Song Doctor Blog
Read how to write better songs
A question that comes up over (and over!) from songwriters I work with is how to create more time to write songs.
I know many of you feel crunched between demanding jobs and family commitments. Or you’re so knackered by the type of work you’re obliged to do, you have no bandwidth for your music left at day’s end. This makes you feel disappointed, guilty and frustrated.
Try this. What you want to build is a habit you don’t have to think about.
You’ve already got at least one like cleaning your teeth or getting dressed.
The thinking here is something short but regular, that you can say ‘YES!’ to, instead of all the reasons to say “but I don’t have time’.
The regular ‘practice’ or action builds continuity.
The second part is what you actually work on in the short time period.
Rather than ‘write songs’ (large goal, easy to get stumped and give up) choose some very particular part of songwriting to do in this short but frequent window of writing you have.
Now you have a chance of achieving something in your short, regular songwriting window. And guess what your brain will do – reward you with a flood of dopamine – your very own internal happiness neurotransmitter! What gets rewarded gets repeated.
The types of things you can do in a 5 – 15 minute period include:
*Writing a list of 5 titles
*Looking up rhyming options for a word in an online dictionary
*Recording a chord progression on your phone to listen to
*Singing a potential motif idea and recording it on your phone
*Uploading the previous day’s phone recording to your DAW
*Previewing 3 synth pads on your DAW – just 3
*Learning a new scale on your guitar – just 1
*Trying a new rhyme scheme you’ve never done before
A further layer to developing incremental songwriting practice is use times and places where your busy thinking brain takes a back seat eg daily commutes by train, lunchtime café trips, exercising inside or out, or doing housework or gardening.
For these times, you preload a phone or a tablet with something you’ve been working on to listen and respond to. You might use time to think of a melody to your chord progression or get a seed for an idea of one. Or go analogue and use a notebook to freewrite.
Finally, when you know you’ve got ‘blank time’ coming, plan to harvest it, especially in environments other than your home.
Three real life examples:
1. Famous NZ songwriter gets snowed off a gig in the US so spends the evening writing song with famous NZ guitarist.
2. A Soundfly student of mine asks what he should work on to best use a 6 hour flight on a budget airline (er, no inflight entertainment!) without buying more gear.
3. Creative writing post grad student colleague covers off all her reading logs while doing evening dishes or on the train travelling home.
Kitchens, planes and hotels are not your home studios, but they are still places you can create. So are cafes. Silence enhances focus but creativity is enhanced with ambient noise, at around 70 decibels to be precise. Plus a dynamic lowlevel bustle provides plenty of new stimulation for your novelty hungry midbrain.
This mindset needs a little bit of thought about the cues to use in your songwriting windows, but set up just one small action for tomorrow’s session and you’ll find your own groove.
Because in the words of the great Australian troubadour, Paul Kelly:
From little things, big things grow.
Ps you may find this recently published article with 5 ways to write melodies helpful too.