People who don’t write songs, or don’t involve themselves in the arts of any kind, might be forgiven for believing that inspiration is one of the biggest aspects of the songwriting process. It must seem, to those who don’t do it, that songwriting starts with an immense rush of ideas, followed by a flurry of writing in a desperate attempt to get all those thoughts down before they vanish. Sorry to burst that bubble, but even though most songwriters can recall moments of real inspiration, the vast majority of song output comes from hard work, technical knowledge, and lots and lots of rewriting.
Inspiration is lovely when it happens. You’re sitting somewhere, and for no apparent reason a musical fragment enters your mind. It might be a melodic shape, a great little bit of word-play, or some other kind of hooky musical particle. [Continue reading below..]
That, as far as it goes, is what most songwriters can expect. And as you’ll know, that’s all you’ll finish with if you don’t know what to do after the feeling of inspiration disappears. And it will disappear.
Inspiration can be thought of as a musical idea that presents itself somewhat spontaneously, wrapped up in an aura of artistic excitement.
The problem is that for many (maybe most) songwriters, moments of this kind can be few and far between. And if you’re a writer who only writes when inspired… well quite frankly, you’re wasting a lot of time.
Inspiration is not a necessary component of songwriting. Most humans who call themselves musicians can conjure up musical ideas spontaneously. It’s part of what we might call musical intelligence.
So whether your ideas come from moments of inspiration, or from more mundane, calculated musical efforts, you have the same thing: short musical ideas that need to be honed into a working song.
So inspiration can be totally missing, and you can still work up a pretty good tune. And that’s because your musical ideas, which you may have felt started from a totally uninspired process, tend to generate a feeling of inspiration as you work.
Another way of saying that is: Inspiration doesn’t create music; music creates inspiration. And that inspiration acts like a shot of artistic adrenaline that keeps the writing process going.
In the Classical era, no composer waited around for inspiration. If they did, they’d never get anything done. Those composers, like Haydn, Mozart, Bach and others, had real deadlines, imposed by others. They had to produce something, and usually in short order.
Their sense of inspiration came from the compositional process itself. Generating musical ideas would generate even more ideas, and inspiration grew in a snowball-effect fashion.
So how do you write songs when the inspiration is missing? Start with that thing that you find easy. Maybe it’s melodic ideas, or a short chord progression, or a bit of lyric. Let that idea be your starting point, and then get working.
Whether you’re inspired or not, you’ll know that your song is likely going to need to be organized into verse, chorus-bridge sections. You’ll know that your verse lyrics need to be the kind that describe situations and pose questions. You know that your chorus will answer those questions, and will need lots of strong progressions.
And very quickly, as your ideas start to come together, inspiration is generated. And it quickly becomes exciting!
So stop waiting for inspiration. Because in many real ways, inspiration is waiting for you!