The most terrible situation to a songwriter is running out of inspiration. Sometimes a songwriter is sitting in front of the keyboard, holding a guitar and trying to write something. But finally, he comes up with a similar music piece as he wrote several weeks ago.
This happens to me periodically when I get used to a fixed system of songwriting. I hate this feeling of being locked in a box. Sometimes I think I found new inspiration but end up with the same old things again. Most of time, I give myself a break until new ideas pop up. This break can be as short as a couple of hours and may take a whole month. However, professional songwriters who work on a regular basis can’t wait for inspiration. After time goes by, I started to notice what exactly enabled me to breakthrough from a stuffy box. Here are 7 tips I want to share with you. They are the solutions I carry with me all the time. Some of them may be effective in other fields as well.
1. Change the sequence of writing lyric and music
This is the time to break your rules. A songwriter who writes both lyrics and music may have a preference for writing lyrics first or music first. We all have better skill in one than the other. For me, I used to write lyrics first. I have a thick notebook of lyrics in my room, but only a few of them have music playing along. The method I used 4 years ago was reading lyrics out loud and emotionally in order to find some inspiration. This worked when I wrote my first songs but later I found it limiting; having the lyrics already written often limits music flexibility in this way. Later on, I got rid of my huge lyrics bank and tried to write music independently and my songs started to differentiate from each other.
Now, I am using both methods and even writing both lyrics and music at the same time. I can’t tell which one is the best way, but I have to say that as long as you get out of your comfort zone, you will find something new.
2. Change the musical instruments commonly used
Another way to get out of your comfort zone is to change your production habits.
For example, it is hard for a mature product to improve further, such as the Iphone 5s, whose development space is much smaller than that of a brand new product like the iwatch.
This is why you need to change the musical instrument which you have already gotten used to and switch to another musical instrument during composing. It is easy to achieve improvement in a whole new area. If you are a professional guitar player, why not take the chance to play some chords on piano? You will receive a totally different feeling with the same chords.
3. Get some fresh idea from other art forms
Besides changing the “hardware”, or musical instrument, used in production, you should also change our “software”, or direction of logic thinking. Since various art forms influences each other in different ages, a song can be inspired by a painting, a movie, or a book. Musicians should never be stuck in the music world all the time. (We all had psychology circle from freshness to numbness. Once an artist get numbed with what he is doing, his audience will lose interest in the works as well.) Songwriters always need fresh ideas to create. Attending art exhibitions and/or reading regularly can stimulate creativity everyday.
4. Give yourself a day to think
Thinking is a crucial step in creative arts, but many artists omit this part because they are overwhelmed by busy schedules. Please give yourself some time to reflect. I realized this over the summer after I overbooked my calendar during my first time living in New York. I was too excited to join every activity and to have a full schedule from morning to midnight. I went to sleep everyday once I got home while I went out immediately after I got up. For sure, I felt enriched and became an authentic New Yorker in one month. I thought that doing this would allow a lot of ideas to pop up in my songwriting work. However, when I tried to write something, my brain wasn’t able to focus.
Giving yourself a day to think is a super useful tip for busy songwriters. Once your life is overloaded with innovative ideas, give yourself some time to reflect on the inspirations left.
5. Listen to music from other genres and find something in common with your current genre.
Businesses merge to enhance their market power. Music also needs to merge to meet thousands of possibilities. Songwriters usually stay in one specific music genre where they are good at it. No matter what kind of music we are working with, from rock music to classical music, we have to stand in others’ shoes. This is how music evolved through history. They are mixtures between existing music genres. Nowadays, electronic music dominates half of the music industry, which does not mean that other music genres should keep silent. The only way to move music forward and keep a creative mind in songwriting is to patch one kind of music with other genres’ music elements, such as rhythm, timbre and chord progressions.
6. Jamming with friends
Everyone experienced a hard time with bottleneck. Going out and jamming with friends may solve each others’ problems. This way, inspiration not only comes from solid works but also lively people. Friends are always the best teachers. You can discuss the above 5 tips with your friends and get more ideas.
7. Never rely on alcohol and drugs
This is a tricky one. Alcohol and drugs may take you to a new world with endless imagination. However, don’t live with them and regard them as a reasonable way to get out of bottleneck. They will hurt our body and brain in the long term.
There is a broad horizon waiting for you outside the bottleneck. Of course, you can either wait for it or make an effort to break through it. Higher skill levels for songwriting will be achieved after the bottleneck period. Wish you good luck in your songwriting career.