6 Ways to Maintain a Steady Stream of New Song Ideas

3430060992_8a26aefb50_z tanaka juuyohA few days after deciding that I’d write 14 songs in February, I started noticing song premises every day.

I hadn’t consciously changed my routine. I hadn’t even begun to put in significant time at the piano. But knowing I’d have to write at least one song every two days, my mind was poised to spring like a steel trap on song titles, interesting phrases, and threads of melody that crossed my path.

This deadline harnessed everything I’ve learned about songwriting in the past ten years. It set all the prepared gears in motion.

Over time, having survived writer’s block dozens of times, having also enjoyed feverishly productive periods, I’ve come to rely on six small self-reminders to keep ideas coming. When I feel blocked, it’s because I’ve allowed one of these to lapse.

6 Ways to Maintain a Steady Stream of New Songs

1. Learn your craft—the more you know about how songs are constructed, the sharper you’ll get at seeing the potential in a single lyric or melodic phrase. Craft also helps you quickly identify gaps and fill them in so that you can finish drafts, stash them, and move on to the next song idea. Study songwriting books, analyze your favorite songs. Experiment with new rhyme schemes and song forms. Also read books on poetry, fiction, copywriting, music theory, and beyond.

2. Read—reading poetry, magazine articles, and fiction can all lead to serendipitous discovery. It’s also an enjoyable way to hone your instincts for description, dialogue, and the rhythms of language.

3. Listen—and I mean really listen. Sit down with earphones and a piece of music—and nothing else. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and listen. This is surprisingly difficult to do at first, but stay with it. Listen to at least one song every day, a whole album if you can.

4. Write every day—on days when you feel dry or blocked, have practice tasks to fall back on. Take out a guitar manual and learn some new chords. Do an exercise from William Russo’s Composing Music. Free write for 10 minutes. Revise one of your earlier songs. Start a songwriting prompt from this site. No need to wait for a thunderbolt—you can make songs happen whenever you want.

5. Set a clear goal and deadline—Deadlines force us to quit procrastinating and produce. Thanks to Album Writing Month, I’m constantly thinking about whether or not I’m on track to complete all 14 of my FAWM songs by February 29th. This exerts constant pressure to keep moving. Why not join the other 6,000+ songwriters and I? It’s not too late.

6. Seek peer pressure—another element that makes FAWM so motivating is the company of fellow songwriters. A group environment provides support and keeps you accountable for putting in your time and doing your work. Since I’m a loner by instinct. I stay motivated by reading books like Do the Work and watching documentaries about military training regimens. The military knows discipline.

Repeat the above steps in a continuous cycle. Build them into your daily life.

To recap:

  1. Study your craft
  2. Read
  3. Listen
  4. Write every day
  5. Set a clear goal and deadline
  6. Seek peer pressure

How do you keep ideas coming?

I’d like to hear about what keeps you sharp and motivated. Noticed any patterns? Leave a comment and let us know.

canal photo by Tanaka Juuyoh

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