There are nearly infinite ways to jumpstart your creative process and the best one is the one that works for you. Try some of these songwriting tips and techniques to give your creative process a push in the right direction.
Always keep your voice memos open
You never know when inspiration will strike. Try recording a random city sound, a few people talking and something with a steady rhythm, maybe an air conditioning hum or ceiling fan. Use a DAW to layer them on top of each other and you have a cool, ambient base with a rhythm to start songwriting from.
Know the difference between inspiration and plagiarizing
A lot of people equate drawing from music that you respect as cheating somehow. It’s not. Try playing along with a song you love, play one piece of that song and change it a little. Same genre, same groove, just a little different. Try this with another piece of the song. Keep trying this and tweaking parts until you have a whole new song that’s all your own. It doesn’t matter where a song starts out, it matters where it ends and that you’re proud of it.
Collaborate with others, even if they’re not musicians
Multiple minds are always better than one, always! Try grabbing a few of your friends, family or roommates and have them play or hum something you can play along with. Being a musician doesn’t matter, everyone has rhythm inside them and something to say, just because they aren’t musically inclined doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to say it. Help them bring their idea to life and you’d be surprised what else will come out along the way.
Get as much feedback as possible
Speaking of non-musicians, try to get as much feedback from them as possible. Most people are so obsessed with impressing other musicians that they forget to realize most of their listeners won’t be. Try getting feedback from real listeners who have a different relationship with music than you do. You’ll get different, more honest feedback about how a piece makes them feel, not about your technique or your musical decision on a particular part.
Give feedback to others
The easiest and fastest way to learn something is by doing it, the best way to master something is by teaching it. Giving other musicians respectful, thoughtful feedback will surface what’s really important to you in songwriting. Take those things that are really important to you and turn to your own music. Are you practicing what you preach? Is there a way you can incorporate your advice into your own music or music you start in the future?
Be OK with failing
You’re not going to write your best work on the first draft. You’ll likely never be “finished” with a song. Songs aren’t complete until we’re truly proud of them but they still have value to others while still in progress. Creative vulnerability is letting other people see you in process, not hoarding your creativity until it’s polished or ready to show off.
Take a break
There are a lot of ways to get through writer’s block or to jumpstart your writing, but sometimes the best way to get a song to the finish line is getting away from it completely. Take a break from it, get up and out of the room you’ve been writing in. Listen to something else, cook something, call someone. Getting out of your own head for a little bit will help you hear your song with fresh ears, making it easier to identify what you want to change, add or remove.
Use experience to your advantage
Your life experiences are amazing stories that are unique to you. Only you can tell them. Write down some life experience or decision you’ve had to make in the past. How did it go? Did you wish it would have gone a different way? What would life be like if you hadn’t had that experience or made that decision? Talking about these things not only tells your unique story but gives the listener something very real to connect to.
Write one small section every day
A lot of writing is repetition, rhythm, and consistency. Training your creative mind to exercise, so to speak, every day will let you get into the mindset easier. You start to train your brain to get into a headspace when you get in writing mode. Inspiration can strike anywhere, anytime, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a little push sometimes.
Do you typically write lyrics first? Guitar melodies first? Try switching up your instrument (and if you only have one you can sing or hum melodies!). Try writing a rhythm on guitar, some simple melody line on drums and hum the groove. Changing mediums will change the way you think about the different aspects of songwriting and trying something you’re not comfortable with will help you keep things simple.
You’re probably very used to playing around on guitar, recording it and filing it away in a work in progress folder. Next time you sit down to write a song try to actually write it down. Write on napkins, write on Post-its, try writing tabs without your guitar and play it back later. This physical version of DAW piano roll scribbling can help you accidentally come up with something you love right away. On that note…
Piano roll scribbling
Open your DAW’s piano roll and start filling in random notes. Play it back with a few different instruments and hear what it sounds like. Try increasing and decreasing the tempo. Cut out pieces you don’t like and look for those happy accidents that you can put into your next song.
Change your surroundings
Much of your songwriting process is being comfortable and much of your end song has that comfort and environment in it. Changing your mental, physical, emotional space can help agitate the creative process a little, forcing you to create in a new environment. This helps you get outside of your comfort zone and write something you may not be accustomed to.
Feel, wish, wonder
Starting with a prompt of I feel… or I wish… or I wonder… can help spark some creative energy and at the very least, give you a jumpstart on writing about something. You can always change the subject later, the way you feel about it is what matter. The point is to get started with a feeling to help you move onto the next feeling.
Connect multiple things, then get rid of the things
The beauty in songwriting is the descriptive journey that the listener is taken on, the beginning and end don’t matter all that much. Try writing down two or three things that are unrelated and connect them. It could be how you physically go from one object to another or how you wish that one thing gave you the same feeling you had when you were a kid, playing with another thing. You can even get rid of the subjects you chose and fill in something to fit the theme of your song better. It’s the emotion between the two that matters, not the things themselves.
Stop reading, just start writing
Stop overthinking it, just write or record the first thing you spit out. It’s not going to be perfect on your first try, and that’s OK. If you hold in an idea too long you’ll never write something that lives up to the expectation in your head. It’s better to get it out into the world, get feedback on it and iterate for the next version of the song or your next project.