Songwriting is a process of trial and error. You start an idea, you think it’s crap, and you iterate. You try different instrumentals. You go back to basics — programming a new synthesizer preset, play around with the guitar on the couch, or maybe write some lyrics.
At some point, you may start panicking. For me this is most days….until I have an idea I really like. Thoughts that enter my head:
I will never think of another good idea again.
Everything I write will sound the same.
I will never write a song anywhere near as good as [insert popular song here].
All my good energy is being channeled into something else [work, a blog, …]
Of course, it’s just self-flagellation because if you’ve already written one song then it’s fairly certain you can write another. And if you’ve written a couple of songs then you can write a couple more, and so on….
But what happens when you are really stuck?
The most common advice I’ve heard is that you should keep going because something good will eventually come. I agree and disagree, because at some point, the problem (at least for me) is that my subconscious is not in the mood to come up with anything.
The secret is to f*ck with your inner subconscious to pull off new ideas. It needs input, it needs to make connections, and it hates being put on the spot. It’s a bit like sex…no one wants to feel pressured and sometimes the best ending is when you take it nice and slow. You’ll be surprised what will pop out at random when you actually disengage from the process and do something else.
I find consuming other forms of art really helpful. If I’m trying to compose a fun pop song then I will re-watch Mean Girls or Clueless (the inspiration for It’s Tough To Be A Girl Like Me).
Or for something more serious, try Forrest Gump (the inspiration for Take Me Home).
Great art can yield great art because it opens up the floodgates of emotion that can get verklempt from doing the same thing repeatedly…like sitting in the studio day in / day out banging your head against the wall.
Another great source of inspiration is youtube videos. There are youtube tutorials on everything music: guitar playing, synthesizer patch creation, drumming, … Take a break to learn something new that’s musical yet tangential to what you are trying to do. Sometimes I learn something that doesn’t get used until 6+ months later…it’s a long term investment but it pays for itself.
And if you are really f*cked for ideas, then maybe its time to take a vacation. It happens to me a couple of times a year — that moment when you realize you are working too hard without giving yourself time to decompress. And you never know what will inspire you wherever you go. I was on a beach vacation on Long Island, hoping for a little temporary romance situation, which inspired me to write Summer Fling.
No romance situation ensued but I got a decent song out of it.
So yes, you need to keep going. But songwriting isn’t always sitting and trying to write a song. It could just be kicking back and experiencing life, and letting that great song idea come find you.