Category: Write Songs and Lyrics

10 Foolproof Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Water parks have closed their doors, kids are back in school, and the weather is slowly beginning to cooperate. Fall has arrived.

For many songwriters, fall is a recharge time when new material comes flooding out. The summer tours are over, and those long hours spent on the road turn into hours spent with your favorite instrument, finding new melodies and lyrics.

But it never fails that the initial rush of creative energy begins to run dry, and you’ve still got half an album to write!

Whether you are prepping for your next release, or just trying to get your juices flowing, we’ve got some tips to help you when your inspiration has run out.

1-Take Notes!

This tip trumps all the others, because it will help you turn all the other tips into actual songs. When you see something inspiring, write it down. Keep notes on your phone, or in an actual notebook. I know a songwriter who carries around an average of 4 Moleskin notebooks—each with its own specific category—to write down creative ideas. You can also take pictures or videos of the things that inspire you. Whatever you do, just make sure that all these little tidbits of creative potential get stored somewhere.

2-Change Your Scenery

One of the simplest ways to get in touch with your creativity is to physically change locations. This doesn’t mean you have to take a writing retreat to a cabin in the woods—though you certainly can! Take a few minutes, and go somewhere in your city you’ve never been before. A new park, a new street, or even an extended walk in your own neighborhood. Explore downtown, or explore suburbia! Go sit next to the tree in your own back yard for a few minutes, or take a day trip to a state park.

3-Notice The Little Things

Even if you can’t physically relocate yourself, there are always new things you can explore. Look at the little things around you that you may not have noticed before. Sometimes an interesting street name could inspire a whole song. Maybe the texture of your ceiling is the same as the house you grew up in, and you turn your nostalgia into a song. Being more mindful of the world around you can help you be inspired to write about it.

4-People Watch

People watching can be one of the best ways to get ideas for songs. Just don’t be creepy! Station yourself in a busy public place, and observe the people around you. Listen to the phrases that fly by you. Pay attention to the characters that enter and exit your scene. Notice how people interact with each other, or better yet-

5- Strike Up a Conversation

People watching can help you create fictional stories. But what if you listened to someone’s actual story? A mantra that is often repeated in songwriting is “Write what you know,” but your own experience will be limited. Really listening to someone else’s story and empathizing with them could open up a whole new dimension in your songwriting.

A quick note: Make sure you have the person’s permission if you are going to take their life story and turn it into your next big hit. If you have their approval, write your heart out! But be aware, sometimes it’s better—and easier—to take pieces of real life and mix them in with fiction, instead of writing someone’s life for the whole world (or internet) to scrutinize.

6- Try a Different Instrument

Most songwriters have an instrument that they know well, and love to play. But sometimes shaking things up can help you create a great song, and a new sound.

You don’t have to be highly skilled at an instrument to write on it. Most guitar players will find that they can easily pick up the mandolin or banjo.

If you play piano, try learning a few chords on guitar, or simply move to a completely different piano sound than you usually play with. The song you write on a different instrument might not be a compositional masterpiece, but it will help get you out of your comfort zone.

7-Get Specific

Pick a highly specific thing-an apple, the color yellow, a particular emotion-and write about it! Be as poetic or as literal as you like, just keep the song highly specific to the topic that you choose.

8-Co-Write

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably made plans with a few other writers to combine your efforts and create a hit. But sometimes life gets in the way, and those writing sessions never happen.

Well now is the time! Shoot them a text or email saying you want to get together in the next week or so to write, and make it happen! You can also reach out to a local songwriter you admire and see if they would be willing to meet up for a co-write. Even if you think the writer is too experienced, or too busy, it never hurts to ask. So be brave, and get co-writing!

9-Ask Your Fans

Your fans are the ones who will be listening to (and buying!) your music, so why not get their input in the earliest phase? Ask them for stories or topics to write about. Ask them for rhyme suggestions if you’re stuck on a particular phrase.

10- Just Write

Sometimes, no matter what we do, inspiration just keeps running away from us. When that happens, amateurs give up. Great songwriters keep writing. Sometimes it takes 20 awful songs to finally get a great one. Don’t sweat it if you’re in a funk. Just keep writing. Eventually, it will pay off.

How have you defeated writer’s block? Do you have any other songwriting tips? Let us know in the comments below!


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Writing Better Songs: How to Silence the Inner Critic

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

You’ve sat down with your instrument of choice. You had a moment of inspiration, and the chorus to your next hit comes rushing out of you. You start to work on the first verse, and all of a sudden-nothing. All your lyrical inspiration is gone, the melodies won’t come–you’ve got nothing. In an instant your great spurt of inspiration is completely used up.

And in less time than it takes to microwave a hot pocket, you are convinced that this is the worst thing you’ve ever written. You’ve decided that every song you’ve crafted is trash. You are going to turn in your resignation as a artist, and never play your music in front of people again.

While this example may be a bit of a stretch, most songwriters hit this wall eventually. Something negative happens, and you become highly critical of your own work. Self-criticism can be a good thing when it comes time to edit a song, but when you are trying to get into the zone and create, this critic does more harm than good.

So how can you turn off your inner critic and let your creative juices flow?

Quantity, not Quality

One of the best ways to shut down the harsh voice in your head is simply by writing more songs. Cultivating an environment where you can just be yourself helps takes some of the pressure off the writing process.

Here are some steps you can take to begin this process:

  • Have concrete writing goals. Set a realistic weekly number of songs to write, and commit to finishing them.
  • Battle your fear of failing. There is a good chance most of the songs you write will be bad. That’s okay. Allowing your self the freedom to write some bad songs will help you know when you’ve written a great one.
  • Remember, this is a no pressure situation. You don’t have to play these songs for anyone. After you write them, you don’t even have to play them for yourself!
  • Push through when you hit a wall. This is the key to making this strategy work. Fight through the temptation to quit, and finish the song.
  • Create for creation’s sake. You may find that the more you write, the quieter your self-critic becomes.

This kind of writing may be difficult at first. That’s okay. Stick to your goals, and write anyway. Churning out material, no matter the quality, gets the creative part of your brain working. When the creative voice is louder, you may find that the inner critic’s voice is so small you can barely hear it.

Write. Just Write.

Music is not the only form of creative expression. If you are having a particular problem coming up with lyrics, it is a good idea to just write.

Writing can take many forms, but the first exercise I recommend is keeping a “First Thoughts” journal. Keep a notebook and pencil next to your bed, and every morning, write for 10 minutes. Do this before you do anything else.

The most important rule of this journal is that you are not allowed any kind of filter. For 10 minutes, write down your thoughts exactly as they come into your head, with no editing. Grammar doesn’t matter, punctuation doesn’t matter, you don’t have to make any kind of sense. (Mine never do, since I don’t make any sense before I’ve had my morning coffee!) You can write your dreams, what you want to accomplish that day,  what made you angry last night, or a play-by-play recap of your favorite reality TV show.

It doesn’t matter. Just write.

This strategy turns off the critic by turning off all filters. Then, in other writings, you can put those filters back in place as you need them.

Your “First Thoughts” journal shouldn’t be your only writing. Try your hand a writing a blog. Or write an incredibly detailed description of a simple object. Dabble in poetry. Do whatever it takes to loosen up the pressure of putting words down on a page. Experimenting with other writing forms can also open you up to different approaches to songwriting, and can help you find new inspiration.

Identify the Critic

This may take a little time, and a little soul searching. Often, the critic inside of us is not really us. It is an outside voice that we have taken on. This may be the voice of a teacher who spoke harshly about your work. It might be a parent or close relative that scoffs at your music when you share it. Your self-critic might not even have its roots in music, but in something else in your life that translates to criticizing your creative self-expression. This voice is different for everyone, but identifying it can help you fight it.

Once you’ve identified the voice of your critic, address it. Write a letter to it, or a song about it. It doesn’t have to be an eloquent letter, or a fantastic song. It just needs to be honest.

As a creative, part of what allows you to make good art is your ability to be in touch with your emotion. This is especially true when things  are painful. It’s not an easy task to identify the critic, or to firmly tell them to please be quiet. When you have acknowledged the hurt that they caused, and the affect that you allowed that hurt have on your life—specifically your music—you can begin to move on from it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Play

When our self-critic says we’re not good enough, sometimes we just have to get out there and prove it wrong. Don’t be afraid to share your music. Try a new song at your next show. Play a short set for your closest friends. Send your mom your latest demo. Show yourself that you are not limited by what your self-critic says.

More Than the Music

The last, and probably most important step into turning off the self-critic is to remember that you are more than your music. You are more than a collection of notes, or a few lines of lyrics. Your songs are a part of who you are, but they don’t define you.




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Time To Make A Demo? Six Ways to Know If Your Song Is Ready

Time to Make a Demo? Six Ways to Know If Your Song Is Ready

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

written by: Cliff Goldmacher

While our instinct as songwriters may be to love all of our songs equally, the reality is that some of our songs are simply better, or more commercially viable, than others. The problem is knowing which songs those are.

This knowledge becomes incredibly important when you, the songwriter, are considering making a professional demo. How do you know which songs are good enough to invest your time and money in making a high-quality recording, and which need a little, or a lot, more work?

The below steps should help you make that decision.

Make A Rough Recording

One of the first tests I’d suggest is to make a rough recording of your song. Given that you’re not trying to win a Grammy award with this recording, it can be as simple as a bare-bones guitar and vocal recorded on your smartphone.

Rough recordings are useful because they let you hear your song as a listener would. This is entirely different from listening to your song as you’re playing it. I’m always surprised at how tweaks and adjustments present themselves when I sit back and listen to a rough recording—problems I never noticed while I was playing and singing the song.

Put It Away For A Week

After creating a song, there’s often a rush of enthusiasm. This is a good thing. I certainly hope you’re pleased with what you’ve written.

However, it’s still a good idea to have a short “cooling off” period of, say, a week or so, in order to make sure what you’re feeling is true love, not infatuation. After a week, go back to the song. If that same excitement is there, you’re on to something.

Have a Professional Critique Your Song

Getting an experienced songwriter or music publisher to give you their professional opinion can bring valuable insight into the way the industry listens to songs. After all, if your goal is to have a song that is commercially successful, then a professional opinion can be very useful.

That being said, songwriting is still an art, and you should never blindly agree with something just because a professional said it. The music business is filled with stories about publishers and A&R reps passing on songs that went on to become huge hits. In other words, a professional critique should be taken with a large grain of salt and appreciated for what it is (industry insight) and what it isn’t (the final word on whether or not your song is good).

Play It For Your Songwriting Peers

It’s especially easy to find a group of songwriting peers to bounce ideas off of when you’re living in a music city like New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville. However, organizations like the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) have chapters in many cities, which means you can find songwriting peers even if you don’t live in an industry town. A songwriting group can be a good place to play your song and get outside perspective from people who understand what songwriting is about.

Again, it’s important to remember that you won’t—nor do you have to—agree with everything that’s said, but there might be a helpful gem or two that can make all the difference. The risk with any feedback in the early life of a song is that the wrong word or a mean-spirited comment can be devastating. To that end, protect yourself by making sure your group’s members are constructive in their criticism. Also, it’s a good policy to develop a thicker skin for these situations. The more songs you write, the easier this gets.

Play It For An Objective, Non-Musician Friend

It’s been my experience that fellow musicians and songwriters tend to listen to songs in a certain way, often paying attention to details that only other musicians and songwriters would appreciate. This can be useful (thus the above tip), but as a rule, songwriters aren’t really music buyers.

Playing your song for a trusted, non-musician friend—someone who can tell you exactly whether they like the song or not (i.e., “the song feels long” or “I don’t understand the story” or “it makes me want to get up and dance”)—can be a helpful way of seeing whether or not a song is working.

Play It Live

If you’re a live performer as well as a songwriter, you’ve got a valuable tool at your disposal. There’s nothing quite like gauging the response—or non-response—of a live audience to see whether a song is working or not.

Often, the things that you thought would work while you were writing the song don’t pan out, while other things you barely paid attention to go over beautifully.

A word of warning, though: don’t assume that, just because a song is working live, you’re all set. It’s still well worth your while to use some of the earlier suggestions (especially the rough recording) to make sure that when you listen to your song objectively, it’s doing what you want it to.

One Last Note

As a producer, it’s clear to me when a writer knows their song is ready. I can tell that they’ve done the necessary work, including some or all of the above suggestions. This makes my job easier, as my focus goes from doing damage control or overhauls to simply polishing an already-beautiful gem.

In the end, no one else can tell you whether your song is finished and ready to be professionally recorded. In most cases, you’re the one spending the money for the demo and the one who has to be excited about pitching it, so you should be as convinced as possible that your song is ready for prime time. At the end of the day, the decision is—and should be—yours.




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Free songwriting book

Don’t Write Another Song Until You See This

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 1 minute

Let’s be honest, many musicians struggle with songwriting. Weak melodies, cheesy cliches, and thoughts that ramble throughout the song are only a few of the problems you face.

Yet, you see other musicians churning out hit after hit.

What do they have that you don’t? Is it simply that they’re more talented? Maybe… and maybe not.

It could just be that they have a method to their songwriting, a formula that streamlines their creative process, clears out the roadblocks, and lets them maximize their talent.

Here at Source, we’ve heard your frustration concerning songwriting, and we decided to do something about it. We commissioned award-winning, chart-topping songwriter Cliff Goldmacher to write a guidebook about the method and the madness of songwriting. Cliff’s songs have spent months on top of the Billboard charts. He teaches workshops for BMI and ASCAP and is a member of practically every songwriting guild and association out there.

Best of all, this comprehensive songwriting manual is a gift for YOU. That’s right, it’s free.

Free Download




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Six Ways To Motivate Yourself To Write Songs

Six Ways To Motivate Yourself To Write Songs

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

As passionate as we are about our songwriting, the reality is that sometimes it’s difficult to motivate ourselves to write. Whether it’s the fear of plumbing our emotional depths or just good old fatigue after a long day, there are often obstacles to overcome when it’s time to write. While flashes of inspiration are great, we can’t always count on the muse showing up on our schedule. Instead, we’ve got to make our own inspiration. I’ve put together a list of a few things that should help you keep your creative fires lit:

Set up a place at home to write

As simple as it sounds, having a place to go where you can focus and be creative can be motivating. Even if it’s just a small desk and chair in a corner of your living room, the fact that you’ve dedicated it to your art will serve as that little push you might need to write. Keep your writing tools—rhyming dictionary, guitar, laptop, etc.—out and easily accessible. It’s amazing what a difference putting your guitar on a stand versus keeping it in a case can make.  Make things as easy as you can for yourself, and you’ll be much more likely to dig in.

Set up a time of day to write

Routine can be a good thing, even for something as artistic and creative as songwriting. If, for example, you know that every day at 7pm you’re going to write for half an hour, then you’re more likely to do it. They say it takes a few weeks of consciously making yourself do something before it becomes a habit. A daily time to write will go a long way towards the healthy habit of songwriting.

Keep a file of unfinished songs

One of the hardest things about writing is starting with a blank page. By keeping an organized file of your unfinished lyrics and rough recordings, you won’t have to climb the mountain from the bottom every time you sit down. While sometimes it feels good to start with a fresh idea, don’t forget to check your unfinished ideas from time to time. It’s remarkable how a few days or weeks can add the perspective you need to see a partially finished song in a new light and finish it.

Find a co-writer

Nothing motivates more than accountability. If someone is counting on you to show up and work, you’re more likely to do it. Not only that, but halving the burden can make writing a much more approachable pursuit. This is one of the many benefits of co-writing. Other advantages include having someone whose songwriting gifts compliment your own in such a way that you both get a better song than you would have separately. If you haven’t co-written yet, this is as good a time as any to give it a try. Even if it’s not a perfect experience, we all benefit from observing firsthand someone else’s writing process.

Give yourself an assignment

Sometimes the idea that you can write about anything is just too much freedom. Often, it’s easier to write if you have some guidelines. For example, if you tell yourself you’re going to write a song with one chord you’ve never used or a song about a topic you’ve never covered, you’ll find it’s easier to get to work. Anything you can do to give shape and structure to what you’re attempting to write will make the task that much simpler.

Tell yourself you’ll only write for five minutes

This is one of my all-time favorites. On days where you’re really struggling to make yourself write, tell yourself you’ll sit down for five minutes. That way, if nothing is happening after five minutes, at least you’ve tried. It’s astonishing how often those days are the days where the breakthroughs happen. Taking the pressure off of yourself may be all that you need to get on a roll. That being said, if it’s just not coming, stop. There’s no point in making yourself miserable. There’s always tomorrow.

Conclusion

Being a songwriter is a gift, but, as with most gifts, some assembly (otherwise known as work) is required. My hope is by suggesting a few ways to lessen the burden of getting started, you’ll be able to write more consistently and enjoy the accompanying results.





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Collaborate: Write a Song with Another Artist

Collaborate: Write a Song with Another Artist

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Experienced songwriters will tell you that one of the most potentially rewarding yet potentially perilous ways to write a song is to collaborate. Unless you’re a solo singer/songwriter who plays the piano, guitar, or some other instrument, you will have to work with others at some point in the songwriting process. Being prepared can help smooth that process out.

The Pros And Cons Of Collaborative Songwriting

The benefits of writing a song with another musician are countless. For starters, you can learn how other artists write their music. Having these methods as options can help you get out of a writer’s block rut down the road. If the musicians are from other bands or genres, you can experiment with different styles and sounds, and the collaboration extends your music to the audience and fan base of your co-writer. The alliances forged during these songwriting sessions can prove invaluable down the road.

Of course, there are risks when trying to write a song with another artist. Going into a collaboration, you have no guarantee that your songwriting skills will gel well, even if you both appreciate the others work. Since it can be tough to hear critiques, you need to have a thick skin and speak thoughtfully. The lack of guarantees, presence of criticism, and a host of other factors means those potential alliances can easily turn into hurt feelings, damaged reputations, and bitter enemies.

Pick A Good Partner For Collaboration

Honestly, making this decision requires a combination of careful deliberation and blind faith. Some prefer to only write with musicians they don’t know, thereby not risking ruined friendships. For others, the opposite is true, as they already trust artists they know. The opportunity to write a song with someone who you know quite well can be just as valuable an experience as the opportunity to write with someone you have recently met. The same is true for known and unknown artists. Each opportunity is what you make of it.

A Matter of Money

If you’re under a contract, you should probably speak to your manager or A&R rep about how to split profits from collaborated projects before you get going on the process. If you’re both independent musicians, agree ahead of time on how the profits will break down. You might split it evenly, or you might base it on the percentage of work done. Some up-and-coming musicians might take less money simply to share the songwriting credits and have the experience under their belt.

Have you collaborated on projects with other musicians before? How did the process go? What advice do you have for those considering their first collaboration?




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Write a Song: Getting Past Writer's Block

Write a Song: Getting Past Writer’s Block

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

On good days, when the perfect lyrics and glorious melody flow with alarming speed, you couldn’t be happier. Then there are the bad days: when the effort to write a song feels like climbing Everest, when the blank page stares back at you for hours, when every bridge is one you’ve heard before. Those days—when you’re crippled by writer’s block—are dark, agonizing, and frustrating. Instead of giving up, questioning your talent, or wallowing in the darkness, give these tips for getting past writer’s block a try:

Focus On What You Know

If you’re struggling to write a song, take a break to focus on what you already know. Jam out to some songs you know very well, whether they are your songs or cover material. Having fun and playing music you are already proficient at can restore your confidence and open you up for inspiration.

Do Something Else

Another good piece of advice for musicians with writer’s block is to do something else. Take your mind off your work. Shoot pool, shoot hoops, or shoot skeet. Watch a movie, make a great meal, go roller skating, go ice skating, go for a walk, or whatever else you want to do. Get out of the mindset that you have to write a song, and the song may seek you out.

Read

This may sound like cheating, but one of the best solutions for being unable to write lyrics may be to read some great writing. The type of writing is up to you; it can be poetry, plays, short stories, novels, non-fiction, or something totally different. But feeding your brain something that’s not music can be just what the dormant lyric writer inside of you always needed.

Remember: Nothing’s Perfect

As hard as this is, you have to stop being your own worst critic. If you find yourself trashing what little progress you have made or constantly questioning your decisions, step back from the song. Don’t pressure yourself to have flawless songs immediately; you didn’t master your instrument overnight, so why do you expect songs to happen overnight? Come back to it in a few days, or (if it’s close to finished) play around with it at a show or two. You’ll be surprised by the way inspiration strikes.

Do you suffer from writer’s block when trying to write a song? What do you do to get through it?

See also: Collaborate: Write A Song With Another Artist




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Writing Song Lyrics: 4 Dos and Don'ts

Writing Song Lyrics: 4 Dos and Don’ts

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Being able to write a song includes being able to write song lyrics. Song lyrics are what people hold onto, what people derive meaning from, and how people identify with your band. By that rationale, you want your song lyrics to be good. Here are a few tips for those struggling with lyrics:

DON’T Forget Balance

When you are trying to write a song, remember that balance is important. The simple chorus lyrics in Gordon Sumner’s “De-doo-doo-doo, de-da-da-da” allow the message of the verses to take center stage. If the entire song is the same, everything gets muddled and nothing shines.

DO Know Your Genre

A death metal song probably isn’t about flowers. Pop songs generally rhyme, albeit often loosely. Pay attention to standards in your niche.

DON’T Be Afraid of Taking Risks

Sometimes breaking the “rules” of songwriting helps a song stand out. If your normal style is a dozen instruments, lots of effects, an upbeat tempo, and five backup singers, a song with slower song with only three instruments and simple vocals will certainly make a difference fans notice. Take these risks when you really have something to say.

DO K.I.S.S.

Having trouble fitting the line about your “discarded heart being combustible” into your song? You might want to remember that above acronym and keep it simple. Try smaller words ending in common sounds and build from there. Also: sometimes those who say the least convey the most.

DON’T Forget That You’re In Control

You have the final say over what goes in your song, where it goes, and what your song says. If there’s an awkward line that’s hard to work with, take it out. If its poignancy completes the song, though, fight to keep it in. The songs are your stories; tell them the way you want them told.

DO Be Realistic

You’re not going to write the best song ever on the first go-around. You will have re-writes, and some things just won’t work. That’s okay.

DON’T Obsess

Don’t let obsessing over certain tricky song prevent you from writing other, potentially-better songs. It’s also okay to put lyrics down for a while; you can come back to them on another day or even another album.

DO Keep Writing

Don’t let writer’s block or a flop stop you. Write regularly, write when you’re inspired, write when you feel nothing. Keep a notebook with you to keep track of random thoughts to revisit later.

Have any of the above tips helped you write a song? What tips can you offer other musicians who are writing song lyrics?

See also: Collaborate: Write A Song With Another Artist




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