As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 11 – Spring 2020 – SoCal Inspired

By Nikki O’Neill

As songwriters, we can often run out of things to say because we’ve been going about life the same way. We do the same things every weeknight and weekend; eat the same things; watch the same things on TV (or online), and then it’s no wonder that we get tired of our own thoughts. That’s when it can help to reinvent ourselves a little bit.

Try it for just one day and see what happens. You could go on a road trip, or do this experiment at home. You could even get into a character, which could spur ideas for songs and lyrics. But don’t pressure yourself with expectations. Just allow yourself to try stuff out and play a little.

  1. Imagine if you could live a totally different life for one day. Eat different foods. Listen to different music. Read different newspapers or magazines. Wear a totally different style of clothes (you don’t even need to buy them; just go into a store and try them on in the fitting room). What if you were an artist in the same circles as the impressionists in Paris? Or the singer-songwriters of the Laurel Canyon scene in the ’70s?
  2. Grab some newspapers or magazines and write down any headlines that you find interesting (you can look at the ads too). Or walk through your local library or bookstore and see if you can find one or two great titles. Could they be good song titles?
  3. See live music. When you’re stuck in your own mental bubble, it’s healthy to connect with other creative people.
  4. Reconnect with the music you loved in your teens. Have total disregard for what your friends, hipsters, critics, or other self-appointed “intelligentsia” might think of it.
  5. Listen to musical genres that are very different from your genre. If you tend to like music that’s very lyric-driven with basic chords, explore songwriters that are harmonically more adventurous. Or if you listen to harmonically sophisticated artists, check out the masters of rhythm and groove-based music.
  6. Explore different art forms and other forms of creativity. When I have a “drought phase” in music, I like to cook, go into stores for vintage clothes, or explore cultures from around the world.
  7. If you usually start writing songs by playing around with chord changes on a guitar, try doing it with a beat or a bass line instead. What songs can you think of where the main hook is done on the bass or drums? Listen to those songs and borrow some inspiration.

I based the title track from my next album around a drum groove from a Beat Buddy pedal and played a guitar riff against it. When I showed the idea to my drummer, he was a bit apprehensive at first because the guitar and the drum part were layered in a somewhat unusual combination of rhythms, but it resulted in a very fresh song. Had he only heard my bluesy guitar riff and added a beat that’s true to the genre, the song would’ve sounded a lot more conventional and generic.

8. It’s great to learn about the basic craft of songwriting (like song keys and chord substitutions) to avoid getting stuck on minor issues.

Try something new and explore how it’ll affect you and your ideas.

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