by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
When I pick up a pencil and try to draw a face, it looks grotesque. I get the perspective wrong, the shading looks haphazard, and the dimensions are simply off! Because I am untrained, I can’t really finish any drawing I start. As I progress in my art project, I get discouraged, and eventually I stop with the drawing unfinished. Hmm.. does that sound familiar? If you take that paragraph, and insert songwriting terms instead of art-based ones, those opening sentences could easily have been spoken by many songwriters.
Ask any visual artist what makes a bad painting, and they’ll probably tell you that a bad painting shows failings in technical abilities and understanding, not so much a lack of inspiration. So tell me… why do we as musicians so often point to a lack of inspiration as our main problem with writing a good song, when the real problem is probably a lack of technical ability?
So many songwriters miss out on the opportunity to improve their technical abilities, simply because they don’t realize that their problems are technical ones, not musical ones. Humans are blessed with imagination. And while some are more blessed than others, a lack of imagination is not really the problem with songs that are bad. If you can’t finish a song, it’s probably not a problem with your creative abilities as much as a problem with your technical ones.
Inspiration is an odd thing. Many misunderstand it, and believe that without feeling inspired, it’s impossible to write music. Nothing could be further from the truth! The truth is that inspiration comes from the songwriting process, not the other way around.
If you can’t finish a song, don’t blame a lack of inspiration; that’s probably not the real problem. It is more likely that you are needing a refresher in the the nuts and bolts of how songs work. Like an artist, you need to “get the perspective right.” Taking a fresh look that the mechanics of songwriting will solve writer’s block faster than simple inspiration. Because even if you are inspired, you still need to know what you’re doing!
Inspiration is not a bad thing, but enduring happiness comes from knowledge and experience, not from inspiration, which can be temporary.
If you were an artist, all the inspiration in the world will not tell you how to mix colours, hold a brush, get the perspective right, or anything. Successful artists are trained artists. And so it is with songwriting. All the inspiration in the world will not tell you how to construct a song, how to get a verse melody to partner properly with a chorus melody. Inspiration alone will not show you how to properly harmonize a melody. Inspiration alone will not tell you that you’ve used the wrong kind of lyric in your bridge, or that your instrumentation is running contrary to the energy plan for the song.
So the next time you get stumped trying to finish a song, ask yourself: Am I just lacking inspiration, or is there more to my problem? A bit of inspiration is a good thing, but pales in significance to a bit of technical knowledge. If your music sounds like a representation of the line drawing at the top of this page, rather than the one to the right, it’s technique you lack, not inspiration.
Gary Ewer’s songwriting e-books will get you writing the songs you’ve always known you could write. They’ll show you, using chord charts, sound samples and diagrams, how good songs are constructed, and how to avoid the pitfalls that plague bad songs. Read about those e-books here.