October 14, 2022
Sometimes song ideas just flow. Song after song basically writes itself. Other times writer’s block sets in and there’s nothing happening. But whether you’re at one extreme or somewhere in the middle, you still need sources of inspiration to draw from. Here are a few ways to find new inspiration for songs.
It can be hard to come up with new ideas if you’ve done a lot with one skillset. Learning more about music theory or mastering a different key, genre, or rhythmic style will often lead to new ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have had. The same goes for lyrics and themes – read a book or two that has nothing to do with music. Your new knowledge will lead you to new ideas.
No one approaches a song quite the same way. Sometimes the perfect way to make new ideas dawn on you is to let someone else play on a track or kick in some lyrics. That new perspective, especially if it’s well executed, will often cause you to think of new elements.
Vastly different instruments lead to vastly different results. If you’re a guitar player, learn a wind instrument or the piano. If you’re a keyboardist, learn the guitar. You don’t even have to get good at your new instrument. Since the approach is so different, the ideas you have will be different.
Writing in a vacuum usually leads to stale ideas and usually the well will run dry. Get out for a walk, talk to new people, or better yet, get out of town. If you can go somewhere where everything is different, what you think of will be different, and plenty of stories will occur to you.
Especially if you’re really into recording, rearranging the studio a bit can lead to incredible inspiration. There’s just something about a new workspace that can be inspiring, and usually that slight change in process yields fresh ideas.
Often, we wait for songs to strike us, and what they’re about comes as the song develops. But there’s no rule against just picking a topic and writing specifically about that. Or pick a theme like “coming home” or “brand new day” and focus your energy there.
It could be a new instrument or synth, or just a new sample pack or software package, but if you’ve got a new toy, playing with it will inevitably lead to new riffs and new song ideas.
Sometimes you just need to get wild and silly and wrong to find a brilliant new idea. Try recording yourself singing like an old-timey vaudeville act or growl like a monster into the mic. Write down the most surreal, off-the-wall lyrics you can think of. Just be nuts. Most of the out-there stuff you come up with won’t end up being a song, but you’ll start to see patterns or something you can take as a seed.
If you’re truly blocked, you may have to just take a break, and it’s a good idea to build purposeful downtime into your routine. In fact, many successful creatives over the years have had a habit of stopping sessions at the height of their creativity. That way, there’s plenty of ripe fodder when you come in the next day.
Sometimes, though, you have to just force it, especially if you’re a pro. Professionals generally have a toolbox of tricks to get themselves flowing, even when they don’t want to. For example, you may not have a great song idea, but you know that there are only a few common chord progressions that songs are built from. Randomly pick an instrument or patch and build out a common arrangement with a predetermined chord progression. Doing these mundane tasks tends to start the wheel turning, as the song starts to form despite your having no inspiration.
These are just a few time-tested ways to find new song ideas, but there’s no end to the techniques that may work for you. Pay attention to what consistently gets you going, and over time you’ll have the tools you need to always pull songs from thin air.
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5