7 Creative And Unique Ways to Start a Song
Being in a creative mood all the time isn’t always easy. Sometimes even the most professional music producers don’t know where to start when making a song.
If you don’t feel like conceiving new musical ideas, you can do other music-related stuff that is not necessarily creative (like, for example, reading articles, reading a book, watching tutorials, etc.)
But sometimes, you have to force yourself into that creative state, either because you want to write music (but you currently can’t), or because you are approaching a deadline and you have to finish a certain song (for example, if you hadn’t released music in a long time, or if you are working on a collaboration).
If you find yourself in one of these situations, you can take advantage of these 7 tips to creatively start a song in a way that it’s original and unique. Let’s talk about it.
Make a List of Attributes
This is a great plan to follow if you want to start writing a song, but you don’t know exactly what you should do. Where should you start? How? This method will give you a kind of to-do list for your production.
To do this, you have to actively listen to a track or song that you love, and that you want your music to sound like. And do this many times.
While doing this, write down every element that you hear and you think is an important characteristic for that sound. Pay special attention to the fields of sound design, harmony (chords), melody, rhythm, and song structure (how did they organize the overall song?).
You will end up with a list of attributes, which are all the characteristics of the song that you listened to, and therefore you may want to incorporate them to your productions.
Then, when you’ve written down all the things that you think are important, you can set aside the original song or track that you used for reference, and head into your DAW.
You now know exactly what you have to work on when it’s time to make music. But, if you don’t do this well, you can end up getting involved in plagiarism. Therefore, when you write down the list, the attributes have to be specific enough so you actually know what to do, but generic enough so that you don’t make a copy of that song.
Make a List of Avoidances
This method is exactly the opposite of the previous one. This one is particularly useful if you find yourself creating songs that sound all the same, and there’s not much variation within all your discography, either in terms of sound (harmony, melody, sound design, etc.) or in terms of form (song structure).
When you realize that you are in this situation, write down all the attributes that you think are making your music sound so similar. The same as with the previous method, pay special attention to sound design, harmony, melody, rhythm, form, etc.
After doing this, you will end up with a list of attributes that you’ll try to avoid next time you make a song. This will not only make your music discography much richer in terms of variety, but will also force you to get out of your comfort zone and to learn new ways of having new ideas.
In addition to that, I would suggest you to also write down an alternative to these attributes. The same as when organizing the feedback you receive, I would make a spreadsheet with all the things that you want to avoid and how you can replace or solve them. Something like this:
|I use always the same 4 chords. Therefore, all my productions have the same vibe and there's no variety among them.||Try using new chords and not only triads. Also, see what chords other producers in the same genre are using to get some ideas.|
|I use the same presets for the leads and basses which make all my melodies and bass lines sound the same.||Try learning at least the basics of sound design, so that you can shape those presets the way you want to. Additionally, you can also download more presets so you have more variety (you don't always have to create every sound from scratch)|
These are two examples, but of course, you may have tons of them. Make it your own, and then you will rise your musical level very fast.
Listen to music you hate
Listening to music you hate is hard. But doing that will not only force you to actively listen to the music but also you will discover a lot of production and songwriting techniques that you’ve never heard of, because you never listened to this kind of music.
For example, if you are an electronic music producer, you probably mostly listen to electronic music. So, try listening to Jazz, Swing, Blues, etc.
That way you will have a much richer listening background. You will discover a lot of new music styles and you will be able to, for example, mix one of these genres with the one you use to create.
Some examples of genres that were created from merging music styles are Electro Swing (house + swing), Dubstep (dub / reggae + 2-step), Moombahcore (reggaeton + dubstep), Jazztronica (jazz + electronica), Glitch Hop (glitch + hip hop), among others.
As you listen to this music, you can ask yourself some questions like:
- Are there songwriting techniques that you can use?
- Are there production techniques that you can use?
- Why do people like this?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a whole new set of ideas and techniques that you can use in your productions. Write them down, so you can read them when you lack creativity. This will make your music so much more unique and original.
It can be very overwhelming when you see all the options you have for music creation. If you have thousands of samples and hundreds of VST plugins, how is it possible to choose just one?
If you find yourself in that situation, you could apply restrictions before starting to work. Create a narrow range of possibilities and work only within that range.
This isn’t about trying to eliminate bad decisions. You are eliminating valid possibilities in order to choose among a smaller amount of options, which are also good ones.
These are some ideas for restrictions you can apply:
- Make every sound from one sample. And I mean every sound: from drums to melodies. If you find this interesting and want some inspiration, you can check out the “4 Producers 1 Sample” series by Andrew Huang. Although not all of the producers used only that sample, some of them did, like Virtual Riot or Au5.
- Avoid an instrument that would be expected in the genre. This goes along the List of Avoidances method that I explained earlier because it’s useful for when you feel like all your productions are the same.
- Don’t use any sample and, therefore, create your own samples and drums from scratch doing sound design.
- Don’t use a plugin that you are comfortable with. For example, probably most Dubstep producers use Serum, Massive, or Phase Plant to synthesize their basses. Try not to use them for an entire production and instead create the basses either from other plugins or from editing samples.
These are just some ideas, you don’t have to apply all of them at once (although you can go extreme and do all).
Creation phase vs editing phase
Another good way to be more creative is to separate between the creation and the editing or mixing phase. Both phases are necessary for every music production, but you can find some problems if you don’t set a clear division between the two — although some people like to edit on the go, that’s up to you.
During the creation phase, you should create as much material as you can. Do not delete anything. It may sound horrible at first, but your goal here is to capture a big quantity of material as fast as possible. This is the songwriting and arranging part.
You should work on this phase when you feel the most inspired and creative, and that’s why you have to go fast: you need to create as much as you can before the inspiration fades out.
During the editing phase you should refine that material (that will probably be a complete mess). Instead of creating something new, aim to delete things. This includes editing, mixing, and mastering.
This phase is the one that a lot of producers (including myself) and mixing engineers love because it’s so satisfactory to take a piece that sounds terrible and make it sound good and clean.
Although you don’t need that much inspiration to work on the editing of a song, it is good to feel motivated and to be in a musical and, most importantly, relaxed mood. If not, you will hurry up to do what you have to do and you may take the wrong decisions (the editing phase is, basically, taking correct musical and technical decisions).
Become an amateur again
If you already started getting serious about music and you are considering it as a viable income source, you are probably already having less fun with it, because you take it as an actual job.
This isn’t always a bad thing, it’s good to take it seriously, keep it organized, have a schedule, etc. But it’s sometimes essential to have fun with it; take it as an escape from your side-job (if you have one) or from your studies, as if it was like playing a game.
You probably started making music just because it was fun. While you were an amateur, you kept learning new things so your motivation was higher than ever. Then, you only wrote music that you liked and didn’t care if it got heard or not.
That being said, the best way to be an amateur again is to put yourself into a context in which you are actually one. This could be, for example, trying to create and experiment with a genre you have no experience with.
Another way is to get into a whole new technique: if you are a preset junkie and have never designed your own sounds, why don’t you learn synthesis and try to make every sound by yourself? There are endless extends to what you can learn in the music world so there are no excuses for not to be an amateur.
Review your old projects
If you’ve been a music producer for some time, you probably have a folder with hundreds of unfinished projects. You feel like these are great ideas, but you doubt if they’re worth finishing. And, being honest, you know that you won’t finish 99.99% of these.
Therefore, instead of considering these projects as trash or just memories of what you used to create, consider them as a collection of ideas that you can use in your newer productions. Go through all your all projects and render every idea that you find interesting.
You can create a folder where you put all of these ideas. They could be either audio samples or MIDI patterns (in the case of a melody). But now, the next time that you want to start a new piece of music, you have some samples that are entirely your own and that you can use as a starting point.
This is also very useful because now, every time you write a song but you realize that it’s not worth finishing, you don’t feel like if you failed or like you’ve wasted your time. Instead, you know that now you have some new material you can use for your productions, so you feel productive even if you didn’t finish that piece.
So, these are some of the ways that I think are very useful when you want to start a new song but you really don’t know how or don’t feel inspired.
You don’t have to apply all these methods every time you start a song. But I suggest to write them down, so you know what to try when you don’t feel creative.
When you are not inspired and don’t feel like writing music, instead of forcing yourself to create (which may be a good discipline exercise), you can also use your time to organize your environment, like your samples, plugins, projects, and even your physical environment.