Tips for Creating New Songwriting Habits in the New Year

Want to start the new year by injecting new life into your old songwriting regimen? Here we offer a brief collection of suggestions for addressing studio habits that can hinder the creative process, from trying new or “found” sounds/instrumentation, to working with loops and more.

Posted in The Weekly on January 8, 2018 by

Play something different. It can be difficult to find new songwriting avenues when your recording foundation always features the same ingredients—acoustic guitar, another acoustic guitar, obligatory bass and percussion on top. Hence the importance of working with “non-native” instruments from time to time—if you’re a folkie, for instance, experimenting with something radical like a synth or sequencer can help you break out of the six-string habit (or if you only work “in the box,” the opposite holds true). Even something as simple as using a bass as the focal point (as opposed to guitar or keyboard) can work wonders, since it puts the emphasis on the melody rather than the chord progression.

Learning to love loops. While it’s no secret that looped rhythms and riffs can result in some tasty song hooks (as a few decades worth of hip-hop hits have proven), luddite tunesmiths in particular often keep this methodology at arm’s length. Here again is where it pays to step out of your safety zone: using a garden-variety editing tool, you can quickly craft any number of instrumental or rhythm loops, be it a repeating synth lick, or even an extract from an actual drum track you already have on file (rappers Wu Tang Clan famously stockpiled sections of real drums recorded to tape as the basis for their own loop library). Hint: when using a rhythm loop as a click track for real drums, try keeping both parts in the final mix for an extra thick percussion sound.

Revisit your snippets. For every tune I’ve actually finished over the years, there were at least a dozen starter fragments that wound up being relegated to a folder on my desktop. While most probably deserved to be abandoned, with fresh ears sometimes a few of these song snippets suddenly sounded good enough to re-visit—not necessarily as the basis for a complete song, but rather for use as a potential bridge, pre-chorus or even intro for an existing track-in-progress. Again, your friend the editing tool can assist you in this effort, allowing you to adjust pitch, speed and duration of your snippets (even if it’s just to hear how it sounds in the designated spot).

Let’s get to the point. Working with unfamiliar instruments or sounds is important, but so is rethinking the way you assemble your material. As the late great Tom Petty once opined, “Don’t bore us—just get to the chorus.” To wit: rather than waiting a full minute for the lead vocal to come in, using your digital scissors you can move the track closer to the front of the song. Per TP’s advice, try doing the same thing with your chorus— particularly if you’ve got a really good one.

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