14 Tips to Cure Songwriter’s Block
It’s not that you’ve lost it. But you are experiencing a lapse in clarity. A brain once teeming with creative abundance, now swollen and grasping for its eureka moment. At this stage, we tend to second-guess ourselves, calling into question what’s already working and, as a result, doubting our own abilities. When the next move isn’t jumping out at you, try any combination of these tricks to get back in the pocket.
1. Create an Intention
As with any creative endeavor, the question we must ask ourselves is “What do I want [this project] to achieve?” If you’re feeling lost at any point in the songwriting process, recall that specific emotion or intention upon which it was conceived. Every decision you make should serve to fulfill that intention or evoke that emotion. Through this lens, you’ll be able to identify any arbitrary elements that could be getting between you and your masterpiece.
2. Ditch the Format
Popular song formats (i.e. ABABCB) make a great template, but if your tune isn’t fitting neatly into those parameters, take a step back. Maybe the bridge wants to come before the second chorus. Maybe there is no bridge, but rather an extended outro based on the prechorus. The possibilities are endless, so why not push the limits? The only risk is that your work might stand out from the rest.
3. Find the Perfect Moment
When you can’t figure out what to sing, try considering when to sing. Run the instrumental. Each time, introduce vocals at a different part of the meter. A good place to start is right on the 1-count. How does it feel to come in on the upbeat? A lot of popular songs have vocals that drop on 4, before the first downbeat. Try them all. If your intention is clear, there will be an obvious choice, and that small piece of the puzzle might be all you need to enter a state of flow. Identifying the ideal entry point can also help shape a phrase’s melody and cadence.
4. Rhythmic Phrasing
At creative roadblocks, it’s natural to cycle through chords, melodies, and lyrics that make sense. But a lot of the time, songwriting solutions are more mathematical. Take a second to analyze your song’s vocals. Are the phrases short and choppy? Does one phrase stretch across multiple bars? Through simple shifts and subdivisions, one can explore a whole new world of fresh rhythmic departures.
5. Zero Tolerance Policy
In digital production, the space bar can be a helpful tool. Listen to your track from the beginning, and as soon as you begin to lose interest, slap that bad baby. This exact moment is an opportunity to keep the energy alive. Anything from a layer of vocal harmonies to the introduction of a new instrument. From a dropped half measure to a tasty drum fill. This impulsive and borderline-psychotic attention to detail will sharpen your creative instincts and challenge you to think outside the box.
6. Don’t Fear Space
A common issue among songwriters is the compulsion to blanket empty space with words. Verbosity can be a stylistic choice (sup Jason Mraz), but more often than not, you’re overwhelming your audience and exposing the tender belly of amateurism. Rather than over-explain, stick to what’s meaningful and concise, and only entertain the ideas that serve the song’s core intention.
7. Experiment with Vocal Hook
A vocal hook is to be cherished. Squeeze the fruit and revel in its sweet, melodic nectars. Tune it up an octave and add some filters for a little ear candy. Sustain a vocal theme in the verse by replicating it with an electric guitar or synth. Slice off a couple words and repeat them as a post-chorus. No one ever hurt their track by making it easier for people to sing along.
Our next guest needs no introduction. Few things are more exciting than the prospect of jumping up a step for that final chorus. While the key change is a bold and oft-exploited trick, it can also take your song to the next level. Get it?
Pro tip: a mid-verse key modulation can provide an unexpected dynamic boost.
9. Explore Harmonic Lines
Great songwriting is full of happy accidents. Vocal harmonies are modeled to complement your lead, so isn’t it possible that they could make great leads on their own? When searching for that perfect second verse or bridge melody, audition harmonic lines from a previous section as your lead. Caution: Results may be tremendous.
10. Experiment with Plug-ins
Something is missing, but that’s all the information you have. When searching for that perfect sound, or simply fishing for inspiration, use every tool at your disposal. Arcade by Output is teeming with exclusive, game-changing content that can cater to any musical vibe. Not to mention, manipulating your audio tracks with the Arcade engine might add the perfect modern flavor to your mix.
11. Strip it Down
Some songs are all about the groove. Three chords, driving percussion, hooks on hooks. When the chords or vocal melody feel too good to change coming out of that second chorus, don’t forget to remember dynamics. If Nickelback did one thing right, it was perfecting the acoustic guitar breakdown.
12. Jam it Out
It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole, listening to the same loop or humming the same half-baked melody for hours straight. Pick up a guitar and see how it feels live. If you’re already doing it right*, throw on a voice memo app and sing something completely off the wall. Let your instincts lead the way. At the very least, you’ll brighten the songwriting environment.
*A well-written song doesn’t suck when performed on acoustic instruments.
13. Listen to Music
I’m not a neuroscientist [yet] but I’m willing to bet that a brain, hyper-focused on a specific task for a long period of time, displays a relatively localized pattern of activity – if we were to be looking at one of those colorful charts. Take a break, throw on somebody else’s music and get that brain party lit. Might I suggest Pitbull?
14. Clear Your Mind
Sure, you’re sick of hearing it. But have you really tried? Find a quiet place; focus on your breathing, and let thoughts flow without passing judgment. The third eye is a portal to the imagination, where creativity is brewed and bottled. If that’s not your jam, mindless tasks like walking or driving can occupy the body, allowing your subconscious mind to bubble to the surface, with creative solutions in tow.
Conclusion: Keep Writing
The common denominator among great songwriters is consistency. Go to the studio daily with the intention of making great music. Not every song is going to be a hit, but if you dedicate time to a craft, you will absolutely witness improvement. A great song speaks to the heart of the listener, so listen to your own and don’t be afraid to make bold choices. Happy writing!
About The Author
Mike Cionni is a freelance writer and music producer in Los Angeles, where he also practices telepathy. You may have seen him reading at a cafe or playing with his band Yony.