Allison McCulloch, Songwriter


How do I get my ideas for songwriting?

Songwriting is a way to express my thoughts about a particular thing. Wayne Kirkpatrick suggested writing down ideas for songs in a notebook, as soon as you get them. I write mine on a sheet of paper and sometimes do a little cutting and pasting: putting all these ideas together, to make a song. Lucinda Williams has a similar process called "cannibalizing" (coined by her father), in which she merges songs together to become one.

T Bone Burnett said to look for ideas everywhere, especially in art, nature, and literature. Carolyn Arends has a similiar idea of writing songs, articulating her take, her feelings and thoughts about literature and nature. If a new idea is presented to me in literature I write about why I agree with it, or why I disagree about it. Somethings you can't disagree about, like facts or the way certain events happened. But you can put your perspective on it.

Most people write about love. Why? Maybe their strength is music, and they just write about what they know and they just don't keep their eyes and ears open 24/7 for a songwriting idea. I try to take an intellectual approach to songwriting; usually I won't try to explain things by saying this is the way it is, but I try to get people to think about things.

Amy Grant said that you wouldn't find "Amy Grant" by dissecting her lyrics. If you dissect my lyrics, you would find me. Ok, except in my country songs. My life isn't that exciting, although it may be that terrible.

So look for ideas in everything; it will help you in your songwriting. If you just can't, write about love.

Thanks for writing. Lots of people have different ways of getting ideas for writing. John Lennon isn't my favorite, but he's so popular because his songs are universal. Most people like them. I get ideas from watching VH1. I watched 40 of the 50 top videos of 2000 and it was cool hearing how other bands got their ideas and how they wrote songs. Vertical Horizon said they didn't want to make the same record over and over again, which means to me that you have to tackle a lot of subjects or give your audience something new to chew on. Sometimes you'll get a really good idea and that's not good enough. You have to keep a notebook of ideas or you'll forget them or at least not remember them all. Actually sometimes you'll get a good idea, but you just absolutely will not be able to write out the song to save your life. Sometimes years later you'll see that idea again in your notebook and know where to go from there. Sometimes you can write songs from real life if something out of the ordinary happened or you explain your feelings. One recent way I discovered finding new ideas is to go to bmi.com and just look at the titles of great songwriters (Pam Sheyne, Harlan Howard) or even songwriters of songs you hate (will not mention any names!). Since titles can't be copyrighted, you can take the title you see and sometimes it will spark an idea for a completely new song and it will probably not even be close to the original song. As for me, I don't really sing, but I think it would be cool to start a band with my friends in California if I ever moved back. Right now I'm in Tennessee and just write songs.


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