We are the Smartphone generation. Don’t you LOVE it (sarcasm) when you get the weekly notifications of your mobile device usage. “Your daily usage is 8 hours and 13 minutes this week.”
Admittedly, we are all tethered to our phones like it’s an appendage, so we might as well take advantage of it. Right? Yikes…but then I realized something…I actually use my iPhone A LOT when I am writing songs! Rather than fight the reality, I have decided to embrace the truth. Every smart device comes equipped with unbelievable tools to help you write better songs. Here are 5 cool tricks, tips and techniques to leverage your smartphone every day in a creative way. (intentional rhyme).
1. Voice Memos - Every smartphone comes with some sort of digital voice memo recording device. Use it exhaustively. Inspiration can come fast, and go even faster…! Constantly have your voice notes app running. When you capture some magic, stop the recording immediately, and name that file. Creatively speaking, there is nothing worse than discovering that amazing lyric or melody, and scrubbing back to somewhere around the 68th minute to try and find it again. Stopping and naming a file helps you recall that idea quickly. Another little trick (we all have thousands of little voice notes), is to give each note a little “flag.” A flag is a symbol at the end of a voice note to help dig through the mountains of ideas even more quickly. For example…use an “*” as an identifier for something that could be good for Film and TV as a starting point. This way, when you are in a session, you can just go to your trusty voice memo app and search for *, and Instantly re-discover a whole bunch of little music gems. It's a great way to take the pressure off of having to be instantly creative. It’s also a lot easier to find ideas that way, then trying to remember if “Audio_7256” is any good.
2. Camera/Video - Similar to voice memos, embracing your smartphone's camera to help document ideas is a huge advantage in today’s songwriting sessions. Maybe you are a producer and you found a cool sample, and you play it a certain way, and the combination of the two sparks an idea? Take a picture of that cool preset before you save it in a more familiar way. Too many people don’t take advantage of saving sounds inside your DAW. Make separate files in your photos app and call it “Good Ideas.”(or something) Again…this is all in the interest of working smarter and not harder. By having these trusty little reminders handy, you can spark creativity more easily than having to divine inspiration every single time you get in front of your computer. Not only are cameras and photos good for your current session, but also as a tool to stockpile other ideas from other sessions. Too many times, I have been working on one thing to discover something that could work for another project. By documenting your discovery with your camera (rather than notes), you can give yourself visual reminders why something worked.
3. Notes - Work fast, edit later. Handling the pressure of having to be magically creative 30 seconds after sitting down in a room to collaborate with other people can be daunting, intimidating and remarkably uninspiring. Always have your ears perked and eyes peeled ready to glean inspiration from a turn of phrase over heard at a café, or a line of dialogue on a show or from a book. For years, I have kept a running note called “Song Ideas” (since my iPhone 3 circa 2007), of just clever little phrases or words that I can lean on in a pinch to kick off a songwriting session. Anyone want to co-write “One, Two, Three, Pour” with me? Also…since you can share notes, it’s a great way to track all of your lyrics and any discarded ideas that could maybe be repurposed for new ideas. Also attaching the corresponding voice notes to the written note files is a great way of keeping all of your stuff in one place.
4. Google - Okay. Maybe this is a bit of a cheat. Referencing and googling stuff while writing is super helpful. And using awesome writing tools like Rhymebrain, Thesaurus and Lyric search websites can be an excellent source of inspiration in a hurry. Here are a few others you likely didn’t consider as resources for great idea generation…Reddit, Etsy, Instagram and Twitter. Again, it can’t be overstated enough the philosophy of writing quickly and with a solid direction in mind. When we think, we analyze. And when we analyze, we second guess. And when we second guess, we question….and suddenly we regret that time in high school when we did or said that dumb thing to someone. The point is, embracing these websites can help you work quickly and keep your focus on track.
5. The App Store - Download every single music related app your phone can support. Some super useful favorites are Shazam, Piano, Metronome, Music Memos, and some sort of tuner. How about Twitter, Instagram and of course TikTok? Lizzo famously found the line “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch” from a tweet. Inspiration from @MinaLioness’ random tweet won her a Grammy. And if you are writing in any modicum of current or relevant pop, TikTok is possibly the best resource for understanding what connects to the masses virally. IG Reels is pretty great too! Even on an iPhone, Garage band is a great quick resource to document your ideas. Using technology isn’t cheating it’s…enhancing your skill. If the ultimate goal is to write the best song possible, who cares if you are doing it using tech, or sitting at the top of a mountain cross-legged etching prose with a pencil carved from a branch onto a recycled paper binder? Just write.
Bonus Tip #1: Think about dictating lyrics in to your notes rather than typing them in. Sometimes when we type we can mak miss steaks. Going back and correcting those mistakes can very quickly over-ride the lightning you are trying to capture.
Bonus Tip #2: Backup your smartphone to your computer. It would be a shame to lose some of those random little voice notes. People have won Grammys because of those. Why not you!?
Thanks for checking this out…and Keep writing those hits!!
Justin Gray (Founder of MDIIO.com)
email me: Justin@mdiio.com