Inspiration, Where Art Thou?

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio, Personal, Ramblings, Tech Leave a Comment

I’ve been going through the age-old dilemna of trying to find inspiration to do some serious songwriting.

I’ve got a project starting in a couple of weeks and I wanted to spend the “downtime” adding at least one song to my list of “Songwriting Trainwrecks

Where do you start?  HOW do you start?

I’ll have to come up with a better label/title, but the Murphy’s Law of Songwriting is:

Inspiration will hit you when it’s the most inconvenient time and place to explore and capture it.

© 2011 by me

So, what to do when it’s convenient to write something and inspiration is fleeting?  – whether it’s just a mood thing or Call of Duty – Modern Warfare feels like a better use of time?

Stereotypical Five Tips

  1. Listen to Music – I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare that pretty well all of the music you and I will write is derivative – there’s going to be something in your music that’s been done before.
    That being said, my first tip is to listen to music to get inspired.  Listen to music you like.  Listen to music you don’t like.  Or even go and listen to something new.  Approach your listening with an open mind – you can either listen actively or passively.  The point is to get your brain in the “music gear”.
    Taking this in full circle to the initial stand I made in this tip, if something interests you musically, try and mimic it.  Find out what makes the song “tick”.  Is it the rhythm, the chord structure, the melody or some production technique?
    I sometimes find by exploring this tangent, I may start by blatantly plagarizing something, but end up somewhere totally different by the end.
  2. Noodle – pick up your instrument and just start jamming.  Start picking out some of your favourite songs, hooks, solos etc. and repeat them.  After a good four or five times through a song, I’ll start getting bored and start trying new things – adding or expanding a chord, changing something in a melody line, playing around with words.
    Let your brain get bored playing iterations and see where it wants to explore.
  3. Find a Different Starting Point – A lot of us have a “main axe”.  Mine is keyboards and, if you’re like me, your hands and brain like to go back to familiar, tried and true chord and melody shapes.
    Force yourself to start in a different key, perhaps a different octave, different voicings, etc.  Change it up and get your brain listening and thinking again!
    Another good “different starting point” is to abandon your favourite axe and try starting on a different instrument.  I’ve found that writing something that started out on the guitar, bass or voice freshens up your perspective.
  4. Stylize it – I start off my Ai theory course with an example of how a song can have many, many different flavours and interpretations.  At it’s bare-bones state, a song is a collection of melodic notes, some words and a sequence of chords.  What you do with that starting point is called the arrangement – a set of instruments, a tempo and a style.
    I play them a version of Eleanor Rigby by the Beetles and then 8 different cover versions of the song that span ’60’s R&B, Big Band through Progressive Metal and Industrial Grunge through Boy Band and Jazz.
    The point of this is, when writing get out of your comfort zone, in terms of style, and try out something else.  If the majority of your songs are guitar-based rock, try venturing into keyboard rock or even further afield and explore Ska or synth-pop!
  5. Lose Your Favourite Tool – Above, I talked about changing up your starting point.  Why not try changing up how you actually capture and write your music?
    If you use a DAW to write, why not try writing things down using pen and paper – get away from the technology? …. or vice-versa.
    You could also try writing in a new DAW or even one that uses a different paradigm than what you’re used to: try out Abelton or Reason if you use something like Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, etc.

The Point

To sum up, when it comes to finding inspiration that seems elusive, change things up.

It’s almost like giving your brain a set of jumper cables and snapping it out of a daydream.

By putting my mind in a position where it has to tackle unfamiliar problems, I find that interesting and creative things start popping up and start feeding into … inspiration.

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