Is there a song you've been trying to write for weeks, months, even years, that you just can't seem to finish?
When I first started songwriting, I believed inspiration was the most important ingredient to a good song – and it might be. But, when I unpack that belief even more, I realize that I actually believed the only way to find that inspiration was for it to hit me spontaneously, passively, and at the whims of my subconscious thought.
I was wrong.
Inspiration can be extracted from anything. And anyone can learn the skills you need to actively pull inspiration from any setting or circumstances. Finding inspiration doesn't mean inspiration has to find you.
This idea changed everything for me.
Once I could access those skills and get in a good practice routine, I could crank out a song a week, no problem. But tapping into those skills requires a big change in mindset...
I had to force myself out of my own life and story, and somehow be okay telling someone else's story. That's a hard thing to do as a songwriter. We write music because it helps us express and wrestle with the emotions and details that build our lives. But the truth is, our stories get tired of being told, and we get fatigued as artists if we try to squeeze more out of them than they have to give.
Have you ever noticed a band whose first album is amazing – packed full of color, stories, and lively ideas, and then, the second just isn't as powerful? It might be because the band had years of stories to tell in that first record – lyrically and musically – and the second relied on only the events and stories that took place between album cycles. I see this happen over and over again when I review albums, and when it happens, not only does the music suffer, but songwriters start to get burnt out.
As artists, we have to be able to separate our craft from our story in order to keep the music alive. That doesn't mean separate your craft from your being – just know the difference between your story and your soul.
Once you can distinguish your story, your being, and your skills, you can find inspiration anywhere. But, I know, it's still daunting. I've always found that having a prompt or a few parameters in place helped that blank slate feel a little less intimidating:
Give yourself a groove or time signature to work with
Force yourself to use three borrowed chords
Choose a few beautiful words and incorporate them somewhere
Google a short story prompt and write from that
Incorporate a 2-bar turnaround
Only use 7 chords
And the thing is – everyone is different, and everyone needs different things. If being creative and writing music just isn't there for you right now, I get it. But, if you're dying to get out of this cultural rut, find the prompts and parameters that get your ideas flowing.
Last week, I launched the Songwriter Series on the Noise Gate blog, and the first post is all about tackling writer's block. You can read the full post here.
Whether you need to find out how to start writing your story or you're just out of ideas for your second verse, there are ways to find momentum that will sharpen your skills and keep your music alive.
To your success,
P.S. If you have a friend who writes music and may benefit from this post, can you forward this email to them?
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