I Don’t know why I used this image, but I really liked the weird little metal nipples… Anyway, on with the blog post!
How not to be stuck in a rut? If your songs are suffering because you keep repeating old formulaic devices you always use, how the heck are you gonna get interesting again, damn you?!
I’ll suggest a few things now that will hopefully blow your crazy little song-wig.
- Just play. That is absolutely essential for music to have the freedom it needs to breathe. Kids are SO creative when they play, because they don’t impose any boundaries on themselves, and there are no such things as mistakes – everything is learning. So if you make a “Mistake” whilst going through your song, try and remember what you did, and make “Playing Music” be music at play, not some super-serious rehearsal. Dick around more. Do more stupid shit that might not work. Don’t worry because everything’s gonna work out fine, even if you don’t get anything ‘Productive’ done for that session. You’ve been building your skills that whole time, and there is no such thing as wasted time when it comes to creativity, as long as you’re playing.
- If you usually do one thing to start writing a song ~ do another thing! If you usually write chords first, try making up a riff. If you riff first, start with a bare acapella melody, or lyrics. I find when I’ve just got home from work and nobody is in ~ I have a little sing to myself in my kitchen while I’m making myself a cuppa, and sometimes it turns into an actual song! (Mostly it just makes me think about key changes though.)
- Don’t spend all your time polishing a frankly exhausted turd, go do something else! The turd will go fertilise some roses you can show off at a later date. Flogging a dead horse is a really good way to become covered in rotting viscera. (You may quote me.)
- If you play guitar, mess with the tunings. DADGAD is great, so is open D Major – (DADF#AD) DADF#GD is pretty fun too but not for the faint-hearted! Also, get a spider capo or a 3 or 4 string capo… The possibilities are so limitless! Because you might not be used to those tunings, working by ear becomes the dominant way of doing things, and therefore chord progressions become more instinctive and less habitual or formulaic.
- Don’t overthink.
- Go for a walk, tidy your kitchen, have a nice relaxing poo, do some free-writing, go spruce yourself up a bit, or give your pet some smooch-time for ten minutes and get your brain out of expectation mode. If you’re anything like me, creativity comes out of freedom, not obligation. Do something that is different from your normal approach to writing.
- Let the ideas cook. Don’t even try unless it’s ready, when you’re writing lyrics. Do riffs instead and work on instrumental skills. I have been finding more and more that unless I have something particular I want to say, it’s best not to say any old shit that springs immediately to mind. Having said that, for over 12 years of songwriting, I HAD to say any old shit that came to mind, because I tended to believe everything my brain threw (up) at me, and I didn’t know what I thought about XYZ unless I’d either said it to someone or written a song about it. (Duh. God life was so hard when I thought I had to believe all my thoughts! I guess that’s the difference between an external and internal emotional processor.)
- Don’t let the Internal Critic have its say until you’ve got loads of ideas down ~ then you can cut your song down to size. There is no point in being precious about keeping a verse that just doesn’t quite work. Get rid of it. If it wants to be said (and it has to be in that particular song) you can always edit it into shape. What works best for me is getting quantity, rather than agonising over quality, and then making sure that the cream of the crop is used to show your song off in the best light. (Wow ~ overuse of sayings. Don’t over use sayings. Ha!)
- One thing I did that really inspired me to write some of my best songs is just to write a really long list beforehand. I wrote down every single thing I could think of about a certain subject ~ The Elements ~ But starting with half a page of words for water, then moving onto everything I could come up with to do with air, then earth, then fire. By the end of it I’d managed to get my brain into puzzle-solving mode, and I came up with a couple of my best metaphors ever.
- Along the same lines, either research a topic that catches your interest already, and just make a notes page in your notebook about it, or just use your notebook to doodle in, and write inside the doodle, incorporating it into the structure somehow. This is also sort of getting your brain into puzzle-solving / free creativity mode, and it works wonders to shut the internal critic’s shitty little face hole. If you rely on writing to happen, that’s a really good way of accidentally telling it to fuck right off. It’s like herding cats. But I do hope those are some nice ways you can get the songs to come to you, so let me know how you get on in the comments!
Hope that helps, song-buddies! Until next time.
Remember you are love.