Category: Writing Song Lyrics

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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What Makes a Hip Hop Album Great?

What Makes A Hip Hop Album Great?

By Julian Keaton Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Written by: Julian Keaton

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic album, and there are several reasons why this particular album is still relevant today. Illmatic has a unique and collaborative production sound, superb storytelling, cultural transcendence, and originality. It’s no coincidence that other timeless hip hop albums—like OutKast’s ATLiens, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city—also have these characteristics. If you want your hip hop record to withstand the test of time, these are important factors to consider.

It’s important to have talented producers working on your album, but they have to be able to work together. When working as a unit, studio sessions go smoother, the songwriting is better, and you can bounce ideas off everyone to get the best out of the song. Illmatic had five producers who worked together to make a well-knit, well-produced album. The Marshall Mathers LP had three main producers. ATLiens was mainly produced by Organized Noise. Because these groups of producers were tight-knit and able to collaborate, they created unique sounds that cannot be replicated.

In today’s music world, it’s no secret that labels arrange writing camps, where they pull together a team of the best songwriters in the country with the sole purpose of writing songs that will be commercially successful and, hopefully, lead to hit records. This approach, which utilizes the complimentary strengths of each writer, can result in songs with superb storylines, catchy melodies, and solid beats. It’s less common in hip-hop than in other genres—like R&B, pop, and country music—but it does still happen. In fact, some of the most impactful hip-hop songs come from collaboration, including Run-D.M.C.’s “My Adidas” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”. While you don’t have to collaborate to come up with quality music, doing so can open you to the ideas and methods of other artists.

Superb storytelling in these songs is what allowed them to transcend and impact culture. For example, many of the songs on Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut dealt with economic disenfranchisement, gang violence, and peer pressure—all of which are core to the culture of hip-hop. These same themes, though, connected Lamar’s songs with the millennial generation, made the album so influential, and caused a paradigm shift in the culture.

Lastly, and just as importantly as the other factors, each of the above albums stands out and stays relevant because the artists focused on maintaining their originality. A perfect example of a group focused on originality is Odd Future. Odd Future made a huge splash in the national music scene in 2010 because of its originality and unpredictability. Being able to stand on your own beliefs and ideas keeps your music fresh and original, while being different and intentionally not following trends makes you stand out. Fans definitely notice and often appreciate this focus on originality.

These factors can help your hip hop album stand out, be impactful, and withstand the test of time.

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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.


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.


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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