I have written about this before, but thought I would do so again after reading another songwriting blog that suggested what the five “most successful” songwriting topics are. They were listed as “love, country, religion, nature, sports”. I want to take each of those topics and discuss them a little further. These are my opinions, of course, you might want to argue with me in the comments section below :-).
First of all, I’m assuming that the writer is talking about “success” in some sort of commercial way, or least in terms of popularity on YouTube or other digital means. Success can be a pretty relative thing, but I’ll go by that assumption.
I can certainly agree with “love” being a successful topic. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I guessed that probably 75% of the songs you hear on the radio are about some aspect of love; new love, lost love, jealous love, old love…the list goes on and on. You can’t go wrong using love as your songwriting topic.
The second, country, was actually described as “about the country”, basically describing songs about patriotism. I don’t think you’ll find too many songs on YouTube or on the Billboard Top 100 on a REGULAR basis, that are patriotic. So I would broaden that topic to “places”. Places can be anything from a city (there have been lots of famous and successful songs over the years about cities!), to a spot where you used to meet someone (okay, that’s bordering on a love song, I know), to a neighbourhood you grew up in, to your room or even a job place. Patriotism might feel good to you, but it can often become cheesy, so be careful with that topic on its own.
The next topic was described as religion and religion is a subject that is rather audience specific. For instance, there are Christian songwriting websites and messageboards out there, so I am certainly aware that there are songwriters who write solely in that genre, and it is indeed a genre. Within the Christian community there are radio stations with hit songs and big name artists. I do remember a time when gospel songs were occasionally on the playlists of mainstream radio, but that doesn’t happen any more. Country radio often has its share of songs with religious overtones, so a person might have some success with a country audience. So I’m on the fence as to whether this topic can be potentially successful outside of its specific audience.
Nature is the next topic. Oddly enough, the first song that comes to mind is an old one written by Eddie Rabbit and performed by Elvis Presley. I don’t know why, but “Kentucky Rain” just popped into my head! It’s really not about rain, though, or Kentucky. It’s an excellent title, but it is…guess what? A love song! Nature in and of itself seems a rather benign topic. Another one that comes to mind (sorry, these are all old!) is “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver. It takes place in the Rocky Mountains, but it is really a coming-of-age song. So I think that nature is probably used more as a metaphor for something else, rather than a topic in and of itself.
Here are the most recent (as of 8/20/14) Billboard top 5 hot pop songs and their topics:
- Rude! by Magic – love song about a guy asking a girl’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage
- Stay With Me by Sam Smith – love song
- Am I Wrong? by Nico and Vinz – about trying to stand up for what’s right, a philosophical song
- Latch by Disclosure – love song
- Boom Clap by Charli XCX – love song
And the hot rock top 5 songs:
- A Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay – love song
- Habits (Stay High) by Tove Lo – love song
- Pompeii by Bastille – believe it or not, a song about Pompeii. Imagine that! You could put this under my category of “place”
- Come With Me Now by Kongos – a song about overcoming obstacles
- Ain’t It Fun by Paramore – a “you’re a jerk” song
The hot country top 5 songs:
- Burnin’ It Down by Jason Aldean – love song
- Dirt by Florida Georgia Line – well, it’s about dirt, but as a metaphor for “this is where I grew up and want to come back, get married and build a house” . I like the lyrics. This fits in with my idea of “place” as a topic. It’s a bit of a stretch calling it a “nature” song.
- American Kids by Kenny Chesney – now this one definitely has religious references and patriotism like “We were Jesus-save-me, blue-jean-baby, born in the USA”, but it’s mostly about the past and growing up.
- Drunk On A Plane by Dierks Bentley – a breaking-up type love song
- Bartender by Lady Antebellum – a “pour me a drink so I can forget him” love song
Okay, so let’s compare with the original list of five topics. Out of the three genres with fifteen songs in total, I’ll see which topics are included:
- Country (patriotism) – 1 (well it wasn’t the actual topic, but because it was referenced to, I included it.
- Religion – 1 (I counted that too, in the same song)
- Nature – 0
- Sports – 0
- Love – 9!
- Other – 6
So what do we learn from this? First my statistics were off a little. I said that 75% of the songs out there are love songs. Nine out of fifteen songs makes it closer to 60%. But you’re pretty safe writing a love song. Religion, country, nature and sports, not so much. And, there are a lot of other topics to write about…even Pompeii! So push the envelope, be imaginative, write about what you know (or make it up!) and don’t restrict yourself. Your idea might be better than any other song idea on the charts!