If you’re a serious songwriter, you’re probably used to wrestling with the beasts of routine and boredom every so often. Even songwriters brimming with talent and promise have fruitless writing sessions sometimes. It’s all part of the process. But when a songwriter experiences weeks, months or even years of uninspired frustration with their work, it’s an entirely different story. If this sounds like you, I’ve got some practical guidance that can help break you out of your songwriting rut.
Stop doing the same things over and over again but expecting different musical results
If you find yourself strumming the same chord progression with the same instrument at the same tempo, you’re probably going to end up writing the same boring types of songs over and over again. If you want to write music that feels entirely new and challenging, then you’re probably going to have to stray far from the beaten path of your songwriting routine.
Take an honest look at your songwriting process. What instrument(s) do you use? What style do you typically write in? Stop doing whatever you’re doing and ask yourself a simple question: “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” If you want to get out of your rut, you should try to rediscover what makes you want to write music in the first place and why you choose to write it in the way you do.
There’s never been a better time to completely change the way you write music
Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to drastically change up your songwriting process. Do you typically write by humming a melody over some piano chords? Then try producing some music with synths and a drum machine. Find yourself playing the same folky chord progression on your acoustic guitar? Then switch to the electric and experiment with some effects pedals for a little while. If you’ve found yourself in a songwriting rut, you might be there because you’ve gotten too comfortable on your instrument, so try doing something new, challenging and exciting with your music. But doing something completely new in your songwriting process might be harder than you think.
Our dumb, boring brains
The human brain is designed to detect, favor and develop habits. These habits helped our ancestors survive in a dangerous world where life or death was often determined by quick and instinctive decision making. But in the modern world, our brain’s penchant for the familiarity of routines and muscle memory can often stifle creativity spurred on by doing new things and taking chances.
The trick here is to expect and even welcome the discomfort of adding new elements to your songwriting process. Writing the same old songs with the same boring methods is a surefire way to suck the joy out of making music, so taking risks, being vulnerable and embracing the unknown are ways to add urgency and meaning to the way you create music.
Other common sense things like exposing yourself to new music and collaborating with other songwriters can help you break out of your rut, but they follow the same general theme of doing something new to shake up your musicianship. If you find yourself helplessly caught in the same boring cycles in your songwriting, it might be because you’re afraid of change, but altering your direction will be the only way to bring meaning and fun back to your writing process.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.