Image courtesy of Hybrid Studios
Ask 10 musicians to describe songwriting, and you'll get 10 different answers. Songwriting can be fulfilling, frustrating, expressive, oppressive, artistic, scientific, or any of a million more juxtapositions. Songs come about in many ways. Some take years. Some take minutes. Some are hard to write and others flow forth with ease.
At Hybrid Studios, we record all kinds of artists and bands in various genres at our world-class recording studios and sound stage in Orange County, CA, so we've seen it all when it comes to songwriting. We often discuss songwriting, writer's block, and where to find inspiration with our clients, and we found that all songwriters have ups and downs and need strategies from time to time to either start writing or finish songs as a recording date approaches. And many of the musicians who come to record with us have good ideas on how to write inspired and effectively, so we'd like to share the best pieces of insight with you.
1. Set attainable songwriting goals (and stick with them)
It could be a certain amount of time each day, or a certain number of songs per week. The important thing is to make sure you hit the goals, even if you think the quality of the writing isn't amazing. You may not use everything you write, but you may find some hidden gems in those writing sessions.
Some of the best songs in history were written in a very short period of time. Even if your time is limited, try to get as much down as possible. For example, set a timer for five minutes, and challenge yourself to come up with a simple melody and chord progression in those five minutes. Take a five-minute break, then repeat the process. Within an hour, you'll have six new melodies and chord progressions to develop.
3. Challenge yourself by limiting yourself
Write melodies using a few specific notes over a simple chord progression, and improvise rhythms with just a snare drum or your hands. When limited to the basics, you'll start to look for new ways to use the few resources at hand and come up with new things.
4. Change the key or tempo
Sometimes simply changing to a higher/lower key or faster/slower tempo can give your song a completely new feel. You can even try changing a song written in major to minor, or vice versa.
5. Write on a different instrument
Sometimes we get in a rut on our primary instrument, and changing it up can give a fresh perspective. For example, if you're a guitar player, try to hammer out some chord progressions or melodies on a piano. Because the piano is laid out differently, your mind will approach it in a different way.
6. Play around with odd sounds on a synth
Synthesizers provide more sounds than anyone would ever need. Experiment with some of the less conventional sounds and see what kind of inspiration you find.
Get a circle of fifths diagram and work your chord progressions through a key change or two. Sometimes this can provide a lift to a song that is stagnating. See if you can work back to the original key. It may help you discover new chord progressions, or even a new song.
8. Listen to new music
Listening to a wide variety of music, especially outside of the genre that you write in, will widen your perspective. Make notes of what you find interesting about the music you discover. Then find ways to incorporate those elements into your songs. It may not always work, but it will give you more tools to bring to the writing table.
9. Change your space
If you need some new inspiration, try rearranging your writing/recording space – or better yet, take a portable rig and get outside. Writing on the road can be great for inspiration. Take advantage of vacations or other trips to get out and write.
10. Listen with fresh ears
Whether you think it's good, bad, a work in progress, or a finished hit, let it sit a few days and then come back to it with fresh ears. You may feel the need to start again from scratch, or you may discover it was better than you thought and just needs a finishing touch.
Hybrid Studios is a fully integrated multimedia production facility in Orange County, CA. Not only does Hybrid feature a state-of-the-art analog and digital recording studio, but it also boasts a massive sound stage, including a pre-lit cyclorama. Equipped with the best gear and an experienced staff, Hybrid provides a variety of products and services to clients across the creative spectrum from recording, mixing, and mastering to video and photography. Visit their blog at hybridstudiosca.com/blog.