Creativity is a topic that I love writing and holding discussions about. A friend of mine shared an article on Facebook recently, which focused on how some songwriter demos, received by the article’s author, lacked creativity and it got me thinking. Of course, I couldn’t help but jot down my own thoughts, which turned into this article.
Songwriters get motivation for their lyrics from various sources, including personal experiences, fantasies, current events, and even other people’s drama. Regardless of what drives your writing, your level of creativity is what will bring the story to life to create the impact you are looking for when you’re ready to send out songwriter demos or turn them into full songs.
With that said, how can you use your creative center to help make your own song sound more potent? Well, it depends on whether you’re writing for yourself or an audience.
Here are a few things to consider the next time you sit down to create a song:
Be Aware of the Listener
Sure, it is recommended that you write what comes to mind when the urge comes upon you to create a song. The words should be put down just as quickly as the words come rolling along in your head. However, if you have any intention of publishing your work, you need to write in such a way that your lyrics interact with your intended audience. Make it too personal and you run the risk of alienating listeners. They won’t feel the song because they can’t connect with what you’re saying. According to songwriter, Chuck D, “Perspective is always important for songwriters, too. You have to have the perspective of who you are talking to and have a perspective of who is talking to you and you’ve got to stitch it together.”
Fully Express Emotions
Everyone feels emotions and, often, they are sparks for creativity in songwriting. It may be a heart-rending situation that invokes resentment or a joyous occasion that brings about a feeling of happiness. Whatever the case, fully explore that emotion when you’re inspired to write about the feelings brought on by an event, person, or situation. In response to a fan’s question on her website years ago about her songwriting process, Alicia Keys said, “The most important thing for me when I write is that I properly express that emotion that struck me so deeply.”
Focus on the Characters
As mentioned earlier, making your own songs too personal can turn off the listener. You can avoid this by focusing on ‘blowing up’ the characters in your songs, whether they are real people or not. Just like writing a good story, spending time to develop characters will make them more believable. Talk about the way they smell, how they behave, their mannerisms, anything that the listener can relate to.
Include an Instrument
If you’re the type of songwriter that likes to come up with a melody before writing a song, an instrument such as a guitar or piano may be of help to you. In one of his interviews, singer-songwriter, Iron and Wine, notes that he “generally get[s] the melody first — I kinda fiddle around on the guitar and work out a melody. The lyrics are there to flesh out the tone of the music.”
Is the Environment Conducive to Creativity?
Whether it’s your bedroom, under a tree, or on your grandmother’s porch, the environment in which you write can influence your creativity, as well as the sound of your songwriter demo when you move on to recording. In a 1991 interview with Paul Zollo, Bob Dylan said, “For me, the environment to write the song is extremely important. The environment has to bring something out in me that wants to be brought out.”
If possible, get feedback on your lyrics from people who are trained in the field of music. This can come from other musicians you work with or from someone with clout in the business who can give you time of day. However, before doing so, take the necessary steps to ensure you always retain the rights to your work.
Creativity in songwriting is subjective – it often means different things to different people. Singer-songwriter, Tracy Chapman, puts it well in one of her quotes: “Songwriting is a very mysterious process. It feels like creating something from nothing. It’s something I don’t feel like I really control.” That’s a good quote to be guided by if you’re serious about turning your lyrics into commercially-ready songs.