Experiencing other art forms has a way of deepening the well of ideas from which you create your own songs.
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Every time you begin a new song, you think in terms of hooks, melodies, chords, lyrics… the stuff of music. But there’s a part of songwriting that’s not so visible, which is the tapping of your musical imagination. Every time you do something creative, you look within yourself for ideas. It’s like dipping a bucket into a well, and you can take the analogy further and ask yourself: How deep is that well?
Every time you listen to new music, you add to your well. You expand your notion of what music could be, and perhaps — from your perspective — what music should be. Your well gets deeper, and it contains more water.
That is the reason that when someone asks me what they can do to prevent writer’s block, I usually list “listen to music on a daily basis” somewhere near the top. Listening to music allows you to experience other people’s musical solutions (what we otherwise call songs), and our well gets deeper and fuller.
But I want to put a notion in your mind today about other ways to increase your well of musical ideas. And it’s this: expand your artistic experiences beyond music, and your well of ideas deepens beyond measure.
In 2014, singer-songwriter Dan MacCormack (Halifax, Nova Scotia) released Symphony of Ghosts, a personal tribute to the novels of award-winning Canadian writer David Adams Richards. MacCormack allowed Richards’ books to guide his songwriting process, telling us this:
David Adams Richards does in his novels what the music traditions I love have always done – He finds beauty, peace, and meaning in the lives of ordinary, and often poor, people.
Go to Dan’s page and you’ll be able to stream the album, and you will love what you hear. The music has a moody, introspective aura, and it’s not hard to pick up the love he has for Richards’ writing.
Anytime we experience the results of someone else’s creative process, whether that’s someone else’s music, or someone else’s novels, choreography, sculpture, poetry — or anything — our own understanding of art becomes bigger. The well becomes deeper, and more water is added.
If you’re serious about songwriting, it becomes a very relevant question for you to answer: what have you experienced recently outside of the world of music that’s inspired you or made an impact on your writing?
If you can’t answer that question, here’s an idea to try: Determine to experience a different art form every day of your week. You can even schedule this as a daily activity if you think it will help. YouTube will help you find choreography, poetry recitations and of course music. And Google will help you find the rest.
And what do you do with the art you experience? You can do what Dan MacCormack has done, and write music that taps directly into the ideas from someone else’s work, or you can simply let it inform you, deepen your well, and add more water.
In any case, experiencing other art forms winds up giving you more ideas for future songs. And that’s always a good thing. The best songwriters are the most curious ones.