One of the hardest things as a composer is staring at an empty project in your DAW. Sometimes you may feel a total absence of inspiration, like you aren’t capable of writing anything whatsoever. Maybe you try to force yourself into writing something, but disliking the result so much you just delete everything and start over with a blank project again. Ever been there? Then you have experienced the infamous writer’s block.
Inspiration comes and goes, but sometimes as a freelancer, you cannot wait for inspiration to strike – you need to deliver. In this article I will give you a few tips on how to beat the writer’s block, and how to be able to come up with ideas out of thin air – even when you feel uninspired.
«Living’ On A Prayer» and «Dead Or Alive» are both songs that were written based on a title, Bon Jovi admitted. If you have a strong and interesting title, the rest of the song may pretty much come by itself. That said, coming up with the phrase of the century might not be the easiest task. However, you can try to find inspiration in movies, games, books and so on. Maybe you find a name, word or phrase that evokes a picture in your mind, and maybe even start evoking some musical ideas. Maybe the phrase “Rise of the Guardians”, “Fall of Rome”, “Honor of the Waves” or “Mountains of the Moon” makes some cinematic images take shape in your head.
As soon as images starts to form in your mind, it’s suddenly much easier to start to imagine music that would go with it. I’ve been doing this a lot of times. The phrases I start with might or might not be the final song titles, as the piece tends to unfold and change while I am composing, and might therefore end up a whole other place than when I first started. However, the phrase I start out with always kick starts the creative process and gives me a spark, as well as a direction to follow in the beginning when trying to create a track.
I am a multi-instrumentalist, but most of my music is written on the piano. It’s such a versatile and rich instrument that it’s by far my favorite tool for composing. That said, in the long run, it’s easy to find yourself falling into a pattern, using the same kind of chord progressions, the same kind of playing, or the same keys over and over. However, when I try to write music using, say, the guitar or violin – completely different melodies, chord progressions and emotions are automatically expressed.
Using a new instrument usually makes me play in different ways, feeling inspired, and coming up with fresh and different material. It is something I definitely can recommend, as just switching the instrument I’m writing on quickly eliminates any creative blocks I might be facing. If you are a guitarist, put down your guitar and sit by the piano. If you are a pianist, try to just sing your melodies or use a guitar. Try to turn to a secondary instrument sometimes, and you will often find yourself writing in a whole different way.
It might be hard to just come up with a great melody out of thin air. Therefore, starting with a strong and common chord progression can be a good start. A great progression might get you inspired enough to come up with some great melodies to go with right away. I have written some of my most successful pieces this way, just jamming over some chord progressions and seeing where that takes me. You can either sit down by your instrument and find a chord progression that you like, or you can do a quick search for «power progressions» online. Power progressions are chord progressions that have been used to write hits for decades. Find a progression that moves you. Play around with it and your next composition might be right around the corner.
Composing and songwriting is an art that requires practice. To get better at writing songs, you have to write more songs. So, get used to sitting down and just WRITE. I sometimes just sit down by the piano or guitar, and compose something quickly in 2 minutes. It may be a short motif, a melody, or just a chord progression. I don’t really pay too much attention to every detail of what I am doing, but I use it as a practice to be able to compose out of thin air in a limited timespan. Some of it is completely horrible, but a lot of it is pretty good, and makes the foundation of quite a lot of my compositions.
I always record my quick sessions on my phone recorder. Then I can visit the ideas later and make a composition out of it. I think over 80% of my most popular themes were written this way, by just playing the first theme that comes to mind, and later working on the details. No matter how you choose to exercise, be sure to just write a lot of music. Get comfortable playing and writing music, and accept that not all of it will be perfect. That is by far one of the best ways to improve as a composer.
As mentioned above, I always record my ideas. Every day I sit down by the piano and improvise, recording 2 or 3 different ideas that comes to mind. Even if it is just a small snippet, it might come in handy later. If you feel that you cannot come up with a good idea for a new track, try to revisit your older drafts. If you have recorded your ideas like I do, go back and see if something there inspires you. I have several times been browsing through my records months back in time, and found some really nice stuff that I had completely forgotten about, or that I was able to turn into something good. Be sure to go back in time now and then and check out what you have done, and you might find something useful that triggers that well-needed inspiration.
If nothing works, and you still feel frustrated and want to throw your keyboard out the window and give up, there is sometimes only one thing to do: Just take a break. Get away from your working desk and go for a walk. Go see a movie, travel a bit, or just do something else you enjoy. Take a break until you feel inspired and motivated again. Composing music should be fun and fulfilling, not something that makes you feel frustrated and bad. If a lack of motivation strikes, just take a break and do something you enjoy. I promise you that the motivation to compose suddenly will come back stronger than ever before, and you will be able to compose some great tunes. I was at a point once where I didn’t bother writing music at all. Then, I took a break, traveled Asia for 2 months, and when I got back I was more inspired and pumped to write music than ever before.
I hope some of these tips might help you if you ever face the writer’s block. Try them out and see if it helps – they really work for me and many others.
Composer, producer, entrepreneur and digital nomad from Norway, and the co-founder of Evenant. Has a strong passion for traveling, exploring new cultures, learning new skills and creating new things.