Songwriting tips: 5 ways to capture song ideas

Songwriting – capturing song ideas
Songwriting – capturing ideas

Capturing song ideas: as much about having a smartphone as it is about having a smart idea

During our interviews, we asked five top songwriters how they capture those magical snippets of melodies, phrases and song titles. Even for the elder statesmen of songwriting, it’s as much about having a smartphone as it is about having a smart idea!

1. Get noted

Billy J Kramer

Billy J Kramer
Merseybeat legend and pal of The Beatles
“I have notepads all around the house, where I’m always scribbling down ideas – sometimes I’ll wake up at 3am and start writing lyrics… One thing that’s helped as well is having an iPhone – if I’m out walking the dogs and a melody comes into my head, I can hum it into my phone, whereas in the old days I’d think of a great tune and by the time I got home I’d have forgotten it!”

2. A house of cards

Dan Wilson

Dan Wilson
Semisonic frontman, solo artist and superstar collaborator
“I have about a thousand song ideas in my voice memos in iTunes, but it’s very difficult to retrieve those ideas – you can put it on shuffle, do the dishes and you might hear 30 ideas, but you’re not going to be able to glance at them. So I’m stuck with a method I’ve used for a long time, which is a stack of notecards and each one has a phrase, title or guitar riff on it. If I’m at the piano and I think of something, I’ll take one of the blank ones, and I’ll write down the idea and then I’ll stick it in the deck, so it’s ready for me to randomly come upon it later.”

3. Drive my car

Beto Cuevas

Beto Cuevas
La Ley frontman and solo artist
“With technology today you write many things with your phone. I actually write a lot when I’m driving – obviously I don’t write, but I record my voice and any ideas for lyrics. When you’re driving, part of your rational brain is busy and occupied. But when that part is busy the creative part of the brain is much more open to whatever ideas may come to you.”

4. Trust your mind

Ben Watt

Ben Watt
Former Everything But The Girl man and singer-songwriter
“I think where inspiration comes from is pretty much unknowable… I might grab a piece of paper just before I leave the house, for instance, and scribble some words down without being precious about it. And of course I’ve got my iPhone and sing a lot of ideas into that. Then generally I’ve leave it for a few days, play the ideas back and the ones that catch my ear and still sound good, those are the ideas that I’ll develop further… I think your mind does kind of store stuff away, though… it’s kind of like an endless hard drive, ideas and phrases get stored away, and then I trust things will come out at the right time.”

5. An Apple-a-day

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg
Out-spoken English singer-songwriter
“It’s different every time. It’s like Never Buy The Sun, which I wrote mostly on the M1 north of Birmingham heading to a gig in Leeds, listening to the radio and singing into my iPhone the lyrics that were coming to me… and then sitting in my hotel room putting them all together, and then watching Newsnight and getting a load more ideas… and then playing it at the soundcheck and tweaking it some more.”

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