spent. If you’ve been procrastinating about some area of your songwriting or music-making, take five minutes right now to set a daily goal for working on it. Use everything you’ve got to combat procrastination: Set a timer. Set some small goals; go for the small victories. Give yourself a deadline. Lock your phone in a desk drawer. Bribe yourself with guilty pleasures. Do what it takes to get the work done. Sitting down to work isn’t a sacrifice; it’s a trade. Give it your time and attention, and the craft of writing songs will eventually pay you back. With interest.

stopwatch photo courtesy of Nick Olejniczak

4 Steps to a More Focused Practice or Songwriting Session

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Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top — it is the willpower that is the most important. This willpower you cannot buy with money or be given by others — it rises from your heart.

-Junko Tabei, first woman to summit Everest

1. Clear distractions.

When sitting down to practice or write, find a suitable space: someplace quiet, uncluttered, and free of distractions.

Gather all the tools you’re likely to need and leave everything else behind. Nonessentials will only distract you and weigh you down.

Cell phones should be out of sight, out of earshot, and out of reach. If you absolutely must use a computer, disconnect it from the internet.

In addition to a welcoming and functional space, strive for the right headspace: take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, and commit to the day’s work.

He must be made to concentrate, otherwise he gets all mixed up. It is not genius he lacks, but the capacity to sit still.

–Franz Liszt’s paramour, Caroline

2. Define your objective.

Remain aware of this task during your session. Write it down in bold black letters if you have to. This especially applies to practicing your instrument. Guitarists especially tend to noodle and fidget.

It’s perfectly alright to veer off your intended path and crash around in the woods a bit—experiments teach better than rote learning—but make sure you’re able to find your way back when you’re done exploring.

3. Decide how much time you’re going to spend.

Setting a time limit helps for two reasons: a) it prevents you from giving up prematurely and b) knowing that your labors have a reasonable end will help you give yourself fully to your task.

Choose a duration, set a timer and don’t let up until it runs down to zero.

4. Encore!

The best way to follow up a productive day is by having another productive day.

Keep a practice log to track your progress from day to day. Just a few sentences about your challenges, obstacles, questions, and victories (large and small) will do.

5. Enjoy the process.

Is it always going to be fun? No. If you’re working hard and pushing at the edge of your abilities, expect to feel like you’re in over your head. Relish that feeling, because pushing limits will make you a better songwriter. It’ll also enrich your life.

Your battles as a songwriter may be more abstract than summiting Everest, but the trials of a serious artist are every bit as trying. Take pride not only in your results, but in your effort.

Believe in yourself. Stay determined. The steepest challenges reward endurance, so keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Recap

  1. Clear distractions.
  2. Define your objective.
  3. Decide how much time to spend.
  4. Do it again.
  5. Enjoy the process, even the temporary failures.

photo by Ilker Ender.

Is Your Song Stuck? Finish That 1st Draft With a “Songwriter’s Palette”

paintbrushes by futurilla

Behind every masterpiece, there’s a mess — so here’s a technique that will help even the worst perfectionists get unstuck.

It’d be much easier if the lines of a song came to us in the right order, wouldn’t it? You could sit down and write a song from intro to outro without a hitch. No messy scribbles in the margins, no crossed-out lines — just a neat, finished lyric on a clean white notebook page.

Writing a song rarely goes that smoothly, though.

The first line you write might end up being the last line of the finished song. You might find yourself writing the song’s intro last. The creative process is messy that way — ideas about a song-in-progress usually come in random order. First the pieces come to you, and then you figure out how to fit them together.

Finishing the first draft of a song gets easier, though, with the help of this trick I learned by watching painters. I hope you’ll give it a try.

A mess behind every masterpiece

Every oil painter needs a place to squeeze out her paints, rest her brushes, and mix her colors.

A palette is where a painter does all that behind-the-scenes work of painting. Her finished painting might be a masterpiece, but her palette is a mess.

Writing songs has its dirty work, too. Every songwriter needs a place to brainstorm lyric ideas, rewrite sections, experiment with chord progressions, and so on.

I think we songwriters should steal this “palette” concept from painters. While writing a song, it’s a relief to know that you’ve got a safe place to experiment, explore ideas… and workshop them until they’re finally ready for show time. A palette gives recovering perfectionists (like me) a place to do the dirty work.

If you want to write a masterpiece, you’ve got to make a mess.

What Makes a Good Palette?

All you need is something to write on — digital files and analog paper both work just fine.

The only rule I suggest is that you keep your songwriting palette separate from your draft-in-progress. You’re not committing to anything that goes on your palette — not yet. You should feel comfortable writing anything down. Even the most silly, inappropriate, personal, and clichéd ideas are safe on your palette — no audience ever has to hear them.

Here are a few palette tools that’ve served me well:

  • Use Microsoft OneNote as a digital whiteboard where you can embed audio files, type lyric ideas, and even write longhand or draw if you’re using a tablet.
  • Hang a whiteboard or pin board on the wall.
  • Simplest option: Use a legal pad
  • Use the left page of your songwriting notebook as the palette for your draft-in-progress to the right.

As you work on your song draft, brainstorm ideas on your palette, develop them there, then pull the good ideas over into your current draft, piece by piece, to put the song together.

Tips For Making a Really, Really Big Creative Mess

So what goes on your songwriting palette? Every part of the song that you’ve written so far, for starters.

“But I can remember those parts just fine!” You might be saying. I’d argue that you should write all the existing parts down anyway. Get them out of your head, onto the page and into the microphone, where they’re safe.

The messier your palette is, the better. Here are a few of the things you can squeeze onto your palette if it gets dry:

  • Ideas from a rhyming dictionary. This is especially helpful if you have at least a title or a strong line to work from. Look up potential rhymes for that line and list them in a column. Brainstorm a few possible lines for each rhyme word.
  • Musical Ideas. Melodies, riffs, chord progressions, etc.
  • Ideas from a Thesaurus. Look up key words, objects, and locations in a good Thesaurus—preferably one of the large hardcover type. Sometimes just one really colorful noun, verb, or adjective will trigger new connections that you didn’t see before.
  • Freewriting. If you’re stumped for lyric ideas, do some timed free writing to see what you can shake loose.
  • Fragmented phrases and images. Any ideas that occur to you in the heat of composition that don’t have an immediate home should be written on your palette right away.

Writing down your ideas makes room for more ideas

Writing all the pieces of a song down can help unblock a fresh stream of ideas.

Write down or record all of the draft’s existing pieces — every half-baked fragment, good idea, bad idea, and vague hunch you’ve got about this song-in-progress. The goal is to simply clean all of those pieces out of your head so that your brain is freed up for more brainstorming, creative writing, and composing.

Writing everything down also allows you to spot patterns, connections, and relationships between the song’s parts that you otherwise might not have noticed.

No mess, no masterpiece.

Try It

There, now you know what a “song palette” is, and how to use one. Try using a songwriters’ palette on the next 3 songs you write — see whether it helps you think more creatively and constructively. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Palette photo by Grand Canyon National Park; paintbrushes by futurilla