On Songwriting: Honor Dumb Ideas

Sometimes when you’re writing you’ll have an idea that seems silly. This happens a lot when you’re cowriting. In these scenarios it’s harder to chase the idea because you have a witness to your potential stupidity.

Still, the idea fairy tapped on your shoulder. I find it helpful to use phrases like:

“Can we try something?”
“This might be stupid, but…”
“Do you mind if we turn over this stone? It might be nothing.”

Phrases like that give you some freedom to sound stupid, but also to honor the idea, potentially moving the song in a direction that takes it to new heights.

Let me give you an example.

One time I was in a cowriting session and I kept hearing the phrase “Sunday night in Chinatown.” It seemed completely random, so I kept it to myself for half the session. Finally, I gave up and said, “You know, this might sound stupid, but I keep hearing this phrase right here at the end of the chorus.” My writing partner didn’t think it was stupid. He loved it. It made him think of imagery and ideas he might not otherwise have accessed. And the song was significantly altered. The title? Yes, you guessed it: “Sunday Night in Chinatown.”