Guitarist - Songwriter

Changing Genres — Even Just a Little — Can Make You a More Prolific Songwriter

There’s no way of saying how many songs a good songwriter should be writing. Some are fast writers, and can get a complete song ready in a day or two. Others (and it often depends on your genre of choice) may take weeks or months before they’re finished.

Sometimes, though, the slow pace of songwriting might come from the fact that your songwriting ideas are drying up a bit. You may just not have the same pool of ideas that you did when you started out.

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You’ll see all manner of suggestions for how to get the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes breaking songwriting sessions up into smaller ones is a good idea. You might also try other creative activities that don’t have anything directly to do with songwriting, like writing short stories, painting, or some other creative art.

But here’s an idea you may not have considered before: try changing genres.

This may seem weird, because we don’t typically think a lot about the genre we hold up as our favourite one. It’s just who we are. You may have always loved country, for example, and you never thought much about why.

Genre is most often associated with the style of performance, not so much songwriting. But it’s practically impossible to ignore the effects of genre on how a song is conceived and written. And these days, where songwriters are usually the first performers of their own songs, genre can and should be considered as an important aspect of songwriting.

Why Changing Genres is Often a Good Thing

I’ve often said that the principles of good songwriting are ones that hold true across most genres. But while that’s true, that’s not the same thing as saying that the kinds of melodies you might write, the chords you might choose, and the topics you might favour, are in common across the various genres.

In the stereotypical country song, you might sing about the love of your life leaving you (“Lucille” – Roger Bowling, Hal Bynum, recorded by Kenny Rogers). Your not likely to write a country song about “the bleakness of Megadon…” or “the atmospheric domes of the Outer Planets.” (“2112” – Rush). That’s more a progressive rock thing.

So changing genres is a good thing to consider because it can provide you with a new pool of ideas, ones that may not have suited the genre you were previously identified with.

And I’m not suggesting that you completely change forever, though some performers have done just that. Chicago was a jazz/rock group that moved solidly into the pop world in the 80s. And practically any performer or group that’s been in the business for 3 or 4 decades have moved through several genres and sub-genres.

The good thing is that you don’t need to change gears entirely. I’m suggesting that for those days when writing is hard, try putting your mind into another genre and see what ideas come out. The result may be one song that shows you in a new light. The new flow of ideas that comes from rethinking your songwriting process in this way can be exhilarating.

Remember that completely switching genres as a permanent change comes with dangers: you can lose a chunk of your fan base who may not be keen with your new way of writing.

But if the change is subtle enough — from, say, folk to pop, or rock to reggae, etc. — you may benefit from a larger fan base, where you keep most of your previous audience, but build a bigger group of followers who like your new direction.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Great observations. Did any group ever change genres more effectively or successfully than The Bee Gees? It worked out great for them!

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