Awesomely Strange Songwriting Tips
If you're a musician you know exactly what I'm talking about, and looking back on my older recordings I can only cringe sometimes and laugh wondering; "what the hell was I thinking when i wrote that" or "holy shit WHY did I write that?"
Back in high school my techniques were basically this:
- Copying whatever band I was into at the time
- Layout as follows (Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Bridge Chorus)
- Song Title Choices:
a) Oxymoron b) Long & Drawn Out c) Sexual Innuendo d) All of the above
I'm certain I've gotten better as a song writer since 3 power chords and 1 string guitar solos. (Now it's 2 strings.)
That also came from having a more diverse musical background and being in bands since the age of 8 years old. (no exaggeration.)
I did get a little lost in high school even though I thought I knew I was being the most "unique individual" on the planet at the time. This was the height of the pop-punk explosion and I felt rebellious after years of hair metal and classic rock being dumped down my throat so I closed myself off to anything except the lifestyle of the punk/alternative crowd.
Me at 15.
It was a double edged sword. Prior to high school I didn't write and was only blasted with bar covers, so this whole new world (not Aladdin) was shown to me where I could write my own songs. At the same time the songs I wrote were shit because they were these 3 chord hunks of trash which were summed up into what some called "Blink-Day" back in the day which was an on going joke for a while when my old band would play shows, but hey I guess we all start somewhere.
While that close-mindedness wore off, the blocky chord structure, and I learned about sub-genres, new bands, and heartbreak, I happened to pick up a bunch of tips along the way.
Now I'm not reinventing the wheel with this one by any means, and for me some of these tips and tricks may seem abstract since some of the things I do while writing are weird. I was caught once holding the pick-ups of a guitar to the air conditioning unit at 4am because the distortion feedback sounded cool and the overtones bouncing around made the perfect natural phaser effect...yeah, I'm one of THOSE guys...
So these are my words of wisdom take them or leave them. It's nothing that hasn't been done I'm just putting a new spin on something old.
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1- Don't Get Hung Up On Other People's Songs
The amount of "Man those 9 notes you played kind of remind me of that one song" arguments that used to have that completely halted rehearsals is un-fucking-real. The unfathomable amounts of fuck that I used to not give and just wanted to write a song because I thought that it sounded cool but it never crossed my mind that descending chord progression in C has been done before.
Point of that little tirade, don't get so caught up if one of your bandmates or someone says "that sounds like (insert song here)".
Unless your intent is a straight cut homage, rip off or remix of another artist then don't sweat it.
- Ever hear of the money progression? No? Well Check This...
Yeah...I'm not saying to go out of your way to write a 4 chord song. I'm saying, don't get hung up on technicality...speaking of which...
TIP: Write whatever you want and don't sweat it if it sounds a little like a hit (you might be onto something good.)
2- The Best Ideas Happen In The Shower
Have you ever been in the midst of doing dishes, taking a shower, or doing pretty much any monotonous task and then BOOM inspiration hits. It’s because these “daydreaming moments” have been proven to relax your prefrontal cortex which is the brain’s command center for decisions, goals and behavior. But it also turns the rest of your brain to default mode connecting pathways for new connective ideas to be made.
Have you ever had that awesome melody or lyric in your head and you’re like “I’ll remember that later, no sweat!”
I NEVER EVER fucking remember. Why though? Well it's because your auto-pilot brain is pretty much in daydream mode the same way your brain goes to real dream mode, and why we can't remember that cognitive "Ta Da!" moment once we're done with that dull task.
TIP: My best suggestion...stop whatever you're doing at that very moment...yes EVEN IF YOU'RE POOPING! and write whatever it is down. It may be a million dollar idea later!
3- Revisit Old Notebooks & Lyrics
It may feel kind of cringe worthy to look back at old lyrics and think "15 year old me thought he was tough shit." But there can be some quality moments of brilliance found in your younger self at times where even one liners, a song title, or even the scribbles of a chord progression in the margin of a lyrics sheet can spark some creativity in times of writer's block.
While a lot of writer's tend to work from the melody and chords up, I tend to work from the lyrics and melody up and build chords around them later. I would be THE ABSOLUTE WORST at building a house. (I'm going to get abstract on you again. This is how my brain works.)
I picture your chord progressions as the walls and foundations of the house, your melody and hooks as your plumbing, and wiring and the lyrics as the furniture. I write songs basically by putting a couch and a lamp on pile of dirt and building walls around it.
...Piece It All Together Now
If you have stacks and stacks of notebooks, loose leafs, sticky notes, and flash drives of lyrics and excerpts lying around like I do then you're bound to cross paths with yourself over the years. "What does that me?" It means that throughout the years you're bound to write about the same shit and not realize it. Be it relationships, school, getting out of a situation, relationships, overcoming adversity, relationships, politics, and did I mention relationships? Whatever may be going through your life at the time you may back burner into a notebook later on.
Back to the top point of taking just ONE LINE and using it. You could go through many notebooks, find many of the same topic songs, thumb through, find a bunch of lines you like, and Frankenstein them together into a whole new song about a new relevant topic that may be pertaining to you at the moment, like relationships.
TIP: Revisit old notebooks & flash drives for lyrics. Quips from unfinished songs could spark creativity in times of writer's block.
4- Carry A Recorder Around EVERYWHERE
This one is going to sound like a little repetitive from the "Shower Tip" but I feel that it's dire that it needs to be in a category all to its own.
While I'm doing monotonous tasks, or when that random burst of inspiration strikes I really want to be prepared. Sometimes I have a notebook on the ready while I think through trial and error that the best method is to have a recorder on hand and in most cases for 95% of us that would be our cell phones.
Android users Audio Recorder and iOS Sound Recorder
The worst thing in the world is telling yourself "I'm going to remember that hook" or "I'll remember the melody to those lyrics" and later on the 10 words with dashes make no fucking sense to you, the chords are a jumbled mess and you have no recollection of how any melody goes other than it was in A, or maybe D? FUCK! G and then D over A (yeah, I've been there.)
Sing It Out
Even if you aren't the singer for your band, sing it. If it isn't lyrics and you have the melody in your head, hum it into the recorder.
name That Tune
If you're going down the phone recording route when you're done, for your own headache's sake name the recording something. Both iOS and Android default the track to a long ass number. It might be okay if you have 1 or 2 of these and you plan on banging them out once you get home. But if you start stock piling them like I do, trying to find them is like trying to find the Space Needle in outer space.
I suggest naming it with the most predominant words that stand out in the recording or at least the subject it's about, like relationships.
TIP: Use your phone to record whatever lyric or melody is in your head at that very instant and don't forget to label it. Chances are if you write down the words you'll end up forgetting how the melody goes later on in the day.
5- What Rhymes With Orange?
Sometimes it's tough coming up with a rhyme, for the next line. (hey what do ya know!)
You've exhausted all of your options, you don't want to sound like "Row Row Row Your Boat" but honestly in my opinion, isn't that what mumble rap is anyways? While at the same time you're trying not to sound like you're Brendon Urie rehearsing site words for the vocabulary portion of the SAT test just to sound like you're smart. 50 WORDS THE SAT LOVES
So what do you do when you're stuck? When you're trying to find a new rhyme, be original, and also find a synonym for a word that's a little more complicated that has a few syllables just so you can finish out the damn line? (I know that kind of contradicts the Brendon! at the Disco statement, but as long as you know what the fuck the word is, and you're not just trying to be "imperiously pretentious and you're auspicious to be transitory" about it all. (He must've loved Dawson's Creek growing up.)
Luckily the Internet is once again here to save the day. To the web and the app stores we go. I (and guys like Mark Hoppus of blink-182 and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park) use sites like B-Rhymes.com & RhymeZone.com which were both stated in the Midem keynote web seminar on the process and technology used both blink-182 & Linkin Park's songwriting. This keynote was posted on June 7th, 2017 a little over a month before Chester sadly took his life.
The entire video will be at the bottom of this blog. CHECK IT OUT WHEN YOU'RE DONE!
(I started the clip out from the point where Mark talks about Rhyme Zone. But feel free to watch the whole damn thing!)
If that doesn't tickle your fancy then I'm sure you've heard the phrase "there's an APP for that." and yes, there is. Like a lot of them. Searching the word "rhyme" on my iOS device alone brings up a plethora of choices all the way from pre-school kids APPS (I see we're back into mumble rap) all the way to poetry and song writing.
My favorite by far is Rhymer's Block. I've downloaded my way around well, "the block" for a while with songwriting APPs and this one is has been the most successful for me. It's pretty simple for the simple minded mind you. You type in the last word in your stanza, and it gives you a list of choice words. You can even write and save your entire lyric sheet right there.
TIP: Use APPs and sites to help with rhyming patterns, and switching up your words.
6- Ambient Noises
This may be by far the strangest technique that i have discovered. In the beginning of this blog I explained how I used an air conditioner in the pick-ups of a guitar. Since that moment I started writing songs while in quiet rooms only ambient sounds like the AC, box fan, or even a YouTube video of a leaf blower was going on loop for 3 hours. (Yeah, I went there.)
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If you think that that's strange I'm definitely not the only one, a YouTuber by the name of Andrew Huang made a video of himself sampling ONLY the sounds of a hotel AC to make every instrument in a drum loop.
He explains how sound comes from anything vibrating at a steady frequency and why our ears can't pick out any of the notes. However this is where musicians come in. If your creative brain starts paying attention and carves a path through the noise, you can find your own root note through all the mumbled nonsense. It's like picking out a harmony or picking out one person's voice in a crowded room. And from there you just build your melody on that.
TIP: Use ambient sounds to create melodies. (I know it sounds bat shit crazy.)
7- Have A Colorful Pallet
Being diverse and listening to many styles of music can benefit you in a lot of ways when it comes to writing. "Yeah this sounds really dumb and cookie cutter right?" Well it's true. I mean I've mentioned time and time again how I was the classic rock guy until high school then it was straight pop-punk. If I took anything from that I still thought I knew everything there was to know about music, in high school it was cool because my band was one of the only local groups around that implemented a full time keyboard into a pop-punk band. That 80's influence stuck and therefore carried over into my adolescence. Still not getting it? Let's dive deeper.
Buffet of Genres
I graduated high school and joined a country/bar songs band. It was fun, played a lot of shows, met cool people, and got a lot of my chops learning different top 40 hits each month.
As a songwriter it definitely showed me what was on the other side of the fence with country music even though a lot of it was the same (Down a dirt road, ice cold beer, tight blue jeans) bullshit over and over.
My day job was a restaurant manager, and the owner and other manager were obsessed with Top 40 country hits. So if playing those songs all night wasn't bad enough, having them re-blasted the following day was an extra special ear fuck to my delight.
In some cases it has happened with other genres but this particular one, I will give props to country music. Yes I said it, and not only country music, but POP COUNTRY MUSIC.
If you aren't familiar with top 40's hits radio here's how it works. There's the same 2 dozen songs pumped out on a station in a loop every 1-2 hours those songs are on until either;
A.) You get so sick of hearing them that your head explodes