It’s helpful to work with an instrument when writing because you can see how the instrumental will affect your song. Sometimes you can’t quite figure out how the mood of the melody and lyrics will come across until you put some chords to it. Generally, the staple songwriting instruments are guitar and piano. If you’re not proficient at an instrument, it’s definitely a valuable thing to learn. But not to worry! The Lyricord app is a great tool for musicians and non-musicians alike. The backing tracks provide you with a full instrumental right there at your fingertips, and you’ve got plenty to choose from.
There’s a great episode of Gilmore Girls (Season 6, Episode 4 for anyone who cares) in which Zack, a musician, comes up with a melody that he is desperate to remember. The problem is, it’s hard to write a melody down. He tries to use a restaurant’s phone to call his home phone and leave a message for himself on the answering machine and gets in trouble with Luke, the owner. Now, if Gilmore Girls had taken place today, all the characters would have iPhones and this wouldn’t be a problem. Most all phones today have handy little recording devices, the songwriter’s weapon! Record every little thing you do, every brainstorm, so you build up a catalogue of your ideas that you can return to at any time in case you forget or want to look for old ideas that went unused. In addition to your smartphone, recording can also be done on most tablets, computers, and digital recording devices. And don’t forget, you can always record yourself with the Studio feature of the Lyricord app.
Notebook & Pen
This may not seem like a necessity at first, but bear with me. The physical action of writing activates different neural pathways in your brain than typing. In fact, it has been proven that writing in cursive increases creativity and develops the brain. Give it a try. Writing out your lyrics as you work helps you think in another way, and seeing your words visually will make your song structure clearer. It’s an invaluable habit to get into. I have a special songwriting notebook that I devote to creative thoughts, ideas, and songwriting. Every time I crack it open, the ritual helps me get into the mood to write. I even go so far as to always have my favorite pen on hand. It makes writing so much more enjoyable.
Rhyming Dictionary & Thesaurus
Let’s be honest, I don’t actually have a rhyming dictionary or thesaurus, but I do have a LAPTOP! Pull up websites with these tools before you start writing and thank me later.
Sometimes I write a lyric and suddenly I think…this sounds too familiar. I can’t figure out if it’s something I’ve written before, or if I stole it from someone by accident. This is the moment when Google becomes my best friend. Now, it will be your best friend, too. Just type your lyric into the search bar. If the lyric has been used before, it should come up pretty quickly. Pretty much every song ever heard has been written out and posted to a lyric website nowadays. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but if it’s been written, Google will find it. Google is all knowing, after all. If your lyric doesn’t get any specific hits, then you’re probably safe, and you just wrote a lyric so awesome that it feels like you’ve always known it.
This will mean different things to different people. Some people work well with background noise. I am not one of those people. I need a quiet, somewhat cozy room to hole up in for a while to be alone with my thoughts and feelings. Songwriting is a highly personal activity. You need to be in a place that makes you feel comfortable and inspired. Australian songwriter Missy Higgins has said that she likes to write in new environments, and on new instruments, because they inspire new things in her. On a trip to the US, she chose to house-sit for musicians away on tour so she could use their pianos. Maybe you like a place that feels familiar and homey, instead of foreign and fresh. Have you ever seen the picture of Grace Potter’s songwriting “lair”? It’s perfection. Check it out below.
These are the most important songwriting tools and sometimes the hardest to get ahold of. Songwriting requires that you put your feelings and experiences out there, laid bare for the world to see. This means that you have to enter the writing process with a sense of respect for yourself. If you want to write about something, then it was a significant, valid experience for you. Don’t censor yourself, be brave and honest!