I believe the songwriting process to be not only unique for the writer but for the individual instance as well. While it may be a good idea to develop a core set of methods and strategies for generically structured songs, writing them all within it would prove very limiting. Likewise with sourcing creativity, if you look to the same source every single time, you will eventually begin to repeat yourself or write the same few songs over and over again with different lyrics and chord progressions.
Like with many things diversity and experimentation are great for songwriting or any type of creative writing, or for that matter any type of creative process in general. I cannot begin to count the instances in which I wasted time trying to write a certain way or from a certain perspective because I had written something good from it before.
This isn’t to say that you can’t re use ideas, but even than it helps too do whatever you can to make it sound fresh and original, and luckily for you we’re gonna talk about a bunch of ways that you can do this!
Change is going to happen as your creative abilities evolve the same ideas that used to have you furiously writing may not have the same spark any more, and certain structures and ideas may begin to feel monotonous because of how many times you already used them.
In an attempt to provide something of value for my fellow aspiring/novice writers and artists out there; and an excuse to blabber about how I write songs here is a list of 10 ideas that anyone can add to their songwriting tool set as well as 10 ideas on general places to look for inspiration.
Before I get into the lists, there’s one extremely important piece of advice that doesn’t really fit on either list that I want to share, I would go so far as to call it my golden rule of writing. Its fairly simple; Keep everything you write, no matter how bad or insignificant it may seem. It could be a single line or a single verse that you lost interest in doesn’t matter keep it. Alright enough with my bantering here we go.
Note: Many of these tips are not (at least to my knowledge) tested and verified by any professionals, I am merely speaking from my own experiences as someone who has been writing songs and poetry for 9 years, and doing so on an frequently near daily basis for the last 2 and a half.
10 tips to mix up your songwriting
1. Write whatever comes to mind
I’ve seen this one referred to in a variety of ways like brainstorming, and free association, but it’s super simple you just write whitewater’s in your mind regardless of how bad, random, nonsensical or dumb it may sound. Besides being a great creativity tool it can also deserve as (or part of) an Ideal songwriting warmup.
If you don’t wanna waste too much time you might wanna set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. I tend to write for much longer when I free associate because I notice after about 5 minutes of nonsense I start catching eye of some interesting content being catapulted out of my brain, or whatever i’m writing is so insane and outlandish that I feel the need to keep going for the sake of novelty.
2. ‘object oriented songwriting’
I’ve heard other people call this cookie cutter songwriting, I prefer to call it object oriented because it reminds of the way you put different functions together in object oriented programming languages. Essentially what this is, is going through taking old material(this type of stuff is why I say the golden rule is save everything you write.) And search for little gems of things you like in songs you would otherwise never wanna sing for someone. I have written countless pages of lyrics that might have had one or two good metaphors, or a really profound abstract description that I liked, or a really catchy hook, and sew them together like patchwork into a song. This takes a little time but it really is worth the effort.
3.’sandcastle method’ (reshaping a parody)
A name I came up with for writing a parody of the song and than continually reshaping and modifying the structure, composition of lyrical elements, topic, sentence structures, rhyme scheme, chord progression, and rhyme placement until it no longer resembles the original song whatsoever. Some people see this as cheating, but if you rearrange it enough it is completely possible to create fully original content by using other peoples work as a base structure, though if you think it sounds a little too much like the original in any way shape or form it needs more work, better safe than sorry.
4.’Clay method’ (reshaping a story)
I call this one the clay method because clay is just a little harder to work with than building a sand castle, but the yield tends to be more rewarding. The clay method involves writing or coming with a short story or narrative and than trying to condense that story into either a song or an album.
This can also be done in some more niche ways, such as condensing political satire and journalism into music akin to the way the folk-singing journalists of the 60s did, I’ve also seen a few punk artists condense political essays into song and a lot of artists that have used music as a personal method for conveying philosophical, ethical, sociological, and political sentiments in a style that is normally reserve for former documents.
5. ‘Mix and Match method’
Essentially a simplified version of object oriented songwriting. Involves taking songs and cutting them up by section, and throwing entire verses and choruses of former works together. One of the biggest advantages this has over OOSW is that you can try out a lot of song combinations really fast, you never know how many great verses you may have written in mediocre songs, that when places among each other magically create a masterpiece.
6. ‘Consulting chaos method’
This method sounds a lot more interesting that it actually is. It basically involves using a coin or a die to make decisions in songwriting when your ear alone cant discern a preference. Sometimes two different words both fit well, and match the rhyme scheme, but you get hung up on trying to use the right one, this is one of many examples where the flip of a coin can save you a lot of time and brainpower.
7. Encyclopedia writing
This one is pretty fun and really simple. Just grab your nearest dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, or whatever. Than you go through and find a bunch of interesting sounding words that rhyme, or just stick out to you, and than try to use as many of them as possible in a verse.
A rhyming dictionary would be optimal if you have one. On a side note if you don’t have a rhyming dictionary but you wanna write songs; than that’s something I would aim to change. That $10-$20 you spend on it will likely the best investment in your life/hobby/career as a songwriter imaginable.
8. ‘meditation writing’
This one is a slow process, but it’s worked very well for me in the past. First you start writing something, and the second the thoughts stop flowing even for juts a moment, stop writing and go clear your mind for 5 minutes. Meditate on it, if you still don’t know where to go from there meditate another 5 minutes rinse repeat until you have a whole song or your content with how much you’ve written.
9. Work backwards.
This one works particularly well for writing concept albums. Essentially it consists of coming up with the album structure first, and than working on the purpose and the general idea of each song and how you want them to transition into one another to establish, carry and resolve the theme of the album, and than by the time it comes to write the songs you’ll already have clear defined goals context and criteria to guide your writing.
10. don’t be afraid to flip the page
If you can’t think of anything to add and you run into a dead end, it may often be a better use of your time to just flip to the next page and start a new song or try rewriting the same one a little differently. You want to get the most out of the time you dedicate towards song writing, don’t worry about having to see every idea through and through right away.
10 tips for beating writers block.
1. write somewhere you’ve never written before.
Pay attention to the scenery and look, listen, and sense for things that catch your attention. This is great for inspiration or you can take this a step further and attempt too capture vivid descriptions. These can than be used to describe the setting, vivify secondary objects in a song, or even find the inspiration for a subject.
2. Read for a 15+ minutes before writing.
Crafting anything requires materials plain and simple. While listening to music is often the go to for inspiring other music, I find reading books before writing can be equally as useful. Reading gets your brain working harder, and since books generally have a lot more words than songs, it gives you a much steadier supply of literary input. This will especially help if you like to write songs that tell stories or convey purposeful information.
3. Write from someone else’s perspective
This can make for some very compelling stories, and can keep your point of view from getting stale. Almost like ghost writing. Or if your writing from the perspective of someone who’s passed away you could take ghost writing to a whole new level!
4. Write while experiencing intense emotion or sensation.
If possible this may not always be an easy or viable option. Though when I am able too I find it very rewarding, and simultaneously relieved if the emotion was negative or uncomfortable. This has a tendency to inspire lyrics that are emotionally powerful, and relatable, which are both good, because people are far more likely to remember a song that leaves them moved so to speak.
5. Look for music that is outside your comfort zone.
As a songwriter it is to your greatest advantage to verse yourself with as wide of an array of music as possible. Look for music from other time periods, other cultures, genres you wouldn’t normally listen too, novice and underground artists. Great way to kill two birds with one stone by checking out all the bands an artists that your friends keep recommending that you’ve been neglecting to look up. (let’s face it most of us do it.) This helps to inspire innovative ideas, by dramatically increasing the number of lyrical and musical elements and styles in your repertoire.
6. Co-write with a friend
Songwriting isn’t always the easiest thing to collaborate on, but finding someone you work well with is invaluable. It’s much harder to create something that isn’t pandering to just your own tastes without the direct input from another, while that can often just be supplemented by asking people to critique or review your work, working alongside someone takes that component to a whole other level.
7. Recycle your unused song!
If your really stumped on coming up with anything, look back to prior songs that you wrote that you didn’t particularly like very much. Take the song and try to write it over again with the same general idea in mind.
8. Ask yourself questions about why you to write and what you want to create, convey, and display.
You may find that writing to feel much more natural when you can identify why you feel so compelled to write in the first place, and define the exact goals you want to accomplish. This can be done at a very broad level to define organizing ideas for your overall artistic representation. I find it equally as important to ascribe more specific goals to each individual work, and allow both to guide your writing process. it’s a lot easier to hit a target when you know where it is.
9. Analyze the music that inspires you.
Try to discern exactly what it is about the music you find the most enjoyable and inspirational that makes it stick out to you. Make lists. Try to find patterns. You want to understand the music you like as well as possible, because it will make it that much easier for you to incorporate that influence into your own style.
10. Keep a dream journal.
I’ve never tried this one personally, but have been told by a lot of friends and read several places online that writing songs based on experiences, symbols and settings found in your dreams is a great way to develop a surreal and dreamlike style of songwriting. On a similar note I personally have found some pretty profound results from writing while very sleep deprived but I would not recommend doing this on purpose.