In my last post, I outlined how to decide if you are ready to record an album, including whether you have the time, the money, and the material to propel yourself into the recording studio. Today I want to dive into getting material ready for an album, and specifically, writing your own songs.
If you ask 10 different musicians for tips on songwriting, you will likely get 10 very different answers. I like to think of these tips as tools in your toolbox. Everyone is going to find different inspiration to get words and music onto a page, but having a wide selection of tools to facilitate your songwriting is a big help.
My personal approach to songwriting has always revolved around concepts. For my album, my jumping off point was the rural community we just moved to and the land around it. I wanted to write original folk tunes that could have been written about the area a century ago, and that gave me a lot of creative juice to work with.
With that concept in mind, these are some of the tips I found especially helpful in realizing my songs.
Write every day
Whether you have a song in mind or not, sit down in front of your computer, notepad, or piano, and write something every day. Being disciplined and setting aside an hour or two exclusively for writing will help you get songs out.
Even if you only write down one word during your session, getting into a habit of scheduling this time and using it will help you produce material in the long run. You are training your brain to treat your songwriting like a job (which it is!), and you will be amazed at how much writing you start to accomplish if you stick to your schedule.
Reserve judgement for later versions of your work
It’s easy to get bogged down in early drafts of your songs, and throw something in the trash before it’s complete. Turn off those judgemental voices while you’re working out new songs, and leave the critiques and edits for later. Focus on pushing out your words and melody for now - you might be pleasantly surprised with the end result, even if you dislike what you’re writing at the beginning.
Don’t toss out a song at the beginning just because it sounds like another song
This happens to me pretty frequently. I’ve got a couple lines of a song down that I’m thrilled with, and suddenly realize the melody sounds like another song.
Sometimes I’m tempted to trash the melody at this point, but I’ve realized it’s important to keep working on the song, and see where the melody and chords end up. Often by the time I’ve finished the piece, it doesn’t sound anything like the song I thought of previously.
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Write on location
Since I wrote my album about this rural area we moved to, bringing my notebook out on field trips helped a ton in finding inspiration for my songs.
When it was particularly foggy one day, I sat on our back porch and sketched out a draft filled with images of a foggy valley. I brought my banjo out one day to an abandoned railroad track near our house to start work on a song about bandits on an old train.
Getting out of the house and giving your eyes something new to look at can really get your ideas flowing, especially if you find yourself at a writing impasse.
Use songs you love as a jumping off point
Take a look at some of the songs you love most - how the verses are put together, where rhyme is used, and where the chords change. Seeing the way these songs have been created can give you a blueprint for your own work, and kickstart those songwriting gears.
And again, don’t be afraid at first if your song sounds a little too much like its inspiration - as it evolves and takes on its own life, you may be surprised at how different it ends up being.
Change up the instrument you’re writing on
Chances are you tend to use your main instrument when you’re writing a song, whether that’s your voice, your guitar, your piano, or whatever other instrument you play the most. If you’re able to play any other instruments, try switching it up sometimes when you’re writing a song.
I mostly sing and play the banjo, but can also play chords on the piano and guitar. Sometimes even just hearing chords on those two different instruments helps keep my writing moving, and can sometimes produce a different result than if I had stuck to my usual process.
These are just a few ideas to help facilitate and inspire your songwriting. There are entire books written on the subject, but I hope these tips have helped fill up your toolbox a bit more!
Just getting started with songwriting?
If you're just getting started as a songwriter, or want to further hone your skills, Music Industry How To has a great (and free) course on songwriting called How To Write A Song For Beginners Step By Step – Taught By Pros that's definitely worth checking out!
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