Should you write songs from personal experience or use your imagination?

There’s been a lot of disagreement between whether a song should be deliberately written from your hard fought experiences in life or from something you could make up in your head. Some feel as though it isn’t fair for you to write about something of which you know nothing about or have not personally experienced. After all, many experiences in life are ones we wouldn’t relive again and luckily survived to tell the story in a song. While this is very noble and inspiring I do not believe that songs must be written only from lived experience.

Here are some things to consider.

There are only so many experiences one person can live through in life, especially those who are younger. At some point in time you will run out of ideas to write about if you are solely only writing about your own life. Also, let’s be honest with ourselves. Not everything in our lives is interesting enough to write a song about. That time you rode your first roller coaster and cried might have been hilarious to your friends but it’s doubtful that the rest of the world will find it interesting.

Humans are capable of empathy. Empathy is when someone can almost personally feel and experience something someone they care about is going through. So, we don’t necessarily have to go through it ourselves to have an understanding of what it’s like.

Now I must say that writing from personal experience is very powerful and can help you create an incredible song. So it is highly encouraged that you do that. I’d like to add a personal experience I had with one of my co-songwriters when I experienced a transformation he went through. We had been writing together since we were teenagers and had written plenty of really cool love or heartbreak songs. After he went through his first real and devastating heartbreak it changed his perspective forever. Not long after, we wrote one of the best songs we had ever written about having that special someone walk away from you. So my point is that while you don’t have to go through it yourself to write about it, it does help create a compelling song to write about something you lived through.

Various things that we have seen or done in our lives affect most of what we are capable of imagining in our minds and then putting to paper. So, it’s really not that far from the truth. It’s almost like those movies that are “based on a true story.” While not every detail is exactly spot on, the core concept of the movie really happened and that is how even “made up” songs usually turn out.

In conclusion, I would recommend that you try experimenting with both lived and unlived experiences and also try the combination of the two and see how much better your songs come out. Using your imagination gives you the freedom to play around with new ideas and potentially creating a much better song.

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1 reply
  1. Phil Bouldry Jr.
    Phil Bouldry Jr. says:

    I have been a songwriter since 1975. One thing I have learned is that you take your influence from wherever it may come. Sometimes that is from your own life experiences. Sometimes it’s purely from your imagination. Also, there are millions of people who have had experiences in THEIR lives that are songworthy, but they haven’t a clue how to write a song. There is a treasure trove of ideas in other people’s experiences. I have used all these types of inspiration in my songwriting. Creativity is creativity, from whence it comes is not relevant (apart from blatant plagiarism). Write the song, write the song, write the song.

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