If you feel aimless, stuck, and not sure how to take your next creative step as a songwriter, you’re not alone. Countless music-makers have been in your shoes. When creativity and exciting musical ideas seem easy to access, we forget just how hard and frustrating it can be when we’re lost and uninspired. The good news is that if you manage to work through the inevitable challenging and unproductive periods that come your way from time to time, there are better times ahead.
One of the best ways we can kickstart productivity is by embracing the sort of songwriting exercises that force you outside of your head and get you working on music when you may not feel like it. Try one of these four challenges to increase your productivity and to put yourself in a new musical mindset:
Write, record, and produce an album or EP in three months
Not every musician can or should try something like this, but it will work wonders for some. Given the chance, songwriters with a perfectionist bent would spend years writing music and perfecting it before recording it for an album. There are lots of problems with doing this, like running the risk of killing creative spontaneity to losing your momentum with fans waiting so long for new music. While this exercise may not result in a brand new album you would actually share with fans, it will absolutely change your mindset and get you back in the habit of writing music again. Deadline-based exercises like this one force us to forget perfection and prioritize creative exploration.
What you come up with might be nothing more than a collection of demos that you pick and choose from later, or it could be a piece of art that ends up defining you as an artist.
Write one song per-day for a month and record demos
Designed for songwriters who can’t seem to finish anything, this challenge will transform your creative mindset and give you 30 or more new songs if you follow through with it. If you hardly ever write, you’ll probably hardly ever write anything that’s worth listening to. Actually going through with an exercise like this takes commitment, but it rewards you in spades by forcing you to give yourself time to explore music in ways you may not have tried otherwise. When you shrink the writing process into a day as opposed to weeks or months, you’re forced to embrace minimalism and resourcefulness by necessity, and that’s much needed for writers who can’t seem to put the finishing touches on their songs.
Choose a theme and write an album about it under a tight deadline
With a deadline of something like three to six months, try selecting a topic to write about and then jump in. By the end, you might find your songs have strayed far from your original idea, but that’s perfectly fine as long as you have an album to show for it. Sometimes all we need is a jumping-off point and a period of time to work with to create something meaningful, or to be able to create anything at all in some cases. The common thread of each exercise listed here is the idea of a songwriter forcing themselves to do the work, whether it’s writing music every day for a month or thinking hard about a topic and attempting to make music about it. What the work looks like or how you get there isn’t important so long as work actually gets done.
Record everything you write for a month regardless of whether you think it’s good or not
When we’ve fallen out of the habit of creating music, it can be easy to fall into the mode of hating everything you write. However, not overcoming this feeling means that you won’t be able to write again. Trying something like recording everything you write for a month straight can help with this. You may not be into what you’re working on at the moment, but listening back to it a month later might make you feel differently. But an even bigger benefit here is the fact that transforming a loose idea into something you’d actually record adds a seriousness to your process that you may not have been able to access without recording.
You may not end up using the music you create during these challenges, and that’s okay because that’s not the point. The goal is to get you writing thoughtfully as often as possible.
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.