We constantly hear about young singer-songwriters such as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry writing emotionally wrenching songs about their past loves and broken relationships. And other young writers find new ways of expressing the emotions associated with issues they’re experiencing for the first time—such as finding yourself, friendships, coming of age, fitting in, and growing up.
But what do songwriters turn to for inspiration when they get older?
Janis Ian was only 22 when she wrote her classic song ‘At Seventeen’—a groundbreaking, poignant commentary on adolescent cruelty and teenage angst. Would she be able to write that song now, 40 years later?
The answer, according to award-winning Nashville songwriter Brett James, is to learn how to think like a 15-year-old again.
In an interview with Viacom’s country music TV channel CMT, 45-year-old James explained that songwriters sometimes need to re-discover the adolescent inside them in order to come up with a great idea that hasn’t been written about before.
“You always want to keep that freshness, so you have to feel like a 15-year-old kid who has never written a song—sometimes it’s important to sit down with that attitude,” said James whose number one hits include Carrie Underwood’s Grammy Award-winning ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’, ‘Who I Am’ by Jessica Andrews and Martina McBride’s ‘Blessed’.
James told CMT: “Sometimes we rehash and put twists on ideas. But there have been a lot of songs written in the world, so it’s tough to find the one that no one’s thought of yet. When you can write something truly original, the world takes notice.”
To achieve major success, songs need to be about issues and emotions that everyone is familiar with—and the lyrics should be honest, believable and heartfelt so that people can easily relate to them. If your lyrics don’t come across as genuine and relevant, listeners may find it hard to connect with your song.
Do you ever try to find inspiration, as Brett James suggests, by taking yourself back to when you were first starting out and every new chord, every new chord progression, every new song title, and every new way of rhyming a lyric was a wondrous discovery?
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“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and from KoboBooks.