If you start every song the same way, it’s likely to make all your songs sound the same.
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One thing most songwriters hate is to be labeled. To be labeled means that your music is sufficiently similar to other songwriters’ music, to the extent that you all get described in one word. (“Rock”, “folk”, “country”, and so on.) Most songwriters like when someone says, “It’s really hard to put that writer in a category.” It tends to equate to freshness and uniqueness, and in the arts, that’s a good thing.
At the same time, there’s a tendency to stick with what’s familiar. So if you write pop music, it’s probably because it’s what you enjoy, and what you’re most familiar with. Is there a way to stay within the genre that you’re most familiar with, but also keep your music fresh and unique?
Probably the best way to do this is to always change the way you start the songwriting process.
Songs that start the same way often wind up sounding very similar. If you tend to start your songs by strumming a syncopated rhythm on your guitar, the odds are pretty good that the next song you write will sound the same as the last one.
So it’s time to branch out. Here’s a list of possible ways to start the songwriting process. Some may appeal to you, others may not. But in any case, try never to use the same starting procedure twice in a row.
- Lyric first. To do this, you don’t need to have a completed lyric. But if you’ve never start a song this way before, it can be a great way to make your next song different from your last one. As you develop your lyric, read it to yourself, and become familiar with the innate rhythms and pulses of the text. Those rhythms can and should make their way into your music. You’ll notice that you punch certain words, and that may indicate melodic shape.
- Rhythm first. Try slapping an improvised rhythm while tapping a beat. Keep changing the rhythm. This can be followed by doing any number of things: adding a bass line, adding a chord progression, improvising a line of text, and so on. The rhythm-first method can inject a bit of excitement and life if you tend to be mainly a ballad writer.
- Change the form. Most songs tend to be in a verse-chorus format, with an optional bridge. If that’s what you’re most comfortable with, try changing the order. For example, your song can sound suitably unique simply by starting with the chorus.
- Start a cappella. This can work well if you decide to start with a chorus. Doing a chorus without instrumentation, then launching into your first verse, is a great way to sound distinctive.
- Write an extended instrumental opening. Some songs won’t benefit from this, and it’s not something you can do too often, as it’s so distinctive. But you may have a song that can sound great with an instrumental “composition” as its start. An example of this: “May Be a Price To Pay” – Alan Parsons Project.
In addition to changing how you start a song, keep in mind that a considerable amount of freshness comes from the instruments you choose to use. So instead of the standard guitar-bass-drums, try something unique: string quartet, brass, woodwinds, and so on. Or even just adding a non-standard instrument to your group, like violin, oboe, flute, trumpet or French horn.
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