By Justin Gray (Songwriter/Producer/Founder www.mdiio.com)
Sometimes you just gotta push it out.
Keep pushing. Harder. Harder.
Don’t quit. Sometimes you might have to sit there for hours upon hours.
The more you try, the more it hurts.
Writing songs isn’t easy…but what if I told you that you didn’t ALWAYS have to divine inspiration from another dimension to write an amazing song?
What did you think I was talking about?
The difference between being a casual songwriter and a professional songwriter is understanding how to capture and catapult small ideas into inspired art.
There is a romantic notion surrounding songwriters and artists that in order for magic to happen, the right environment needs to be created. Chakras aligned…properly saged environment…the right combination of crystals. But breaking down and approaching how to be inspired and how to take that manufactured inspiration and turn it into a finished product is sometimes the key between being good and being great. The trick is to capture inspiration when you don’t need it, and to be able to recall it when you do.
Here are just a few ways to manufacture that magic, concoct that chorus, and summon that song.
Voice Memos - I probably have close to 4000 voice memos on my phone. I’ve been transferring them from phone to phone all the way back since my iPhone 3 in 2008. Voice memos can also be used not only to capture little melody ideas, but maybe there is a cool piece of music that you’re hearing on the TV commercial. Rewind it and record it. If you’re being inspired to capture an idea at a point, it will probably re-inspire you again when you need to recall it.
Notes - Like voice memos, I have countless notes. I have notes with little phrases…or words that I may have heard on the TV show, or read in the book. Sometimes I’ll overhear others' conversations in a café. Eavesdropping on somebody else’s conversation is inspiration gold. People can be remarkably poetic and profound even when they don’t mean to be.
Titles and Concepts - Have you ever noticed that sometimes a single word can trigger an entire narrative in your head? And then other times that exact same word in a different context feels completely meaningless? One day a certain set of chords can inspire magic, and the next, the exact same type of chords… Nothing. In your notes on your phone, keep a running tab of those interesting thoughts, and song titles. So often songs are started with a title, or a concept. Countless times I’ve been in writing sessions scrolling through my song ideas on my phone. Maybe 10% of the time something will get used… But you never know when that time is going to strike.
Song Starters - More and more I’m having conversations with top liners who don’t produce at all, and they’re telling me that they are going to websites like splice.com to help them find musical inspiration to dictate a top line or song concept. Even if you are a top liner, and not a producer, there’s still no reason why you can’t have a program like Logic Pro on your computer. For under $200, you’ll be able to go to splice, find cool sounds, import them into a session, plug in your microphone… And just sing to your heart's content.
Sound Discovery – From time to time as a producer, I just spent hours going through my endless array of sounds to find things that feel like they can be inspiring. You never know how they sound to inspire a series of chord changes or even melodies. If you are a producer and you’re working in your DAW and you find a sound that you love, make sure to save it for the next time that you might need to bring up inspiration on a moment's notice. Another good trick is sometimes when you’re making music and you find a cool sound that perhaps is not right for the song you’re working on currently, but it might be so cool for something else. Save that too.
Stop EVERYTHING - Pushing too hard to try and somehow conjure up inspiration can be antithetical to the concept of inspiration itself. Sometimes the best thing to do is just stop thinking about it. Go to the bathroom… Open up the book… Watch tv…whatever. Sometimes not writing can open up that space in your brain to let new ideas permeate and bubble up to the surface
The Coda: Don’t get disappointed if inspiration doesn’t strike. The best songwriters approach songwriting mathematically, methodically, and with an end goal in mind. Sometimes those songs will come in 30 minutes, or in the case of Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah“ years and hundreds of different verses until it’s right. As we discussed in the past however… The right song at the right time will change your life.
See you next week, and keep writing them hits!