by Michael Dehoyos
Writing songs is a personal thing, when you need to look inside yourself and find inspiration. When you’re truly stuck, here are some unusual tips you can try; we promise they actually work!
1. Play all your radios together.
When no one is home, turn on all the radios at once when you’re stuck songwriting. You can hear some interesting overlaps, progressions, and melodies. It’s a type of absurdist music composition, known as aleatory music, where the composition relies on chance. Put on all the radios and listen out for any moments of overlap as a way to find great inspiration.
2. Ask yourself the 5 w’s
Think about the subject of your song. What is it about? Who is the main character in it? Where did they come from? Where are you hoping they’ll arrive at by the end of the song? How did they get here? What are they looking for? What do they want to achieve? Remember, what, who, why, where, when and how. Answer those basic questions and the narrative of your song will start to emerge.
3. Listen instead of talking for one day.
Take an oath of silence for a day, and you’ll notice that your brain can reset. Talking actually takes a lot out of your creative brain so when you don’t, you can focus on writing. The silence also allows all your feelings and memories to rise to the surface. Spending the day listening will also be a great way to fuel your ideas. Have a notepad to hand and jot down any interesting snippets of conversation and dialogue that you hear. Listen out for any interesting sounds or fragments of melodies you can use.
4. Set a time limit.
Time can be difficult but if you have too much, you’ll second guess everything you write. Set yourself a short time limit, for less time than you normally need. This will force you to focus and streamline your creative process. If it’s too short, you’ll find that you get absolutely nothing done, so you might want to play around with the best length! You’ll find that you get better at writing great songs quicker. You can challenge yourself further by playing with the time limit each day. The key is to keep writing throughout the whole time; don’t censor yourself!
5. Create a routine
Songwriting is all about practice. The more you write, the better you will become. If you find that you are getting stuck, try writing every day, consistently at the same time. Start with a small amount of time, maybe just 15 minutes a day. You will find that by creating a routine, your brain will become more focused and the more you practice, the more natural the process will become. You will find that the quality of your songwriting will quickly improve and so will your confidence. You will start to beat your block, by knowing you have achieved some songwriting everyday.
6. Play around with song structure
Instead of writing in the conventional, intro-verse-chorus pattern, change it around. Try starting with the chorus, maybe followed by two long verses. You can add in a hidden chorus or a solo. Be creative and challenge your usual pattern.
7. Write from a different perspective
Imagine a scene, maybe one you saw or overheard earlier in the day. Write a verse from one person’s perspective, then the next verse from another person’s point of view. This can make your song sound pretty interesting. You also don’t need to search around for ideas to start with, because you already know what happens – you have already seen the scene! You can also play around with first person and third person narratives and see where it takes you.
8. Write and rearrange words.
Write down a bunch of words that you’ve been thinking about lately, cut them up and rearrange them into different ideas. This can be done for notes, melodies, and even pictures. David Bowie famously used this method for some of his most successful songs.
9. Read and Collect
Read all different types of content- magazines, blogs, tweets, books. Anything and everything! If you have a specific topic you want to write about, focus your reading around that. If not, create a mood-board or scrapbook (you can even create a digital version on your phone) and add to it every time you read something that interests you. News stories are great for giving you current topics to write about. If you’re more of a visual person, use Pinterest and photos from gallery websites, or even better, visit a gallery and get inspiration from the images. You can write a song about the image, or the events that led up to it or that inspired it. Or go a whole different route and write about the person who painted or created the artwork.
10. Listen to Mozart.
Studies show that listening to Mozart gives you more focus by affecting your spatial-temporal reasoning. When you start a writing session by listening to Mozart, you’ll immediately be more concentrated.
11. Use a title
Choose a film, book or song title. Use that as the prompt for your song and create a story to go with it. When you have finished, go back and create your own unique song title. Maybe your song actually took a different route and the new title reflects a whole different aspect of the story? You can use random generators online to generate a title for you or you can collect titles and put them in a jar. Whenever you are stuck, pull one out and get writing!
12. Play your instrument “wrong”.
When you play your instrument the “wrong” way, you’re using an extended technique. This helps you push the boundaries of what’s possible, like playing a piano with the strings modified due to other objects.
It’s normal to get stuck in the songwriting process. If that happens, take some out-of-the-box ideas to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes, you just need to approach something differently to allow your brain to go where it needs to.
For information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net