Songwriting prompts aren’t cheating.
For those of you who haven’t heard of them, songwriting ‘prompts’ are ideas for songs that someone gives you, to help spark creativity, push you in a different direction, or throw you into the deep end of the songwriting pool and force you to swim. They can be anything from “write a song about a colour” to “write a song about your first childhood memory” or really just about anything else. Rather than an ‘easy’ way to get ideas, they’re designed to push you out of your comfort zone of songwriting directions, and maybe even spark a new idea about what’s possible with songwriting.
Although prompts are a relatively new invention, songwriters have been looking for external inspiration forever. The Beatles, as brilliant as they were, would often look externally for inspiration – for example, trying to imitate or ‘do’ another artist like the Beach Boys or Smokey Robinson or Little Richard. And you can bet that all the Jewish songwriters that wrote the classic canon of Christmas songs weren’t inspired by a love of Christmas (although, who knows?) – they took the idea of writing a Christmas song as a ‘prompt’ for them to write from.
Toronto Songwriting School often uses prompts in class – it’s a great way to spark ideas, especially in co-writing pairs. And so this year we’ve created an online community based around songwriting prompts – our annual calendar has a new prompt each month, and participants can write a song (or part of a song) and upload it to our dedicated Facebook page, for feedback and ideas and to see how other people have responded to that same prompt. It’s a way to push your songwriting into new areas during these cold winter months, but it’s also a virtual community for songwriters who can’t make it to our classes in Toronto (or our getaways internationally) but nevertheless really want to connect with a songwriting community.
I love giving feedback on songs (is that weird?) – I love the brain puzzle of trying to figure out what’s making a song work and not work, so I’m really looking forward to hearing the songs people come up with. It’s always fascinating to hear the wildly divergent songs that arise from the same prompt.
It’s not too late to order a calendar (they’re inexpensive!) and jump in with us – we’ve got a whole year ahead of us, and beyond.