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How to Write Great Songs - Finding Your Inspiration

It’s never been a better time to be a song creator. More tools are available than ever before to allow you to create and publish your music.

It may seem like great songwriters are just born that way. Maybe some of them are. But, I believe the truth lies somewhere closer to having the desire to find the best strategies and tactics and combining them with the ever-elusive “inspiration”.

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It’s down to how badly do you want to create great music?  You can learn to write great songs and if you are already a great songwriter…perfect. There is always something new to be discovered. There is always a new technique to learn or an insight or trick that will help you find a whole new direction for your songs.

Learning to write great songs is a learned skill and a key element to everything creative is inspiration.

Can you learn how to be inspired? Or is it more about gaining the ability to recognize inspiration when it shows itself?

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When your song is taking shape it’s a particularly fragile thing.  It can begin as an emotion or an attitude. This attitude may suggest a word or phrase. The emotion can attach itself to a chord or series of chords. Maybe it’s an upbeat feeling so you might play a major chord. Or, even more interesting, maybe the feeling is positive but you play a minor chord given the idea a sense of conflicting sensitivity.

This feeling might be seen as inspiration. It’s the beginning of something. Is it the beginning of something great? It could be.

Inspiration can really be seen as motivation, the desire to do it. You are motivated because of the inspiration.

As a songwriter you have many responsibilities to the song.  It could be taking the role of the person who is just bringing the song into existence. Have you ever heard a fellow songwriter say, “The song just came through me." All I did was allow it to happen.” It’s as if they channeled the song or just stayed out the way with their conscious mind and let it happen.  Sometimes what the song needs is for you to use your craft, like a painter who reveals what is possible with paint on a canvas. Having knowledge of songwriting technique will allow you to exceed your limitations and do what is necessary to serve the song after the initial inspiration points the way forward.  It takes an appreciation of both processes to create really great music.

And the only rule is: There are no rules. There are great songs that break the rules being created all the time. It’s a delicate balance between the inspiration and craft. One with out the other usually results in less than you are capable of.

Don’t let yourself off the hook. There is a much bigger process involved than just being inspired. Creativity is such a risky thing to do, if we wait until we are inspired to do it than it might not happen. Then there is no risk at all. The most creative people usually have a lot of time in with their “process.” The more time in, the more "creative" we seem to get.

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As a person who aspires to be creative it is easier to find motivation through a mechanism that you are already familiar with. In other words if you want to write great songs you better find your process. Maybe it’s turn on the Mac Mini and fire up Pro Tools and create some new rhythm loops or sit with your guitar and figure out what chords Ryan Tedder used in that latest hit he wrote for One Republic. Or maybe just listen to the type of music that you love. There is always a mysterious thing that happens when you experience the feeling of, “Oh my God..I love this song.” You can probably trace that feeling back to the reason why you have this overwhelming need to create music yourself. If you can create music that makes you feel this way, then you are on to something.

Another key insight that comes from personal experience; allow the inspiration to guide and use the craft to create. And DO NOT permit the critic to enter the room! Not your inner critic, not your co-writers inner-critic. And especially not anyone else who wants to “help” you by giving an opinion. When I am creating, I protect this part of the process like the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. I have seen many writing sessions get completely crushed by just one well-meaning “constructive” comment. You will know when it’s time to evaluate what you have.  

Inspiration can happen when you are “in it”. When you are doing it. When you are actually doing the work. The romantic idea that “I don’t have to really work, it should just come to me” is not how to get to your most creative self. Put your self into the mindset and you will be surprised at what comes out.  

So, inspiration can be that sense that things are going to be better. It could be the way someone you loves looks at you, the way you feel at a particular second in time or a monumental event in your life. But without the work it will go unrecognized. The work is knowing the craft. Being informed about what the choices are is what makes you able to create you best.    

The most creative among us take the monumental risk to stay open to where the inspiration comes from.

Inspiration is everywhere. Your ability to really “see” what’s going on around you and developing your process is what leads you to your greatest creative output. All that you do and all that you are is what makes up your ability to be creative.  We all have it in us.

You know you have it in you!

Tommy McWilliams
www.tommymcwilliams.com



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