The ‘Change One Thing’ Songwriting Technique
While you might have a technique that just ‘works’ for you when it comes to songwriting, using the same process over and over again can eventually cause your music to get stale. If you notice this happening, the ‘change one thing’ technique could be just the thing for bringing back that creative spark.
Guest post by Dan Reifsnyder of Soundfly’s Flypaper
When you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, that’s considered crazy. But sometimes, doing the same thing over and over again to get the same results on purpose, is just as dangerous. And that’s what happens all too often in pursuit of what “works.”
In other words, things get stale — no matter how great they are at first. And creative people are not machines. Sometimes a little spark of variety is just what we need to shake things up in our songwriting process. So, to that end, here are a few great ideas for doing just that.
But first, if you’re looking to improve your songwriting skills holistically, you can do that in a number of ways with Soundfly! Explore our range of online music courses on emotional chord progressions, basic songwriting technique, songwriting for producers, plus many more. Subscribe for unlimited access to all of them here. Now, to the advice.
1. Change Your Space
These days especially, most of my writing is done online; which means I’m in my studio, every single day. It can be very uninspiring.
This might sound like it has nothing to do with songwriting, but what if you changed things up and added new artwork to your walls? Or changed your furniture? Or adjusted your view so you’re looking out a window instead of staring at four walls?
Or you could change rooms altogether, maybe even opting to start writing outdoors. A pro songwriter friend of mine writes on their porch while sitting in their hammock. It’s lovely, and has given them a new jolt of creativity. Changing your physical space is the first recommended method to improve your mental space and streamline your creative process.
2. Change Your Instrument
When you play the same instrument for several years, you tend to fall into the same chord patterns due to muscle memory and the safety of the familiar. They’re easy, they sound great, why would you change? Well, if you do start to change your tools, the outcome will yield refreshing results.
Whether you’re picking up an accordion, a ukulele, or tapping some notes away on a xylophone, you don’t even really need to know how to play it to glean some decent starter song ideas. In fact, it might be better if you don’t.
Finding your way around a new instrument can produce intriguing results just by forcing you out of that “four-chord comfort zone.” It can also flavor your music with a new sound, which can inspire you in other ways. Maybe that song you thought was indie pop has more of a global influence!
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3. Change Your Co-Writers (or Start Co-Writing)!
If you’re the collaborative type, you’ve probably fallen into a crowd of great friends you co-write with regularly. This is a great thing, and you need to keep nurturing those relationships. But adding other people to your circle can help add a fresh pair of eyes (and ears) to your writing sessions — especially if they have different musical influences than you do.
Why not seek out someone who’s just outside of your comfort zone, at least musically speaking? Write with someone who does metal, or music theatre, or hey, parody songs! It can get your creative motor going in new and hopefully very interesting ways.
4. Change What You’re Listening to
What you put in is often what you get out, to some degree. For example, if you listen to ’80s hair metal, your stuff is going to have at least some of that influence, whether in the melodies, the phrasing, the lyrics, or sure, the wailing guitar solos.
If you’re seriously trying to win yourself a hit, you’re probably seriously studying the latest songs. And that’s great! You’re probably doing your best to pick them apart and emulate them too (we do that a lot). But listening to the same stuff over and over again can let your creativity get a little stale.
So if you’re feeling things get a bit stale, try to cleanse your artistic palate with something totally different. A friend of mine goes way out there to find and listen to Indian pop music! Of course, you can listen to chamber music, or Gregorian chants, Korean hip-hop, etc. Go as wild as you want! You will likely find some stuff you can carry over to freshen your music up.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “Student Spotlight: Kiri Sparks on Overcoming Self-Doubt with Aplomb”
5. Write to a Track
One final way to instantly jolt your writing out of a stupor is simply to write to a track. This is something regularly done in the pop music world, but is growing in popularity even in other genres. Recently, Nas X implemented this tactic to come up with his smash hit, “Old Town Road.”
Writing to a track (or even just a beat) has obvious advantages: It forces you out of any chord ruts you might be in, injects energy into the writing session, and even gives you an almost-finished demo at the end.
So how and where do you find these mythical tracks? My recommendation is to find someone that makes beats and loops for a living, and ask to borrow anything they’ve got sitting around. If you end up using something, or liking it enough to develop, you can pay them and get working, otherwise it can be step one to slowly developing a collaborative relationship.
Or, you can always learn to build tracks, beats, and loops yourself. And Soundfly can totally help! We’ve got online courses on Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, hip-hop beat making, vocal track production, and so much more. Check out all of our online courses here.
Although you can feel free to change more than one thing at a time, I recommend starting off slowly with one. This way, you’ll be able to get a better idea of what’s working (or what’s not). And if something doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to drop it; if it works, put it into your writing routine!
Don’t be afraid to step as far out of the box as you want — these ideas are just a start. Good luck, and enjoy your newfound spark of creativity!
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of 3. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on “The Magic School Bus” theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music related blogs, including his own, Songsmithing.net.