Songwriting can be a real challenge. Whether you are an experienced songwriter or only just starting out, coming up with ideas and putting them together in a coherent satisfying way can sometimes feel impossible. Though Songwriting is not my profession it is something I have done since I started playing music and prior to that I was regularly writing stories and poems. In today’s blog I will be sharing some of my tips and secrets that I have learnt and used over the years; I hope you can use them to dig yourself out of that creative rut you may sometimes find yourself in.
Record all of your ideas
It is the tip you hear from every songwriter; it is the most common tip for a reason. For me it is the most powerful tool in my arsenal and I reckon that a lot of songwriters would agree. Ideas can come to us at any time and with little warning, as such we need to be constantly ready to take note of them. I personally do this on my phone recording all of my musical ideas onto a recording app and noting of my lyrical ideas in a notepad app. By making this a habit you end up building a wealth of ideas which you can refer to when you sit down for a writing session and they in turn can produce a wealth of further ideas on their own. In turn actively recording ideas will increase your creativity and will find yourself able to come up with more ideas. So if you have not done it already, get started!
Limit your choices
Songwriting is essentially a process involving a series of choices; what chords am I going to use? What is the melody going to be? What topic am I going to write about? What time signature should it be in? What mood am I trying to create? With so many choices involved in writing a song it is easy to see how it can quickly become overwhelming. So limit your choices. Ask one question at a time and answer it. For example, if you are starting absolutely dry with no ideas simply pick the key of the song, forget about all other decisions until you have made that one choice; after that you can go on a pick the first chord or the chord progression you are going to use, continue this process making one decision at a time and your song will quickly start to form.
Make a decision
Sometimes as writers we know the question but we cannot seem to settle on the answer. This can very quickly become the death of creativity and the birth of writer’s block. So, make a decision, it does not have to be the right one, if you are really stuck you can even leave the decision entirely up to chance. Brian Eno, who has produced albums for David Bowie, Genesis, U2 and Coldplay, is known for having a deck of cards that he uses to make creative decisions for him and he has been key to producing some of most critically acclaimed albums on the planet.
Write without fear, you can always go back
Fear is often what holds us back in all aspects of life, including Songwriting. However, unlike many other areas of life, making a wrong decision whilst writing is not going to result in financial instability, injury or death. So why fear making mistakes? Write without fear! Let the mistakes happen! Get things wrong! It is not the end of the world if you do; you can always go back and when you do, you will go back with a better idea of what to do. It is all part of the process so do not let fear stop that process.
Be and editor, not a writer
This ties in nicely with my previous point. Songs are rarely written perfectly on the first try. The vast majority of songs out there are really developed in the editing process and it is therefore important to think like an editor. By doing this an implementing the previous points, you can get through the initial draft of a song fairly quickly. You may have bits that you feel do not work, lyrical lines that you used as a place keep for a better line that you have yet to work out and a structure that is all over place and that is fine. You can develop and fix these problems in the edit so don’t get stuck in the draft, get it done!
Good artists copy, Great artists steal
This famous line supposedly originated from the artist Pablo Picasso. This has since gone through many iterations such as ‘Bad artists Imitate, Great Artists Steal’ and has had many meanings drawn from it. How I have used the line is as a reminder that creativity does not live in a vacuum. All of our creative decisions, conscious or unconscious, are informed by the creative choices of the artists before us, it is therefore not inherently bad to lift ideas from other artists to use. We do not always have to come up with unique ideas from our mind. Feel free to lift chords progressions, melodies and lyrical ideas from other artists to use as the basis for a new song or to add to a song already in development. As long as you do not copy a song note for note you should be fine, though where the line is a cannot say and that is certainly a big topic for another time.
I hope these tips are more than useful, what tips have you used in the past to help you out of creative ruts?
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