Creating an Idea Palette for Songwriting

LyricsAn artist holding a colorful palette while standing in front of an easel is certainly an iconic image, but that palette is a lot more than just a parking lot for paint.

The concepts are simple:

  1. There’s a tool that’s easy to manipulate while working
  2. The tool offers effortless interaction with an artistic medium
  3. It facilitates a method of selecting and mixing raw color to create new and unique colors. 

An idea palette is conceptually the same thing, but instead of paint we’ll use words. 

Why do I need an Idea Palette?

Distilling ideas into lyrical content is a critical part of the songwriting process.  For some people song lyrics come easily and quickly.  I am not one of those people.  I have to work hard at producing lyrics that I don’t absolutely hate.  My primary goal for developing lyrics is simple….try not to sound like an idiot.   In order to achieve this goal I rely on idea palettes to generate lyrical content for songs.

The Right Tool for the Job

You need to decide on which tool you’ll use to capture your ideas and research.  You can use Microsoft Word, Excel, OneNote, cocktail napkins or a paper bag.  It doesn’t really matter.  Pick the tool with which you feel most comfortable.  Just be sure that it supports your lifestyle and your way of working.  Let me explain that last part…

I’m all about flexibility.  I use Microsoft OneNote for lyric development for a few reasons: 

  1.  A tool that’s easy to manipulate while working:  I travel a lot, so being able to email myself content that I’m working on is important.  Some of my most productive lyric writing happens on an airplane or during travel.  Ideas frequently come at the most inconvenient times.  Be prepared to capture them when they decide to grace you with their presence. 
  2. Effortless Interaction with the Medium: I can easily experiment by moving words and sentences around very easily and quickly in OneNote.  I can’t really do that with traditional notebooks. 
  3.  Supports My Unique Method of Researching Ideas: I do a lot of screenshots.  OneNote embeds the source URL just below the screenshot so I can always refer back to that website if needed. 

There’s no wrong answer to the “which tool should I to use” question.  I would suggest using different tools until you find one that fits.  OneNote works great for me.  That being said, I will never be able to fully escape the delicious seduction of a classic Moleskine ruled notebook.  I inscribe my finalized lyrics in a Moleskine with a pen that feels good in my hand.  Once you go there….you’ll never go back.   

Check out this post about a technique that I use to develop common threads into useable ideas for lyrics.

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