There are many reasons to write a song about someone: maybe you love them, maybe you just want to write a song for them, or maybe something happened between you two and you want to write a song about that. In this article I’m going to give you x tips for writing a song about someone.
Write specific things about them
There’s a Bo Burnham song called Repeat Stuff. If you don’t know who Bo Burnham is, he’s a musician/comedian that writes really witty songs. Here are some some lyrics in the song:
But now I need to make every girl think this song’s about herJust to make sure that they spread it like the plague
So I describe my dream girl as really really vague, like
“I love your hands ’cause your fingerprints are like no other
I love your eyes and their blueish brownish greenish color
I love it when you smile, that you smile wide
And I love how your torso has an arm on either side.”
So who is this song about? This song sound be about anyone with hands, eyes, and two arms. This is like writing a lyric and saying “I really like you because you are alive.”
Not that great.
If you are writing a commercial song and want every girl to think the song is about them, then perhaps this could be a good strategy.
This article is not about writing a massively appealing pop song.
Maybe I will talk about that in another article, but this isn’t the place.
So, when you are writing a lyric about someone, try to write a lyric that is specific to them.
Maybe you could write a line like this:
That’s much more specific that writing a lyric like
When you are writing a lyric specific to a person there are a few things you should consider.
The first thing you should consider is that when you are writing about someone and use very specific lyrics, then that person is probably going to know the lyrics are about them. If you write a lyric like:
John, the cowboy from Arkansas
Started every day with a bear claw
From the gas station by his home
Always his jeans filled with a pocket comb
Yeah, I know these aren’t the best lyrics ever, but I think they get my point across. If you have a friend named John who is from Arkansas, like bear claws, and keeps his hair nice, he’s probably going to know this song is about him.
Even if you changed the name to something like Sam, you’re friend will probably be able to put two and two together and realize the song is about him.
This is fine if you want this person you are writing a song for to know that the song is about them, but if you don’t want them to, perhaps you are writing a love story about a guy or a girl you like and you don’t want them to know, then writing lyrics that are too specific might not be a great idea.
Write about memories you had together
Another great way to write a song about someone is to include a memory that you and that person had together. Maybe it’s a specific moment like going to the Grand Canyon together and watching the sun rise. You could write a lyric like:
We stood like kings
Watching the things below us
As the sun came up
And I’ll never forget
Again, if these lyrics were going into a real song, I’d probably spend a little more time on them, but writing a memory that you and another person shared can be really meaningful.
Another way to incorporate memories into a lyric is by writing about something that the two of you often did together; something like a hobby or routine.
Breakfast at night with you
Was always the best
I hope you never forget
With you I’m obsessed
Using a hobby or something you often did together is a great idea if other people know about it as well. Maybe your other friends know about about the things you and your other friend did together. They have a better chance of remembering that that one specific event that the two of you had.
Write about something they like
Another thing to incorporate into a song about another person is writing about something that person likes. One example is writing a song for a kid. Maybe your young friend really likes penguins. You could choose to write a silly song about penguins. Though, I must admit, I think writing a song about penguins may be kind of difficult. You’d have to know a lot about penguins, and you’d have to be able to write words that rhyme with penguin, flippers, waddle, and other words.
That may be kind of tough.
One great thing about writing about something they like is that when you are writing the song you can ask them about the topic. It could be a really fun process to write a song together with your friend. Going to our example of writing a song about penguins for a child, you can sit down with them and talk about penguins. Just start asking them questions about penguins.
What do penguins eat?
What kind of sounds do they make?
Why do you like penguins?
Another thing that’s really cool about writing a song about something your friend likes is that when you write a song about a topic your friend likes, then the topic will most likely be more relevant to other people. If you write a song about penguins because your friend likes penguins, the chances are that there other people out there that also like penguins that might like your song.
Use a song style they are like
All of the above topics about writing a song about someone have been about writing lyrics, but I want to give you another tip that isn’t related to just writing lyrics. Notice that this tip says to use a song style they ARE like, not a song style that they DO like, although you can do the latter if you want to.
But I want you to think of this in a different way.
Maybe your friend is from Scotland and really cares a lot about their culture. Maybe you can add some bagpipes to the song.
There are a few things that you need to consider when doing this.
The first one is that this may be a sensitive issue. If you live in America and want to write a song for your Chinese friend, if you add Chinese elements to your song, but don’t do it correctly it can come off as really tacky. It may feel like the song is making fun of your friend and you don’t want that.
The other thing that you should think about is that you should still consider the overall song and your abilities.
If your friend loves skateboarding and going to underground music shows, then you may want to write a song with punk rock elements. But if you don’t know about punk rock or if you don’t know how to write punk rock music, you might not want to add those types of elements into the song.
Writing a song about someone – wrap up
These are just some of the tips you can use when writing a song about someone. These were meant to be pretty general. Later, I will write some guides such as writing a song about someone you love or writing a song about someone you hate. But I hope that these general tips can get you started when writing a song about someone.
What to read next:
This article was mainly focused on writing lyrics, but when writing a song you’ll also need to write music. Here’s an article for songwriters that play guitar that teaches the first scale you should learn.
Josh is the founder and main author of Songwriter Nation. He has played music for over twenty years and even studied music at university earning a minor in music.