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The Emerging Artist
Three Key Questions for Every Songwriter
By Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin

2001, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

...Continued from Why do you write?

What do you write about?

An interesting exercise in answering this question is to listen to the radio for an hour or so, and take note of what the songs are about. Or better still look at the Billboard Charts. Back in May of 2000 I took the latest Billboard top 50 (singles) and selected some songs that I had heard at least once. What were they about?

  • "Maria Maria," Santana: The only thing I can remember from this song is the line "Played By Carlos Santana." But I'm pretty sure there's a love story going on here.
  • "Breathe," Faith Hill: This standard country / pop song is an "I'm so in love with you, I can't believe it" type song that becomes very popular at wedding receptions. Since I play in a band that occasionally does wedding receptions (yes, I'm a "Wedding Singer!") I may have to learn this one!
  • "Say My Name," Destiny's Child: This is an "I suspect that you're cheating on me" song.
  • "I Try," Macy Gray: She can't make it without her significant other.
  • "Bye Bye Bye," 'N Sync: They can't make it without their significant others.
  • "Everything You Want," Vertical Horizon: The perfect man, who, for some reason means nothing to the woman.
  • "Be With You," Enrique Iglesias: I've probably only heard this song once or twice without really paying attention, but I'm pretty sure he's not singing about his dog.
  • "Oops!...I Did It Again," Britney Spears: She caused another guy to fall in love with her without really trying.
  • "I Turn To You," Christina Aguilera: I don't think I've heard this one, but I can hazard a good guess about who "you" is.
  • "Never Let You Go," Third Eye Blind: Same goes for this one.
  • "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely," Backstreet Boys: They very much want to be where their significant other is.
  • "I Knew I Loved You," Savage Garden: The singer finds the love of his life. He knew he loved her before he even met her. It's an "our love was meant to be" song.
  • "That's The Way It Is," Celine Dion: Don't give up! Love will come to you someday. Your love is meant to be.
  • "I Need To Know," Marc Anthony: Do you love me?
  • "Goodbye Earl," Dixie Chicks: Earl is no good and must die. (This one has stirred a bit of controversy)
  • "The Way You Love Me," Faith Hill: She loves the way she is loved by the fellow who loves her.
  • "Graduation (Friends Forever)," Vitamin C: The value of friendship. A song most definitely aimed at graduating high school seniors.

You've most likely noticed a clear pattern. Most popular "mainstream" songs are about relationships. Love just starting. Love gone wrong. Love unsure. Love celebrated. Love needed. Love betrayed. Friendships.

Why so many love songs? Because love is universal. Just about everyone falls in love at one time or another. Everyone can relate to a love song.

What else can you write about? Our answer is not to give you a list of possible song subjects, but to help you develop some ways of thinking that might bring you some new ideas.

Start by reminding yourself that you are unique. No one else has the same memories as you, nor the same experiences. You can write about love, as many others have, but you can do it from your own unique perspective.

Here's another exercise: Go to http://www.summer.com.br/~pfilho/, which is the LYRICS WORLD site. Pull up some songs you know and read the lyrics. Can you find any songs that are not about love? What are some of the other subjects that writers use?

We went to the "Beatles" section of the site and looked at some of their lyrics. What did they write about other than love?

  • Across the Universe - The cosmic. Jai guru deva om!
  • Baby, You're a Rich Man - The strange life of a rich man who keeps his money in a zoo.
  • The Ballad Of John and Yoko - Life is tough when you are John and Yoko
  • Come Together - Only John Lennon really knew what this song was about.
  • Eleanor Rigby - The sad story of a spinster and a priest.
  • Hey Jude - A song of encouragement for a young boy.
  • Lady Madonna - The joys of motherhood.
  • Let It Be - Mother Mary's words of wisdom.
  • Nowhere Man - A description of every man?
  • Paperback Writer - A young man wants to write.
  • Penny Lane - Scenes from real life.
  • Rain - "When it rains and shines / it's just a state of mind"
  • Revolution - We can change the world, and it can be all right.
  • Strawberry Fields Forever - A magic childhood place.
  • Yellow Submarine - A children's / novelty song about life in a sub.

Now if you're a Beatles fan, you may not agree with my quick assessment of some of these songs. That's OK. The point is that the Beatles, who wrote some of the greatest songs ever, dealt with love and other subjects. In fact, in tracing their development as songwriters, you can see that as they matured they began to write about other things.

One bit of advice we give to all songwriters: write about what you know. We all know something! Are you a student? A parent or grandparent? What kind of job do you have, or wish you had? What kind of interesting people do you know? What are some stories you could tell? Where have you been in this world, and what were your impressions? Who was your greatest teacher (not necessarily from school) and what did he or she teach you? What was life like for you growing up? How do you deal with what goes on in this world? What have you been reading lately? (We hope that you are a reader!) If you look long enough, you'll find many famous songs that deal with questions like these (including some of the songs listed above).

Of course, you can always find a new way to write a love song. As Sir Paul McCartney once wrote:

"You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn't so
Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know
'cause here I go again
(Everybody sing!)
I love you??"

Continue on to Who's going to listen?


A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.

Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.

Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.

You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at http://www.soloproductions.net/.

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