When songwriting tips aren’t enough… it’s because you’re stuck, not your song…
You need alternate ways for your songwriting!
Change how you write your songs… get your songwriting unstuck, instead of covering the problem with the band-aid of more songwriting tips.
Changing how you write will change what you create. Here are…
7 Alternate Ways to Write Songs
Alternate Songwriting #1. Write The Story In The Song
Explain the story of your song in prose. Start using point form and brainstorm ideas as fast as you can write them. Later edit them by choosing the most interesting ideas and put them into the best order. Clarify the story you want to write to better organize the song.
It is liberating to release yourself from writing with lyric rhythms, rhymes and rhyme schemes. Instead, focus on the plot or emotional journey you want to create. Explore the character(s), the setting and the backstory of the song.
Once you’re clear on the story, go back and steal the best phrases and ideas then decide where to put them in your song… you could have it half written before you find the first rhyme.
Read more about creating and telling the story in your song: Building Better Songs.
Alternate Songwriting #2. Write from an Image
Find an interesting photograph or painting and use it as writing inspiration. Describe what you see, the story you imagine and the emotions evoked by the image. Put your best ideas in the best order to start creating your song.
Google Image Search your working title and choose interesting images to write about. Pinterest is another great source for song worthy pictures… some searches I tried included:
- Photography inspiration
- Photographs of… (pick something fun!)
- Photography people
- Photography relationships
- Historical paintings
- Historical paintings impressionism
- Historical paintings pointillism
- Historical paintings… (pick a style or period)
- Inspiration quotes
- Music quotes
- Musical quotes
- Musician quotes
- Song quotes
You can even find quotations and song quotes you like and ignore the quote. Instead write about the background picture.
Like a song, a picture is a snapshot in time. Here are some prompts for writing from an image:
- What happened before (or after) the picture?
- What’s the story of the character(s)?
- Describe who is in the image?
- If there’s more than one person, what’s their relationship?
- How do they feel?
- What would they say to each other?
- What are they thinking?
- What’s outside of the picture frame?
- How does the image make you feel?
- What words and phrases do you think of looking at the picture?
Alternate Songwriting #3. Write from Emotions
Songs, like all forms of art, are meant to inspire emotions in the audience. Start writing your from an emotional focus.
- What emotions do you want to evoke in your listeners?
- What’s the emotional journey you want to write about?
Get yourself into a similar emotional state using your imagination and your memory of similar emotions. Then start brainstorming words and phrases that describe how you feel.
Plan the emotional journey for the song. What emotion is in the verse, the chorus, the bridge, how can you use the pre-chorus to transition from the verse to the chorus?
Musical Example: Emoji Girl
The emotional journey is about the singer creating a relationship with a woman who is obsessed with her phone and who communicates primarily through texting and emojis.
Verse 1 – Meeting her
Pre-Chorus – It’s difficult to communicate with her
Chorus – Loving an emoji girl
Verse 2 – I’m getting bored, she’s too shallow
Bridge – how do I break up with her?
Musical Example: Factory Fresh
This example isn’t as overtly emotional, but the development of the story and the feelings (and unknowing ignorance) of the main character drive the song.
Verse 1 – My friends tell me lies, but I know more than them
Pre-Chorus – My food grows in grocery stores
Chorus – I love food that’s fresh from the factory… it’s all I eat
Verse 2 – I love all three food groups just like my Mom used to reheat food for me
Bridge – I tried to cook once, but the kitchen caught on fire
Alternate Songwriting #4. Write Without Writing
Focus on the lyrics and sounds, without writing them down. Trust your memory and practice to gradually build your strength.
During the writing session don’t write anything down. Record a rough demo on your phone when you finish part of a section to keep track of you ideas. You can write them out later. When you’re writing new lyrics, try to finish a pair of lines (or more) before writing anything down. Stretch yourself past your comfort zone!
Writing Without Writing is one of four songwriting workflows explained in Improve Your Songwriting Workflow.
Alternate Songwriting #5. Improvise
Improvising is intuitively making music as you go… it can be intimidating if it’s new to you. Set boundaries with a few choices, counter-intuitively this is liberating because it’s less overwhelming.
For example: Improvise with
- A theme to find a phrase for your title
- The words in your title
- Two chords to improvise with (instead of several)
Improvising takes practice and patience.
Here are a few more improvising ideas:
Say lyric ideas aloud… play with the sounds and repeat words, phrases and fragments until you find something interesting. Use your phone to record good ideas, starting and stopping the recording when you find a golden idea, instead of breaking your flow by stopping to write down ideas.
When I’m writing lyrics or setting a melody to a chord progression, I record several repetitions on guitar and then sing and scat words until ideas start to flow. I also do this with finished lyrics find the best rhythms or melody notes.
Even when I don’t discover anything “useful” I still have fun with it.
Alternate Songwriting #6. Doodle
The underlying idea is that if you are focused on an artistic activity (drawing, painting, etc.) you relax your inhibitions and release great ideas.
You can sing or hum to yourself (or into your phone) while you doodle instead of stopping to write ideas down. You can incorporate lyrics into the doodling so you don’t have to interrupt your drawing to write down song ideas.
Work at your own drawing level… I usually go for abstract patterns and shapes because that way I don’t have to draw anything that looks good or looks realistic. The purpose is to relax and distract your conscious mind so you let go of your inhibitions. Don’t let your drawing skills distract you… don’t get frustrated by weak drawing skills. You can also try this with an “adult colouring book” like a book of mandala patterns if it’s more comfortable for you than drawing free hand.
Here’s some doodling research:
Alternate Songwriting #7. Mind Map
I think of mind maps as a combination of brainstorming and doodling. You organize your ideas on a piece of paper (or in an app) in two dimensions, instead of listing ideas in a “chronological” order down a page. You show the relationships between ideas using lines or arrows to show connections.
There are companies and people that teach mind mapping, including some with sophisticated rules about how much to write and how to connect your ideas. My personal rule is “If it makes sense… do it!”
An example of one mind mapping company (they sell mind mapping software, not an affiliate link)… unless you’re planning on exporting your mind map or use it for a polished presentation, it’s usually easier just to write or draw your mind map.