File Under: Creating and Making Your Music

This article is part of the Creating and Making Music series: how to create and produce more music for the new streaming world which rewards consistent and regular music releases (versus "big bang" album releases that happen only once a year).

Because the internet and the new streaming world rewards consistent and regular releases of music, changing your focus from releasing a yearly album to dropping episodic releases (singles, remixes, EPs, and other music drops that lead to final album) over the year is critical. Doing so can help grow your audience and make money with music in today's internet-driven music industry. This week in the Creating and Making Music series we're tackling the age old question: "where do you get your ideas?"

Writer's block affects more than authors, it affects nearly every artist at some point. In creating and producing 365 songs for our project where we released one song for every day of 2007, we ended up stumbling on many techniques to generate a lot of music based on research, experience, and even Second City Improv. Together we compiled ten of the best idea-generators and will share these here at The DIY Advisor.

Here are the first three idea-generators to help get you unstuck and creating new music:

1. "That's a song!"

Often, all you need for a song is an idea to hook it on. When we were in the middle of creating 365 songs, every band member became a sponge. Every conversation, every errand to the store, every routine in the day could generate an idea for a song. The key was to be hyper-aware of your surroundings, find something about it that grabs you, and write it down. Some of the greatest songwriters, artists, and inventors carry a notebook around with them for this very reason. Today, all you need is a phone, and you're in business.

Keep in mind, not everything you capture from day-to-day life and conversation may become a song, but if you capture enough we guarantee some phrase or fragment of an idea can spark additional ideas. That was often the case in our project. For instance, while at a reunion, a friend's date shared an embarrassing story of getting caught doing something wrong in high school. She ended the story with, "Everything was great...until my parents were called." "That's a song!" the band member said and scribbled it down and months later as the band vamped on the idea, "Until My Parents Were Called" became a song from a pseudo-musical.

Another off-hand comment by an IT professional at a convention party we attended in August led to another song. When we asked him what he did for a living, he said his job was to "turn caffeine into code". Within a month, that off-hand comment became the concept to our next song, released in November.

Also, it's important to note that some ideas captured by one band member wouldn't go anywhere...until it was shared out loud with the rest of the band. Often, it was someone else in the band who would immediately get inspired and either co-write the song or, in sometimes, run completely with the idea. So, listen and pay attention to everything around you with the idea it could become a song. Then write it down so you don't forget it. And, if you're still stuck, share the idea with other songwriters and see what idea you captured might inspire them.

2. Twitter.

On a whim one day in early 2007, we opened our feed and started scrolling. Almost immediately, the "That's A Song!" phrase came pouring out of our collective mouths. Instantly there were an endless amount of tiny, 140-character ideas we could check at any given hour, day or night, when we were feeling uninspired. For our band, we tended to focus on the offbeat ideas, but Twitter is packed with inspirational quotes, rhetorical questions, political statements, and more. By the summer of 2007, we would challenge ourselves to "Instant TwitterSong Sessions" and force ourselves to write and record a TwitterSong within 60 minutes of someone posting the inspirational tweet. This resulted in songs like "Waiting for My Wheat Beer to Arrive" and "I Am My Mom and Dad's Tech Support", and Leftover Leftovers, among many others.

If you have the ability to create and turn around music quickly, it's especially fun when you respond to the Twitter user who inspired the song with the song based on their tweet. And, we've seen them immediately share the song to their audience, exposing us to a new set of potential fans. The best part is if your fans know you do this, they'll try to intentionally send you ideas, which gets them even more engaged.

3. Writing lyrics...without a melody.

Some of the most prolific songwriters in our group of musicians for weren't even musicians. Instead, they used some of the best techniques from Improv: they first came up with a huge list of song titles based on improving and riffing on ideas. Then, anyone in our group would "claim" a title and run with it. The musicians in the group tended to write full songs, but very often the improv folks would simply write lyrics and share them at our behind-the-scenes bulletin board for the project. The musicians in our group would then sift through the lyrics and see which ones inspired them with a melody. Sometimes the lyrics would have to be tweaked to bend around the melody, but at the end of the day, a new, co-written song was born.

This technique of being inspired by poems or other works of art has been used by musicians through the ages and don't always rely on band members to create. For instance, the song "Turn! Turn! Turn!" which the band, The Byrds made famous in the 1960s, was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s and inspired by eight verses of the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. And it doesn't have to be just a song, entire albums have been inspired by previous works. For example, Jeff Wayne's 1970s rock opera classic, "The War of The Worlds" was based on the 1897 serial (and later, novel) by H.G. Wells, while The Alan Parson's Project classic album, "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" was based on some of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. And, if you want to go further back, Modest Mussorgsky, composed instrumentals based on pictures of an artist friend of his that were at an exhibition ("Pictures at an Exhibition").

These are just the first three idea-generators we used. Check back for more as we post more of these concepts (or follow us on Twitter @indieguide). In the meantime, try one of these ideas this week to jumpstart your creative juices. After all, the more quality music you can put out, the higher the chances you can find your audience and grow your fanbase.

Challenge: Try one of these ideation techniques for your own music this week and check back next week for the next set of idea-generators.

Follow us on Twitter @indieguide


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Photo credit: Mike Linksvayer