Songwriters are a lot like authors. They rely on their creative juices to produce, and they both can suffer from “blocks.” At the same time, there is a need to produce, and this can cause anxiety. Anxiety only makes things worse. And so, creatives must find ways to eliminate anxiety, get “into the flow,” and allow that right side of their brains to operate without inhibition.
So, exactly what can songwriters do to get into their “zones” and craft the music and lyrics that will result in winning products? Here are ten ways to promote productivity.
Every song has a theme. And that theme, no matter what it may be, has been addressed in a lot of poetry over the ages. Look for poetry with your theme and get some inspiration from what others have had to say. And don’t just limit yourself to modern poetry. Reach back to early poets, even from the Elizabethan Era. Sonnets were written covering virtually every theme that a song may have.
Find a quiet place and write down a list of all the words and phrases you can think of that relate to your theme. Access an online thesaurus and find synonyms for the words. The goal here is to give yourself as many words and terms as possible that you might use in your song. There may be words/terms that will work but that you haven’t thought of.
Don’t Edit Too Soon or Too Often
It’s easy to second-guess yourself as you move forward with a song. But you have to find the balance between going with your flow and stopping because you think something is not just right. You are better off going with the flow and coming back later to edit and revise. Every time you stop in the middle of a lyric or melody, you lose your focus, and that can be a huge disruption.
On the other hand, you can stagnate, and that is certainly frustrating. If you are blocked for a good period of time, walk away. Your anxiety and frustration will only increase the longer you try to stick with it.
Identify Your Productive Time
Everyone has an internal biological clock. There are “morning, afternoon, and evening” people. Which are you? You need to schedule your songwriting time during your productive hours, even if you are working with someone else. Forcing yourself to work when your body and mental clocks are not at their prime will result in poor quality.
Listen to Music of the Masters
If you are struggling with your melody, consider looking for inspiration from unique sources. Those sources should include the classical masters. Listen to a variety of melodies, from the Baroque composers such as Bach, through the Classical period of Mozart and his colleagues, through the Romantic composers (e.g., Debussy), through more modern masters (Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, etc.) and even into the eras of Blues, Jazz, Pop, Rock, and more modern styles (Alternative, Rap, etc.). It’s not that you want to “plagiarize” melodies per se; it’s that they can give you inspiration and ideas for putting your lyrics to a compelling melody.
Pursue Non-Musical Activities
No one can focus on their work tasks exclusively – this leads to burnout and, ultimately, the inability to be productive. Creatives are especially vulnerable to burnout, and it is critical that they find outlets not related to their primary work. Physical activity is especially helpful, as well as other unrelated creative activities. Songwriters can take up painting, for example.
Change Your Scenery if Possible
If you use a keyboard, take it somewhere else in your house or outside on a patio or deck. Just getting close to nature and getting fresh air can help your mood and sense of optimism. If you are working only on lyrics, obviously, you can go almost anywhere to work, and you can use any number of apps that let you compose music on the go.
Record All That You Write
One of the things that songwriters tend to do is “trash” what they feel is not good. Rather than just dump your efforts, record them all. You may be surprised when you go back and review your earlier efforts. You might actually like what you find and want to use some parts of those rejections.
Don’t Fight Blocks
It does no good to fight your way through a block. What you produce will not be something you like. Instead, give in to the block, accept it, and walk away for a while. Do something else a bit creative – cook a gourmet dish; take a camera outside and see how many cool photos you can capture; play some music and make up a new dance move. Doing these things will give you a feeling of successful completion of a task, and that can stimulate more creativity and productivity.
When authors are stuck, they often free-write. You can do the same thing and perhaps achieve the same results. Start with chord progressions as you try to find a melody for your lyrics. As you play those progressions with your left hand, fiddle with melodies with your right. Even if your composing is done with a guitar, do the same thing with a bit of variation. Place your fingers on the frets for a chord and play single notes in a variety of orders. It is very likely that the right melody will come to you.
In the End…
Songwriting is a unique activity. It takes talent and skill, but it is truly an inspired art form. And when the inspiration is present, productivity follows. When the inspiration cannot be mustered, however, forcing it simply doesn’t work. The key is to look around your world for things that inspire you. One or more of these 10 tips may help, so give them a try. Beyond that, keep your eyes and ears open as you go through your days. Something as simple as an overheard conversation in a restaurant can trigger a powerful thought that can be turned into amazing lyrics; something as simple as the tones of a windchime can spark a melody.