In addition to having a natural flair for writing, becoming a good songwriter takes time, patience and knowledge. It also means understanding people and what’s happening in the world, in order to use songwriting themes that listeners will find appealing.
Regardless of the genre, there are some song themes that can always be explored for new song ideas, and being aware of these automatically solves part of the puzzle of writing. So, what are some of the top song themes than can motivate you to write?
Well, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the North Carolina State University and published in the Journal of Advertising Research, there are 12 main themes. These themes were found to be the basis of the bulk of top Billboard hits covering a period of 50 years from January 1960 to December 2009. They are: breakups, loss, pain, desire, rebellion, aspiration, inspiration, confusion, nostalgia, jaded feelings, escapism and desperation.
Some of these themes are more popular in some genres and depend on what’s happening in the society at a particular time. However, some of them are timeless. Let’s look at a few:
With love being the most written about topic in history, it follows that most people will experience the pain of breaking up at least once in their lives. Whether you are writing about your own breakup or someone else’s, a messy breakup, an unresolved breakup or a mutual breakup, you are bound to find that a wide cross-section of people will be able to relate to your song. It’s even better if there is a tinge of melancholy in the lyrics or some amount of anger. Breakup songs are popular across all genres but especially in Soul and R&B. Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” is a popular song that uses the breakup theme but also serves to empower females at the same time.
Feeling wanted, especially in a sexual way, is another natural human emotion that most people can relate to. Sexy songs that speak about a certain level of appeal and confidence are highly attractive. When added to catchy beats and melodies, they have the capacity to become viral and are popular at clubs and parties to help set the mood. Artists like R. Kelly are well known for songs with a desirous theme, e.g. his song entitled “Wine for me.”
In general, people tend to view life as being filled with challenges and often need to be motivated. Inspirational songs have the quality of cutting across genres, religions, demographics and even geographic locations because people like to feel inspired, whether it is for them to achieve something or make an important life decision. As a result, this is also another theme that can spur the need to pen a song and many songwriters use their own personal struggles or those of people in the wider society to pen songs that inspire. Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and Kirk Franklin’s “Smile” are two very different songs that many people are inspired by.
Protest music, which is another form of the inspirational theme, is also a good motivator for writing songs. Songwriters are also seen as the voice of the people and many have used their talents to voice the concerns of certain segments of the society, including rebellious teens. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Linkin Park’s “Numb” are two examples of popular songs with a rebellious theme.
While this is closely related to the breakup theme, songs about loss go much deeper to include the passing away of a good friend or family member, an important person or even loss of innocence. Everyone who has grown past a certain stage has lost someone or something close to them, so this is a theme that you should definitely explore if you’re thinking of becoming a serious songwriter. Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”, which was about the death of Princess Diana, is a good example of a song about loss that became very popular.
Over time, it might become harder to pick songwriting topics but, as a motivated songwriter, you will eventually realize that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The truth is, there is hardly any topic that has never been written about so coming up with fresh content requires creativity and imagination; examining what is already available and creating your own version. In the end, the songs you write should be about topics that numerous people can relate to in order for them to have any value or a chance of becoming a hit.