Some days you can write your way out of a creative rut when trying to come up with new song lyrics. But there are other times when you need to try something extraordinary or completely different in order to clear the cobwebs associated with songwriters' block.
The usual tips everybody is trying may not always work for you. Sometimes you have to undertake techniques that are completely out of the box to get your song engine running. Think about trying one of the following next time:
1. Put yourself in a time crunch
Ever had a short amount of time to finish a school project you had been putting off for weeks? You probably surprised yourself by pulling it off and even doing a good job although you had so little time. It’s a natural response to sometimes become superhuman when the deadline is upon us to accomplish something important. You can use that kind of pressure to your advantage when trying to create a new song by giving yourself a small timeframe to write a complete song from start to finish.
For example, set your stopwatch to 30 minutes and start writing whatever comes to mind. Of course, you can set whatever time limit you like, whether more or less (don’t worry, according to Noel Gallagher, "Supersonic" by Oasis was written in just 10 minutes!). And even if you don’t manage to finish a song the first time you try, you’ll eventually get better at it the more attempts you make.
2. Try the famous cut-up technique
You might have read about this before, considering that there are so many articles written about David Bowie, who is one of the more famous practitioners of the cut-up method (although he didn't invent it). But it gets another mention here since slicing up words and letters is among the weirdest things you can do to generate song lyrics. In addition, there are a few different ways to do it. You can:
- Write down lines of random thoughts then cut them up into individual lines and rearrange them to create something meaningful.
- Cut the entire thing up into individual letters and rearrange them (much more time consuming but more possible outcomes).
- Or you could take a song, poem or short story you have already written and cut it up (into words or letters) then rearrange.
Whatever road you take, the cut up method is a great way to come up with something totally original and maybe quite unique enough to generate lots of interest. David Bowie described it best in the following video.
3. Alternate new lines with a co-creator
If you have one or more songwriters who you collaborate with, this could be an excellent exercise that benefits everyone. How it works is that one person tries to come up with the first line, another writer makes up the second line, then the other comes up with the third line, and so forth.
A twist on this method you can also try is the "exquisite corpse" where each written line is hidden from the next writer. By doing so, no one has any idea what exactly is being written and there is no control over the final results, which can range from seriously unique to completely bizarre.
Either way, this kind of creating really takes the pressure off if you are finding it difficult to get past a first line or if it feels intimidating to complete a song on your own.
4. Rewrite a song you hate
All of us have those songs that we can’t stand to hear. The funny thing is, these songs sometimes get stuck in your head and refuse to come out. The next time that happens, you might want to try and put it to use by rewriting the lyrics and melody to represent something that would sound better to you. Now, that would be more fruitful than tiring yourself out with futile attempts to dislodge the nagging tune. Plus, there is the added benefit that your revised song might get stuck in someone else’s head.
If you think this songwriting technique is weird, wait until you read the next two. With that said, our aim is to help as many songwriters as possible grow their careers through quality recordings, an environment that encourages collaboration, tips tailored to their development, and access to a professional song plugging team.
5. Try Google suggestions
Google Search is undoubtedly the world’s most popular search engine. You probably use it without thinking, whether you’re looking for music gear to buy or wanting to learn the lyrics to a new song you like. If you’re into SEO, you probably use Google to find out what people are talking about in respect of your keywords. Recently, celebrities have been appearing on the Wired Autocomplete Interview video series, which try to determine the public's most searched questions about famous personalities.
Those are all examples of how Google’s suggestive autocomplete is extremely intuitive and unpredictable at the same time. With that said, you can use it to generate new song ideas. Just type in a random thought into the search bar and see what words or phrases are added as suggestions then write them down. It certainly won’t write your song for you but you could soon have a list of song ideas or phrases you can rearrange or rewrite to make meaningful lyrics.
6. Use predictive text
In a similar manner to using the Google autocomplete feature, many messaging apps use predictive text to try and guess what you want to type next. You can open one of your messaging apps (SMS, WhatsApp, etc.) and start typing the first thing that comes to mind and see what word or phrase is suggested. Keep selecting the predictions until you have a complete thought or sentence and then write it down. Continue for a while until you have some material that might just be enough fodder to write a song or at least ideas to kick start the process.
This isn’t as weird a concept as the others on this list but it’s something many people fail to do. From constantly checking social media statuses to spending hours watching funny video compilations on YouTube, the appetite to remain plugged in into what's current is often one of the things that get in the way of your creative abilities. Try to spend at least a day out of every week unplugged (turn off the Wi-Fi, put your phone on silent, keep the TV off, etc.) and just go “dark” to focus on creating. You can call it your quiet time and ask not to be disturbed. The result will be a distraction-free surrounding where you can really get in the zone for songwriting/making music.
8. Challenge yourself to start differently
Most songwriters have a pattern for song creation. Some start with a title and lyrics first while others begin with a guitar riff or chord progression. Whatever the case, instead of sticking to your familiar way of creating songs, try an approach you’ve never taken on before. For instance, if you’ve always used actual instruments to start the creative process, try using your DAW for the initial inspiration instead (or vice versa…yes, you may have to learn an instrument if necessary which can also be good for creativity).
Switch to writing lyrics first if you are used to the instrument-first approach. Even changing up your mode of recording – using voice dictation in Google Docs, instead of typing or writing on paper with a pen, for example – can help you tap into a stream of creativity you never knew existed before. This one is all about trying methods outside of your comfort zone.
9. Compile email headings
Consider the following email headings taken from a real inbox: - "From Cleaner To CEO"
- "A Plan So Brilliant, It’s Unbelievable"
- "Too Good To Be True"
- "Doing This On A First Date Will Leave A Lasting Impression"
- "What’s Your Sign?"
- "A Place For Refugees"
- "See Who Liked Your Page"
- "Can you feel the heat?"
Now, take a look: Is this too good to be true? / A master plan, so unbelievable.
Hit it off on the first date / You liked me, we were on the same page;
My heart – a refuge place for you / I see your sign / From where I’m sitting, you can feel it too.
Okay, so these might not be the world’s greatest lyrics ever written. However, this demonstration shows how it’s quite possible to compile seemingly meaningless email subject lines and use them to create unique song lyrics or even come up with song ideas. Now you can put some of those marketing emails you never open to good use.
That’s right! Sometimes the best way to spark creativity is to stop trying to create and just walk away. Take a few days, weeks, or even months off. Do something fun you’ve been wanting to do for some time. Go on that trip you have been putting off. Spend time with family and friends who might be craving your company or some time alone with you. You can even take time out to be alone. When you’re good and ready, you can come back to creating music. You might be surprised as to how accurate the saying is that “a break can do you good.”
There are tons of common songwriting tips and techniques you can find at the click of a mouse. If one or more of those work for you, that’s great. However, it can’t hurt to explore new ideas and tricks, especially when it comes on to getting better at songwriting.
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