Writer's Block? More Like, 'Writers Rock!'

It's been a while since you've written anything, huh? No judgement here! I know the feeling and have some ideas that may help. I've updated my running list of songwriting prompts gathered over the past year (gasp - I can't believe it's been over a year already!) from my songwriter group. Hope these help!

  1. Using a different melody, write an additional verse to one of your favorite songs...and then finish your song with new verses/chorus.
  2. Write a song with an unusual form (for example, start with the chorus! or if that's not out-of-the-box enough, go even crazier - I challenge you!).
  3. I love this idea but feel free to take elements of it and make it your own since it's a bit more involved. I call it 'Picture Plot': Using a series of photos (which you can collect from any source you like - internet, garage sale, walking around, your camera/phone, Instagram, etc. etc.), arrange them into a 'story' and use that as the basis of your song plot. Happy photo-ing :)
  4. Write a song as if you were a specific artist of band. For example, pretend you are Metallica and write a song that sounds like they wrote it. Get it? Awesome. PS. You don't have to choose Metallica.
  5. Write a song using, or inspired by, 'found sounds.' What does that mean, you ask? Feel free to interpret in whatever way is useful, but here are some examples: Record different sounds throughout your day and then compose a song using your audio software of choice with clips from said recorded songs. You could also record and/or jot down notes based on sounds heard throughout the day and use them as your song inspiration (i.e. you heard two people discussing a family argument and use that as the subject matter, meanwhile, a sound clip heard at a nearby coffee shop forms the basis of your melody, etc. etc.).
  6. Write a song inspired by a proverb. What exactly is a proverb, you ask? Well, it's a short pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice. For example, 'the pen is mightier than the sword' or 'when in Rome, do as the Romans.'
  7. Write a song about outer space. Awesome.
  8. Use a different instrument OR use a non-instrument (i.e. physical object or computer-based) OR use an alternate tuning (for stringed instruments).
  9. Pick up any book or magazine, open it up to a random page and chose the first sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your song.
  10. Choose a song or album at random (shuffle on iTunes or grab an actual CD/record, etc.) and write a song inspired by that style/genre.
  11. Write a song without using any pronouns.
  12. Choose a phone number out of your phone and write a song using the chords from the number. Pick any key. If you want to limit the number of chords in your progression, choose a number with a few zeros. You can decide to keep the chords in the same order or mix it up. For example: 508-243-5454 in the key of C, would be: Gmaj - (skip the 0) - Cmaj - Dmin - Fmaj - Emin - Gmaj -Fmaj - Gmaj - Fmaj
  13. Finish an unfinished song!
  14. Try an online random prompt generator. Some examples include: Creativity Portal and Learn How To Write Songs
  15. Write a song in which the chorus is one verb repeated as many time as you like.
  16. Take an existing song and 'turn it on its head.' It's up to you how you want to interpret that - you can remix it, rewrite the lyrics, rearrange the music, change the style, you name it! But don't be afraid to take it in another direction completely and ultimately create a brand new song out of the exercise.
  17. Write a song in a style (or genre) that is different from what you normally do. For example, if you typically write pop songs, try a ballad or narrative - or go classic rock!

Back in the Game…Again

I'm not a huge proponent of New Year's resolutions, but given that have quite a few music-related goals I've actively pursuing, I suppose 2014 is an auspicious year. For starters, the album is coming together: I can now literally hear what I envisioned early on in my head in the latest demos. As we flesh out all the parts, the attitude and vibe is right where I want it to be; I think the end result will be entirely worth all the time (and seriously delayed schedule!).

After two years (gasp - that's a little embarrassing to admit) - I'm finally performing again. Taking the new songs out for public consumption, shaking off the cobwebs (so to speak) and starting to connect with the moment of a live performance is a great thing. It definitely was a bumpy start ;P - but it's coming along.

And writing! I'm writing again - on both piano and guitar - in a consistent, prolific way and I'm loving it.

So in a nutshell: more live music (performing AND consuming), more songwriting, and finish the freakin' album already! Sounds like a good year to me.

10 Ways

Lately, I'm experiencing an internal struggle: to 'singer/songwriter' or not to 'singer/songwriter'. It's difficult to break away from the paradigm you know, and it's frustrating to feel unable to tap into the authentic performer I really am. I've always emulated performers I admire in an attempt to connect with my own 'musical personality' but I think this album is proving to me that I'm not quite there yet.

I received some advice yesterday that was particularly helpful because it gave me a tangible way to tackle this problem: play each song 10 different ways. It doesn't matter if the performance is 'good' as long as it's different from the last attempt. At first, I felt stuck in my usual rut, but I think the challenge of needing to come up with 10 different approaches allowed me to experiment more.  

  1.  The usual way. I played the song as I usually would....(it took me some time to get the ball rolling).
  2. Way too much tremolo! Played with the Princeton and upped the intensity quite a bit. The tone was too wonky for the song, but it was good to play around with the amp's controls.
  3. Working the overdrive. Automatically gave me some grit (which I need) 
  4. Pick + heels. Yes, as in high heels. PJ Harvey always wears heels, so why not? Plus, I love shoes. But most importantly, the pick gave me the intentionality I was missing in earlier performances. It really helped me dig in and I definitely felt a difference in my attitude.
  5. Delay-delay-delay (plus pick). I love my carbon copy analog delay. It makes everything more fun. I continued to dig in with the pick. 
  6. Pick technique (sort of). Instead of just strumming like an indie musician wannabe, I approached the song with some of my limited pick techniques so as to not play like a sloppy mess.
  7. Acoustic with pick. Sat down and tried my hand at the acoustic, but still keeping in mind the attitude I was tapping into from earlier performances.
  8. Sing it like you mean it. Still emulating, but I thought: 'how would PJ sing the song?' and that's what I did.
  9. Re-phrasing. It's a take away from attempt number 8, but I had some ideas how to rephrase the vocal, which allowed me to 'dig in' from a vocal performance stand point.
  10. No capo. I tend to capo when I'm trying to find the key that really fits my vocal range the best. Since I'm enjoying singing deeper and stronger (from the chest), I removed the capo and dropped the song a full step. Might just keep it that way... 

End result? I've got the inkling of a new attitude. I think I need more practice and commitment to myself (this kind of shift doesn't happen overnight) but it's a good first step.

I recommend trying out the approach if you face a similar conundrum. Your 10 steps can be whatever you want - just make every performance different.


If I Had the Roadmap, I'd Already Be There

I have lamented the challenges of having a dream and no direction as to how achieve said dream so many times. I used to wish I wanted to be a doctor: this is a profession with obvious milestones; a clear direction. It's not an easy path - hardly so! - but if you work hard, it IS an achievable path. I've wanted such a roadmap for a music career most of my life. But alas, if it were really that easy, we'd all be working musicians, wouldn't we?

I'm purposely glib, but the sentiment is true: if it's easy to do, then there's nothing stopping us. But it's not easy; so now what? How do you get from A to Z when you don't even know how to get from A to B? Some of the best advice I've ever heard is to stop trolling the internet for how-tos, stop whining about how hard it is to be in said position and to just start doing....something. When I apply it to my current conundrum, I get easily frustrated: I wish this album was happening a lot faster than it is. But at least it's happening. So there's a B....sort of.

What would you do to make headway on a seemingly undefined path? Do you just start running? And if so, what does that mean to you and your creative pursuits? I've been told you need to be prepared to fail and to 'fail with style'.... and since failing is an action, it's definitely better than sitting on the couch mentally paralyzed by unknowns. Given this advice, my goal is to keep chipping away at tangible achievements: write, write, write; arrange, arrange, arrange; record, record, record. But the progress is still slow going and can be disheartening. Any recommendations for keeping positive?

I love Julia Cameron's Morning Pages idea. It really takes to heart the notion of 'just doing something!.' I'm thinking of modifying the idea a bit so that it applies to songwriting, but to start, I'll just write whatever comes to mind,

Here's to getting things done!