Writing songs is expressing ourselves through words, in a certain situation, in different ways and means, but, finally, the origin and destination of the lyrics of each song usually focus on a specific theme. To talk about them, we can be as specific as we want, we can make an endless list, but really, how many topics are there and what are they?
Literature, poetry and letras
Although it may surprise you, the first thing to understand is that writing song lyrics is a literary task, it is the language used to represent reality in an artistic, personal, subjective way, designed to have an impact on whoever listens to it.
When we are trying to put together some verses that mean something to us, that move us and move others as well, when we are looking for a powerful word, a delicate expression, a surprising metaphor or a fluid and musical rhyme, we are composing a literary text.
The lyrics of the songs, although they may contain philosophical ideas, daily anecdotes, political messages and all kinds of elements of human speech, are designed to be sung and express, evoke or provoke emotions, feelings, some kind of response in the interpreters and in the audience.
The letters, therefore, do not stop being a literary form, so that, in one way or another, it will share with literature in general those referents, those axes on which novels, poems, revolve and twist. the songs.
What exactly is the topic in a text?
Centuries and centuries of stories, of plots, of varied narrative forms, of legendary stories and also of simple, everyday facts but, after all, according to the general consensus, only three themes: life, death and love.
Anyone who writes something literary will inevitably be talking about at least one of these three great themes.
Any high, vulgar or bizarre issue that we can identify can be reduced, simplified or generalized and fit into one of these three issues.
From here, other more specific issues can be identified, closer to our experience as human beings, but still quite general.
For example, the theme of friendship, a classic among the usual themes, can be perfectly understood as a form of appreciation, of special appreciation and, therefore, as part of the more general theme that we call love.
Finally, the big themes and the most specific ones are what they are because they represent events and emotions common to all human beings.
That is why they are issues that are addressed over and over again through time, under different forms, with different perspectives, languages and so on. And for this reason, whether as recipients of the works, as a public or as an audience, we identify with these characters, we understand and connect with the bottom of the issue from our own lives, from our particular joys and misadventures.
The narrative topics
And these issues, as we already know, can be dealt with in many different ways.
The stories, the plots, the specific texts that we write are framed in particular situations, in certain settings such as the street, a house or a bar, in a certain time such as the past or present or in an indeterminate time, with specific participants. like a man and a woman, or two women, or a group of people, for example, etc.
In short, what actually happens in the lyrics of a song is not the theme but something else that we can call plot, story, evocation and in other more concrete ways.
But, in addition, these particular ways of presenting the themes have often taken, over time, recurring scenarios or contexts. So much so that, since the Latin classics, those specific representations of the themes repeated over and over again for their effectiveness have been described, they are the so-called literary topics.
It is very possible that you have heard the expression Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem is a topic, a specific representation of the theme of life that consists of different stories that deal with the idea of seizing the moment, the joy of living, youth, of being and valuing in the present, in short. This topic can be developed with very different stories but that finally refer to this idea. A song that talks about a meeting of friends having a good time, dancing, chatting, enjoying that moment, or someone being aware and expressing the happiness of an instant in time.
Another classic topic is the locus amoenus, which consists of the exaltation of a specific place, of a landscape, of a specific space that is important to the author or author who describes it not only as a natural place but as something paradisiacal or transcendental. It can be an urban neighborhood, it can be a meadow in the mountains, it can be anywhere. It can be a direct description of the elements that compose it or a narrative of personal events that happened in it. But, finally, a place transformed into something almost mythical, much more than a place in the world.
There are many more common places of this type, topics that, for some reason, work fantastically to relate or evoke feelings and connect with us through the centuries.
The theme as a common thread
Sometimes we feel the need to express ourselves but can’t get going right away.
The blocks, the doubts and the result that we expect from our abilities and our imagination can easily lead us to not knowing what to write or how to do it exactly.
Having a theme in mind, a certain situation well fixed at the moment of writing some verses is one of the main springs to develop the lyrics of a song.
Of the millions and millions of words and verbal combinations that we can choose, in principle, not all of them serve us anymore because we have a clear objective: something that has happened to us, an emotion that we have felt, a person that we cannot get out of our heads, something with the power to focus our attention and our verses completely.
The creative moment can get very wild and messy. The risk of being too scattered, of losing focus during the writing of the lyrics of a song can lead to confusing results without this being the objective.
The usefulness of a more or less specific theme for a song is associated with how our brain manages the information.
Both for the lyricist, composer or composer and for the listener of a song, the fact that there is a more or less explicit theme, something to which practically the entire text refers, an axis around which the rest of the verbal elements revolve, It will give unity to the text and will make writing and comprehension of the lyrics easier and more effective.
How do I find the idea for a song?
If you have an idea or a topic in mind, perfect. Use it as a reference, let the words emerge, let it develop with your personal fuel, with your heart, with your brain, with your guts.
If you don’t have a defined topic, write. Yes, write anything, your imagination is full of a thousand things and details: let them out.
I assure you that if you don’t have a topic and you start writing, the topic will be the one that finds you.
That’s right, believe it or not. Everything we think, say or create has a theme or themes. If you write long enough, at least one topic will be revealed, sooner or later, and you’ll suddenly realize what you’re talking about.
Although not even complete self-awareness is necessary to write a complete song. We can compose evocative songs and not directly explicit. We can create a mix of literal text and daydreams or personal imaginaries.
We have to think that each listener will make their particular interpretation of each song and it may not coincide with what it means to you. No problem, that is the domain of the artistic and what makes a stranger feel a song as his own, as part of his life.
And, although inspiration, that rapture of consciousness, that almost automatic trance can take us in a direction that, when reviewing the writing, does not comply with what could be expected of it, this does not have to be bad in itself. The raw material of a composition may well not serve the purpose of the work in which it appeared and perhaps deserves its own melody, its best development in another new song.
Many songs are born precisely from the remains of previous ones. Remnants that, perhaps at another time, will find their own theme, their own topic and their own story to fully develop.
Sing and write. It is the only way.
To finish, I will say that if the question that says: I don’t know what topic I can talk about in my next song, or I think I have already covered all the topics, you can think of something else.
The themes are there, immovable, forever, and no matter how much you have that feeling of emptiness, the truth is that they seem inexhaustible.
To live, to die, to love, is surely a reduction, a simplification, but a certain, real and overwhelming simplification.
Therefore, there is no need to worry about the issues themselves, they are there and they will continue to be there.
On the other hand, knowing the topics, the more concrete ways that have been imposed over time to develop and concretely communicate those topics does have value for a writer of lyrics or songs.
Understanding that a topic like tempus fugit, the passage of time, life as something fleeting, has been presented in this or that way, it will give us a basis on which to work, a real reference about how these issues are They have been embodied in writing and have managed to connect with a specific audience and how we could be a bit original or surprising when talking about it in our own words at the present time.