Gave a lesson the other day on songwriting and though I would publish a few of my notes online…
10 IDEAS FOR SONGWRITING
A great way of writing a song or developing a current idea is to listen to other artists work for inspiration. Listening to one or several songs from other artists is a great way to create a blueprint from your song to take shape.
I’m not suggesting that you should steal or copy ideas note for note from other works but typically as a songwriter your ideas have been inspired by artists you listen to anyway.
For example if you have composed a riff / melody / chord progression and your having trouble figuring out where it should go or how it should link to your next idea. Listen to other artists that sound similar to what your composing. Listen critically to the ideas they have employed and how they have merged verses and chorus and the arrangement of the song. Listening to several artists of a similar genre and listing the various different ideas you can hear will prevent you from “ripping off” a particular song or artist.
SET YOURSELF A QUESTION / BREIF
Setting yourself a specific question to answer or brief is a great way of creating a plan for your writing your song and organising your ideas. It can be a very academic way of writing a song but its also used in real world applications.
For example advertising agencies will usually ask composers to compose a piece of music to a specific brief that will mention genre, instrumentation and a specific timeline or mood the music will need to portray. Sometimes these briefs will contain reference to other songs or artists works.
Another example which I personally encounter frequently is “GCSE” and “A-Level” Coursework briefs. Which ask the student to compose a piece for a specific occasion or to a specific genre.
Listing characteristics of types of song or genre will help you with thinking of ideas for your tunes. Or making a mix CD as a form of research of artists songs that are similar to what you want to create a basis to work from.
E.g. Song for a funeral…
Slow tempo, minor chords, simple, instrumental
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Keep it simple! Don’t over complicate your songs. Remember who your audience is and most of the time your not composing for other musicians and “clever” is not typically a comment people use to praise their favorite song.
It is possible to compose a song using a few chord on continuous repeat. However to make it sound more interesting consider the following…
- Using different chord voicings
- Create dynamic between song sections
- Different tones
When composing verses and choruses etc typically slight variations of 1 idea are a good starting point. If you come up with two sections of music and wonder for ages how to fit them together, then possibly those two sections aren’t made for the same song.
WORK WITH OTHER MUSICIANS / SONGWRITERS
Working or jamming your ideas out with other musicians is a great way of completing a song and hearing your creation come to life. Be open minded to other musicians ideas and allow them to contribute to your work. Other musicians with different inspirations and music tastes can potentially add some great ideas to develop your work.
PLAY SOME INSTRUMENTS YOU DONT KNOW
Might sound crazy to some but messing around with some new instruments is a good way to beat writers block and gain some new ideas.
RECORD SOME DEMOS BEFORE LAUNCHING THE SONG
Doing some “rough” recordings of the song and sharing it with friends and family to get their opinion will aid the development of a piece. However not everyone is technically minded and be able to give you an in depth answer as to new ideas and to what should be changed. Therefore preparing a set of questions that can help determine more detailed answers about specific sections of the song will help shape your song and cater towards your final listeners ears.
Doing some market research and publishing your works on a survey website will allow you to gauge your listeners perception of your tracks and give you some valuable input. Just remember to spend some time catering your questions carefully to get detail from the answers.
PLAY AROUND WITH TECHNOLOGY
Having a recording set up to record down your ideas makes developing a song easier. Recording technology is becoming cheaper and cheaper and more sophisticated and accessible to everyone. With this in mind learning a few music production skills wont hurt. Playing around with your ideas on a computer and applying effects or laying instruments can help create some interesting ideas.
BE OPEN MINDED
Listen to new things, even random tracks in different genres! raid your parents / friends CD collection or obscure radio tracks. Your research is what your listening too so listen intently to new music and collaborate the ideas you like from multiple sources into your creations.
Obviously don’t put them all into one song. Spread your ideas out over all your work to keep things fresh without making a song overcrowded and cliche.
JAM WITH THE TV
Put on a music channel and try and play along with the tracks. Whilst trying to work out some of the tunes you’ll probably make some mistakes and come up with some cool riffs of your own. Or even try and play some ideas that will work over the top of the tracks your hearing. Making mistakes = new ideas inspired by your TV! or radio.
Sounds like a slightly crazy idea but I have often used it to come up with ideas for my tracks. Although the more I have done it the better I have got at just working out the tracks im hearing and somehow defeating the point.
DON’T FORCE IT
Be open to new ideas and don’t get shy about sharing your ideas with other people. I have worked with a lot of students that have regularly dismissed ideas that to them aren’t as good as what they hear on TV. Never tie yourself down for several hours to write a song and never attend a band practice without taking some ideas with you. Aim to write a little bit most days and the ideas that work will typically write themselves.