If you start all your songs the same way, they’ll probably all end up sounding the same.
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Here’s a good activity for any songwriter: take the last 5 songs you’ve written, and ask yourself how they differ. If you find that there’s a similarity between them, don’t be alarmed. Of course there is. They were all written by you, and the way you organize your musical thoughts will be reflected in your songs. But there’s “similarity”, and there’s “excessive similarity.” If you’re starting to notice that you use the same chords all the time, the same melodic shapes, the same kinds of lyrics, and the same formal structures in your songwriting, you really need to address it.
To build an audience base, your music needs to have a certain amount of “healthy predictability.” Your fans need to know that when it comes to your music, they can expect a certain approach, performance style and subject matter that they’ve come to know and love.
Having said that, there’s also a need to be innovative, to branch out and explore new ideas, forms, and approaches in your songwriting technique. But you need to get the balance right. Too much predictability is boring, and too much innovation is a turn-off. The best singer-songwriters out there usually get the balance just right.
So if the last 5 songs you’ve written sound too similar, it’s time to fix that issue. And since how we start songs strongly influences how they end up sounding, that’s the first variable you’ll want to look at.
Here’s a list of 4 things you can think about that will help you change your songwriting routine, and result in fresher, more innovative music:
- Never start two consecutive songs the same way. If you always default to working out a chord progression first, you’ll probably also come up with the same, or almost the same, chords. So how about chords first, then melody first, then a rhythmic hook first, then lyric first… you get the idea.
- Use different instruments to develop melodies. If you’re a melody-first kind of writer, you can help change the kinds of melodic shapes you use by changing the instrument you work it out on. If you’re always using guitar, you’ll find that your fingers automatically move in a predictable way, resulting in melodies that all start to sound the same. So try guitar for one song, then keyboard for your next one, then just your voice.
- Try alternate tunings for your guitar. Detune your guitar away from the standard EADGBE tuning to something different. Then try improvising. You’ll hear melodic shapes that you’ve never considered before, and that can help develop new and innovative melodies for your next song.
- Try changing the order of song sections. One way to make a song seem innovative is to take a standard verse-chorus-bridge format, and simply change the order. Start with the chorus. Or start with an instrumental solo. Or try something completely different: sing the verse with no accompaniment whatsoever. Do anything that takes an ordinary song form and presents it in a completely different way.
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