Feeling lost and uninspired as a songwriter is a pretty awful feeling. When the flow of ideas narrows down to a trickle without warning or explanation, songwriters usually have to change up their process to get things moving again. If you’re feeling creatively stuck making music, we’ve got four exercises to promote inspiration and put you in a new musical mindset:
1. Write music in a new, unfamiliar place
Whether it’s overt or not, the locations we make music in influences our work in a big way. This means that making music in the same place day after day could lead to a lack of new ideas and meaning in your music. By taking different elements of your songwriting practice to new, unfamiliar places, you’ll have a better chance at hearing things differently and unlocking the potential of your music. Some parts of your process will be harder to move around than others (drums, for example), but even writing lyrics or producing somewhere different than you’re used to can be a big help.
2. Make music on a different instrument than what you’re used to
Musicians often equate proficiency on their main instrument with songwriting prowess to their great creative peril. When the temptation to make music that feels safe and “correct” crowds everything else out, creativity suffers in a big way. A great way to combat this is to try writing with instruments you’re not used to playing. For example, if you’ve never written with keys, consider getting a small MIDI keyboard and going to town.
3. Start your process in a way you’ve never tried before
Every songwriter relies on a certain set of processes to create music. If you’re unhappy with the music you’re making, consider identifying the way you write and changing your process from the ground up. This especially applies to the very first thing you do to write music. If you usually start writing by strumming an acoustic guitar in your studio, try composing beats on a drum machine first, or scrawling down lyrics in your notebook. Writing in a new way from the very beginning will put you in altered mindset.
4. Experiment with extremes in tempo, pitch, and form
Extremes make for incredible inspiration for uninspired songwriters. Sometimes new ideas can’t happen in music without experimenting with sounds that are dramatically different from what we’re used to hearing. Something like trying to write a song set at 60 BPM, or writing a melody in the Locrian mode might not result in a finished song you’d actually release, but it will get you hearing and thinking in new ways. If you’re bored with music, you should be looking for ways to create in new and unsafe ways compared to what you’re used to.
One of the best things you can do for your music is to try to understand yourself as a writer by taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re unhappy with your process, not trying anything new won’t improve your circumstances no matter how talented you are. Your listeners expect you to create new and interesting music. To give them what that, you’ll have to keep updating and reinventing your process over and over again.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.