If you're ever in need of a new way to kick-start a new song idea, the ghost song may be just the ticket. The term simply refers to the use of an existing song as a template from which to write a new song.
First you need to choose a song you would like to use.
I would encourage you to pick a hit song, because you can be sure a lot of time and effort went into writing it.
Now before I go any further, let me make it clear you are not stealing anything.
Your finished song should not resemble the original song at all.
It might be helpful to choose a song in the same genre as the song you intend to write. But it's not necessary.
Once you've chosen your song, begin by replacing the existing lyrics with your own.
The idea is not to copy the storyline, but to borrow the rhythmic feel of the lyric.
Use the rhythm and melody as a guide for writing lyrics. As you progress further into your new song, begin changing the melody here and there to help you get away from the song you're using.
If you play guitar or piano it will help to start playing different chords than the ones in the ghost song.
Also loosen your grip on the rhythm. Allow your song room to grow, then pretty soon your song will begin to take on a life of its own.
Let me give you an example of a song I wrote using this method.
I had a couple of pages of 'missing you' type lines, the result of a freewriting session. Several of those lines jumped out at me as being pretty good, so I circled them.
At the time I had Avril Lavigne's song "Keep Holding On" stuck in my head, as it was in heavy rotation. So I decided to use it one night and began writing lyrics to it.
I replaced her opening lines with:
So many things that I have to say
I hope this letter will find you okay
I'm thinking of you out there all alone
Hoping and praying that you make it home
I didn't use her chorus as a template, because my new song immediately took on a life of its own.
I began asking myself questions such as "Who and where is this person?" and "Why am I praying for his or her safe return?"
I decided the song would be about a loved one who was away at war.
That song became "Soldier Blue". And apart from tempo, I'm happy to say it bears no resemblance to "Keep Holding On".
Once you have a handle on where your song is headed, concentrate on the melody. This is very important.
Your melody must be your own.
Be sure to spend a lot of time on your melody. I believe it to be the most important part of a song.
This is where you drop any remaining shred of the ghost song.
It's like learning to ride a bicycle. The training wheels are there to help you for a while.
Eventually you take them off and ride by yourself.
Try it out. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!