Advice Clinic

How To Break Out Of A Songwriting Rut

16th March 2017

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It’s a dark moment for any musician. You pick up your instrument. You offer a silent prayer to the songwriting gods. And then – nothing. No hooks. No grooves. No earworms. Just a stream of clichés dribbling uselessly off your fingers. A creative rut is a scary place to be, making you question your talent, grind your teeth and smash your home studio with a hammer. Here are five tips to jolt you back out.

#1. Listen to different genres

If your iPhone is rammed with black-metal and you sneer at any band without an umlaut, that’s probably why everything you write sounds like a watered-down Motӧrhead. Fire up Spotify, try a different genre, discover a new player, fuse the influence into your own palette – and maybe you’ll end up being hailed as the originator of the thrash-polka-calypso movement.

#2. Quit your comfort zone

Once, your instrument was a blank canvass. Now, your hands fall into the same old habits. Fight against this creative autopilot. If you’re a guitarist, try an exotic tuning or mode. If you’re a piano player, learn a new chord. Play along to backing tracks in an unfamiliar time signature and see what comes out. Slap yourself in the face every time you play an A major.

#3. Hang out with other musicians

If you always go drinking with the same gaggle of tatted rockers, your musical outlook will stagnate and your songs will suffer. Share a bourbon with a bluesman, or call a jam session with a string quartet, and you’ll get a wider worldview and a headful of bright ideas. And of course, there’s no better place to meet musicians than BIMM…

#4. Take a breather

If a song is dragging you to the brink of gibbering insanity, step back from it and get into a different headspace. Life feeds into art, so put yourself in situations that spark an emotional response, keep your antennae up and grab your instrument the moment you get home. On the flipside, when songwriting is flowing, ride the wave and don’t stop for anything except fire, marauding zombies or toilet breaks.

#5. Be ready

Songwriting ideas have an infuriating habit of popping up at the most inconvenient moments. Make sure you’re always ready to catch them, whether that’s with a dictaphone, recording app or just a good old-fashioned notebook. And with a bit of luck, your songwriting rut will soon turn into a creative hot-streak…

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Author

Henry Yates is a freelance journalist who has written for music magazines including Classic Rock, Total Guitar, Guitarist, NME and Metal Hammer, and brands including V Festival, Download, Epiphone, Yamaha, Roland and Universal. His proudest career moment was meeting Jimmy Page - and his toughest assignment was interviewing Pharrell Williams."