Songwriting is a tricky thing. I’ll be honest; there are no hidden songwriting secrets that automatically turn you into a great writer. Nor are there little tricks or life hacks that allow you to consistently churn out top-drawer material. Some people suck at songwriting, sometimes good songwriters write bad songs, it happens.
The thing with songwriting is the more you do it, the better you get. And that’s the first songwriting secret. The better you get, the more you understand what helps and what wont help you get a song finished. A lot of people think that combining endless genres or keeping their options open for any and all facets of music will make them more creative. This isn’t always the case. Y’all ever heard of option paralysis? Like when you go to a restaurant and the menu is like nine pages long and you just don’t really know where to begin. It’s the same with music. Too much choice and you never decide on anything.
Accepting that limitations are a good thing is a confusing concept, but once you do you may start to get better results in your writing. Here are some ways you can limit yourself when writing:
Limit the Influences that you draw on as a writer
Don’t live and die by this one, but its something to bear in mind. I like any other songwriter love and appreciate music from multiple genres. Hendrix, The Beatles, Radiohead, The Smiths, I’m even proud to say that I think N-Sync have got a few bangers in the locker. But if I told you I was starting a band that sounded like all of these artists combined, would you have high hopes for it? No, probably not. I’m not saying don’t listen to all sorts of music, but like any great band/artist, you need to develop your own sonic universe as a writer. You need signature elements that when people think of your music they can identify you as a brand, rather than a meld of influences with zero direction.
I can here readers screaming “how dare you censor me you sound like any fat cat label who just wants to make money blah blah blah”. And fine, you can think that. But honestly, from my experience brand and direction are essential for writers. I’m not saying avoid eclecticism; just don’t be aimless.
Write on an instrument you suck at
Seems like a dumb idea doesn’t it? But a lot of the time when you’ve been writing regularly on your principal instrument, you develop patterns and routine in your writing style. You’ll come up with an interesting idea. Then you’ll bore yourself by writing the same pre-chorus you’ve written a hundred times over. But switching to an unfamiliar instrument can often lead you to voicings and new chord structures, purely because you just don’t know what the hell you’re doing. I’m not saying take up the harp, but if you’re a guitar player, try writing on piano. If you’re a keys player, try switching to a synthesizer. Even sonic palette cleansers can be refreshing to the ear and reignite inspiration.
Don’t be afraid to test yourself as a writer
This point simultaneously reinforces and contradicts this whole article, but just go with me. The one limitation that is not good for you as a writer is staying in your comfort zone. People sometimes confuse comfort zone with genre and it’s not the same thing. If you write four songs that all use chords 1,4, 5, and minor 6 on capo three, you don’t have a style. You’re just being lazy. Either that or you’re the single greatest melody and lyric writer this side of the millennium.
Don’t be afraid to write songs that you’ve not tried before. Limit yourself by not allowing yourself to write the same song you’ve written already. By doing this you’ll end up with a much broader body of work, but provided you follow the first point, it will also be consistent. Instrumentation and arrangement are essential to keeping your brand consistent. Don’t let repetitive songwriting be the theme of your music.