Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters

What Was That Idea Again?


The ability to convert ideas to things is the secret of outward success.”  -Henry Ward Beecher

lightbulbIdeas come from all sorts of places. My old “idea books” are filled with song titles, random thoughts and bits of conversations scribbled on napkins, placemats, and sticky notes, along with torn out newspaper and magazine articles. The current version of my idea book is stored on my computer: various emails to myself, screen shots, quotes, mp3’s, links to articles and websites. A necessity of the business of creativity is to grab that idea and keep it or it will elude you in minutes. However, once you’ve captured it, let it simmer in your mind and spirit until you find the perfect opportunity to use it. I can go back twenty years, look at any of my notes on napkins and tell you where I was, who I was with, how I was feeling, and why I was inspired at that moment to write it down.

Take, for example. Back in 2000, my husband Danny Arena and I, who had the combined skills of being teachers, computer programmers, and professional songwriters had, in the immortal words of Oprah, an “aha moment!” We asked ourselves, “Why not combine our particular skill set and create a school online for songwriters providing everything we wished we had access to back in the days when we had to walk barefoot in the snow from Newark to Nashville with no clue? Why not give back to up-and-coming songwriters in the same way that our mentors guided us? Why don’t we provide songwriters around the world with easy access to the same songwriting classes and song coaching that we offer in our on-ground seminar? Why not ask our pro songwriter friends to contribute their skills? Why not call it SongU (as in Song University)?” It was idea whose time had come.

Here’s one of the earliest website headers we sketched out when we were first noodling around with the idea in 2001:


Finally, in July of 2003, in the dark ages before Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube graced the world wide web, we launched, the first online education program for songwriters. Over thirteen years later it’s still humming along.


I know I’m not alone in trying to keep up with the rapid fire growth of technology (can we say iPhone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…?). By necessity,, has continued to evolve every single year since its launch. We’ve persevered through dial-up to high-speed, through text-based chat rooms to audio/video-enabled meeting rooms, from desktops to tablets, and on and on. Being able to stay current for an international online school with instructor-led web-based classes, song feedback, and community shared over many internet platforms, computers, and browsers has been no small feat. During it all our members stayed true, many of them sticking with us year after year, exceeding our expectations as they achieved their goals, giving us the props and encouragement to carry on. Admittedly, we’re proud of this accomplishment.

Recently we launched the newest iteration of the site yet, completely mobile and tablet-friendly. We’re offering some new membership options to keep up with the Joneses. And we have more ideas on napkins that are turning into realities as we speak. This blog is one of them.


As Danny and I discovered a long time ago, it’s the ability to create –  to turn a random idea into a working reality – that makes all else pale by comparison. I know that any of you who have written your ideas on napkins, that have turned some words into a lyric and some notes into a melody, can most certainly relate.

Author: Sara Light

Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score." Sara has always combined her love of teaching with her love of songwriting and has given countless songwriting seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2001 she co-founded, along with her husband Danny Arena, the online educational website Besides being one of the main administrators (and now bloggers) Sara teaches Song Feedback and Lyric Writing at

2 thoughts on “What Was That Idea Again?

  1. I also recall a pre-SongU website,, that I believe y’all managed. Or, perhaps my memory is making up things! 😉

    • Haha. Bob, you’ve got a good memory! Danny and I did have a site called craftofsongwriting once upon a very long time ago. I suppose it did lay the groundwork for us to expand our vision for what turned into

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