One of the many challenges we songwriters face is that we’re tasked not only with creating something from nothing but also our “somethings” need to be unique not only compared to what others have written but also compared to what we’ve written before. This is no small thing and the moment you think you’ve “figured it out” as a songwriter is exactly when you need to leave your creative safe place and shake things up again. To help you along the way, I’ve listed a few whys and hows to get you out of your songwriting comfort zone.
1. You’ll keep yourself – and the people who listen to your songs – from getting bored
Songwriting is difficult enough but heaven help you if your motivation to write starts to fade. By challenging yourself with new songwriting approaches, you’ll stay engaged in the process. And, better yet, your core group of listeners and industry contacts will also stay interested in what you’re doing. It’s just as dangerous to have those folks lose interest due to the sameness of your songs as it is for you to lose your motivation.
2. You’ll demonstrate your versatility to music industry decision makers
By showing you’re not afraid to experiment and explore new musical territory, you’ll show those in the industry – whether publishers, record label execs or music supervisors – that they can consider you and your music for a wide variety of projects. This can be essential when one area dries up and the industry is looking for something new.
3. You’ll broaden your opportunities for collaboration
Quite simply, the more styles and approaches that you’re comfortable writing in, the more collaborations you’ll be suited for. The flexibility that you’ll develop by not writing the same style of song in the same way will help you step into a variety of co-writing situations. This concept of new and different collaborators, is also a fundamental part of the “how” to leave your songwriting comfort zone that I’m going to address next.
1. However you normally begin a song, start with the opposite approach
Sometimes leaving your songwriting comfort zone is as simple as starting with the lyric if you usually start with a melody or vice versa. The key here is to activate a different part of your creative process in order to come up with a new sound or lyrical angle. Another device which works beautifully is to put down your instrument. Work on the melody and lyric without your trusty guitar or piano and you’ll be amazed at the new places your songwriting will go.
2. Vary your rhyming approach
A typical songwriting mistake is to use rhymes that are so predictable that the listener knows exactly how the line will end before you get there. Look for unpredictable rhymes which not only tell a more unique story but surprise the listener when they arrive. You can also deviate from your normal rhyming patterns and make use of internal rhymes to add an interesting touch both lyrically and vocally. Little variations like these can open up brand new areas in your writing with very little effort.
3. Write with new collaborators
As I discussed earlier, varied collaborations are an excellent way of keeping your songwriting fresh. Even if your idea is unique, going to the same collaborator over and over will most likely result in a similar sounding song now matter how new the idea. As much as possible, resist the temptation to fall back on the familiar. There’s also the fabulously motivating element of fear. It’s always a little nerve wracking to go to a new co-write but it’s that same nervous energy that creates great art!
It’s almost unfair – after you’ve spent all that time learning your craft and honing your songwriting approach to a fine point – to tell you to change it all up again. However, hopefully the benefits mentioned above which come from stepping outside of your comfort zone will far outweigh the extra work and mental gymnastics required. As I’m fond of reminding myself (when I’m resisting what I know will be good for me), fortune favors the bold.