If there’s one thing I’ve learned about from being a songwriter it’s this:
Inspiration can be found almost anywhere.
But sometimes though, we as writers tend to get complacent or hit road blocks. Situations where we just can’t seem to find anything to write about or get tired of using the same, dull songwriting formula we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s times like these when the search for inspiration can become almost fruitless.
So what are some of the things you can do to break out of your “comfort zone” and find that inspiration? I’m glad you asked. Using my love of 80’s music (and metal, of course) along with several of my past interviews, I’ve compiled a list of four things to help inspire that creative spark.
So the next time you’re about to hit the wall with songwriting, pick up your guitar (or whatever other instrument you have lying around) and give one of these a try:
1. Watch a movie, read a book or attend a sporting event for inspiration.
Stuck in a rut? Try one of the above mentioned suggestions for instant inspiration. Visual stimulation can sometimes work wonders for a songwriter. You never know when a scene in a movie, a passage from a book or a touchdown toss might awaken something inside you.
Back in 1982, songwriters Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik of the band Survivor were given a rough cut of a movie to watch as inspiration for a song. After watching a few minutes of the raw footage, the duo became inspired to write a song that would not only would go to #1, but would also earn them a Grammy award in the process. The movie was Rocky III and the song? “Eye of The Tiger.”
Frankie Sullivan: “You know, that song was the easiest of them all. I think Jim [Peterik] and I wrote the music for it in about half an hour and it took us three days to write the lyrics, only because we couldn’t come up with the punch line. But we kind of had the whole thing down in half an hour.”
2. Give yourself a deadline.
There are times when a deadline can actually be your own best friend. Try giving yourself a time frame to write a song from start to finish and see what happens. You’d be surprised what you might come up with when the pressure is on. Take John Parr’s #1 hit from 1985: St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion):
John Parr: “David Foster and I were working on songs for the soundtrack and were given a day to write it and a day to record it. David wasn’t feeling in the mood to write at the time, but I persuaded him and over the course of an hour we wrote three songs; one of them being “St. Elmo’s Fire.”
3. It’s OK to be cliché’.
A lot of music publishers will tell you that when it comes to songwriting, never, EVER write cliché’ lyrics (unless of course you’re Taylor Swift, Katy Perry or any new Bon Jovi song).
But despite the need to avoid the simple and mundane, there’s something to be said for just playing your guitar and writing down whatever comes to mind while you’re in the moment. The worst that could happen is that what you write never goes anywhere beyond the written page. But sometimes, it can lead to things you never would have expected. As was the case with Mike Tramp of White Lion when he co-wrote the band’s hugely popular song, “Wait”.
Mike Tramp: “There’s almost no origin to that song. The story goes, Vito [Bratta, guitarist] started playing the riff and the very first word out of my mouth once I heard it was “Wait.” It’s one of the simplest lyrics I’ve ever written, but it’s also the perfect American FM song.
4. Let Life Happen.
Sometimes we just need to put down our guitars for a little bit and let life happen. Conversation and recreational activities can play an important role in subconsciously finding inspiration. Good things can happen when you least expect it.
When Lita Ford was finishing up her hugely successful album “Lita” in 1987, she had also just finished moving into a new home. One night, she received a visit from Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne who brought her a house-warming present. After opening a bottle of wine and playing a few games of billiards, Lita and Ozzy went into a side room where a guitar and amp had been set up.
Lita Ford: “We just started playing and singing and wound up writing “Close My Eyes Forever”. The song was kind of an accident really.”
You’ll notice that in each of the song examples I’ve mentioned, there was more than one songwriter involved in the process. If you don’t already have a writing partner, consider getting one. Two heads are always better than one as Lennon/McCartney or Elton John/Bernie Taupin would tell you.
Remember, inspiration is everywhere. So give yourself deadlines, be cliché’, experience new things and compose riffs and lyrics you know no one else will ever hear. Life is the open road. So get on it and see where it goes.