Finding music inspiration is extremely important for any songwriter, musician or artist. Sometimes our minds seems to be wells filled to the brim with ideas. Just a couple of minutes is enough to dream up a huge new project. But sometimes the well runs dry. No matter how hard you try to rack your brain for song ideas, nothing comes to mind.
To help you keep those ideas flowing, I’ve put together these tips. Inspiration is one of the most important tools in any creative’s bag. It pushes us to try new things and helps us stay excited about our work. These tips are intended to help you think creatively more often, giving you more opportunities for inspiration to hit.
What is Inspiration? Where Does it Come From?
Maybe it’s my extremely useful philosophy degree talking, but before we talk about how to get inspired, I think it’ll help if we talk about what inspiration is first.
We usually talk about inspiration as something that comes out of nowhere. We’re struck by it. It’s a “Eureka!” moment where a new idea becomes clear.
Whether it’s a new melody that you can’t get out of your head or a new idea that changes your worldview, inspiration is the excitement of discovering something new.
The trouble is we’re not always ready to think in new ways. We develop routines and create habits for how we think.
So finding inspiration is really about finding experiences that make us think differently. Here are some of my favorite techniques for creating your own inspiration.
#1: Get Out of Town
Really. Get out of town.
Finding inspiration is about breaking your mental habits. A lot of these habits can be wrapped up in the place you live.
As career coach Dr. Todd Dewett put it in an interview with Moneyish, “We get into ruts at work by following strict routines… Working in a place that’s new, you mess up those routines… waking the brain up, because you’ve changed the script.”
Getting away from your usual surroundings can do wonders for your creative process.
You don’t need to go on some grand adventure. Getting out of town isn’t about chasing excitement. It’s about getting away from what you’re used to.
Take a trip to a city or town that you haven’t spent a ton of time in. You’ll find that you have to think more actively than usual. Where should you go for food? You don’t know any of the local restaurants, so it looks like you’re going to be taking a gamble no matter what.
You don’t necessarily need to visit a city for this to work, though. The idea is to get out of your usual surroundings, one way or another.
Pull a Bon Iver and go crash in a cabin out in the wilderness for a few days. Getting away from the hustle and bustle may be all you need to focus on a new song.
Or spend an afternoon in a part of your town you don’t normally visit. Maybe there’s a weird tea shop across town you haven’t been to yet. Head there for an hour and see what lyrics it moves you to write!
Breaking your mental habits isn’t necessarily a matter of doing things that are wild and thrilling. Just going somewhere you aren’t used to will make you think about different things than you typically would.
#2: Go for a Walk
You don’t need to be a druidic mystic communing with nature to be awestruck by a massive tree that is already twice your age and will long outlive you.
Try walking around your neighborhood or a park. While you’re looking at the trees, houses, sky, or whatever, ask yourself what this place sounds like.
Don’t work too hard at it. Maybe nothing will come to mind. But perhaps you’ll hear a song come forward in response to the scene around you.
#3: Learn Some More Music Theory
Music theory can often feel like Songwriting’s boring cousin who you accidentally started an endless conversation with at a party. Despite being dry at times, music theory can be extremely helpful in finding inspiration.
Your first dive into some new music theory concept may not be all that great. You might hate what you write in Lydian mode. That being said, you may just discover a new chord change that you love. And that new chord change may provide the inspirational basis for a new song.
If you’re interested in learning more theory, I recommend checking out Rick Beato. Beato is a music theory expert and he does a terrific job of making complex music lessons understandable and engaging. He’s more focused on scoring than songwriting, but any musician can learn from his videos.
#4: Collaborate With a Friend
I’m a forgetful introvert, so this is a lesson I have to relearn on a monthly basis: Creativity doesn’t have to be a lonely activity!
I do most of my work alone in my room, and while that often works for me, making a point to go out and see friends does wonders for creative work.
Collaborating with a friend can be a wonderful way to expand your musical horizons.
Your friend will be bringing different musical styles to the table, challenging you to step outside of your creative comfort zone.
Plus, with two minds steering the message of the song, you may end up tackling a subject you don’t usually put so much thought into.
Don’t have many musically inclined friends? That’s ok! You may find that you enjoy writing with them anyways.
Even if you find that you and your friend didn’t get much work done, it will still be time spent wisely. We all need time to spend with those that are important to us.
It’s wonderful if you and your friend write a hit. But even if you end up just hanging out and catching up, you will most likely be happier than if you spent all your time working by yourself.
#5: Write With an Instrument You Don’t Normally Use
Typically write on piano?
Switch things up by toying around with a guitar. You may find yourself refreshed by the parts you write on an instrument you don’t know as well. It’s also worth mentioning that some things that are easy on one instrument are near impossible on another. Try out an instrument you wouldn’t normally play and see how much it changes your work. You may just find that it becomes a recurring part of your songs.
#6: Write About a Fictional Character
Songwriters and poets have been writing from the perspective of fictional characters since these art forms first began. Whether you’re Homer writing about the adventures of ancient Greek soldiers or a middle aged pop-punker singing about how hard it is to be 16, not everything you write has to be entirely from your point of view.
Coheed and Cambria are a solid example of musicians who use stories about fictional characters as metaphors instead of writing about the literal events of their own lives.
Coheed’s albums are about a space opera the lead singer, Claude Sanchez, has written. The story, while fictional, is largely about events from his actual life.
If you’re having trouble thinking of something that’s happened to you that you want to write about, write a story instead.
Dream up a fictional setting you’d be interested in living in. Is it a big city or a rural town? What’s the weather like? The politics? What is it known for?
Now think up a character who lives there. What is that person’s life like? What do they do?
Once you’ve got a solid idea of who this character is and how the relate to the world around them, try writing a song about it.
It may feel disingenuous at first, but in all likelihood the story you create will echo a lot about your personality since you will be the one who created it.
#7: Relax and Reflect
Be open to inspiration. The most important part of finding inspiration is your own attitude.
Being open to new ideas and experiences is more important than leaving town or going on a music theory knowledge binge.
Your hike in the wilderness won’t be particularly helpful if you’re stressed out the whole time, getting frustrated with yourself about how you NEED to be inspired RIGHT NOW.
It’s also worth noting that inspiration works differently for different people. While the practices I’ve listed above help many people, they’re be no means the only things that work.
Think back on times where you felt particularly excited about working on a project.
Where were you?
What were you doing?
Were you alone or were there people with you?
The answers to these questions can tell you a lot about where you draw inspiration from and what kinds of circumstances make you feel more creative.
Feel free to comment below about how you find new inspiration.