By: Konner Scott
Writing a song, when you’ve never done so before (or when you’ve only done so a couple of times), can seem both daunting and exciting. It might feel like you’re on the edge of your comfort zone, pushing your creativity to its limits. Even if the final product isn’t objectively anything good or professional, there’s a resounding satisfaction in knowing that “I created that!”.
The good news, in my experience, is that feeling of pride and excitement in your own creation never truly wanes. The bad news, however, is that if you write enough songs, the process becomes habitual and almost instinctive. There are benefits to this, sure- it’s nice to sit down, disappear into the process, and know you’ll come out the other side with something complete- but the downside is that the novelty wears off and it’s much easier for the creative process to become mundane. A songwriter’s biggest fear is that their work will reflect the mundanity of their process and their surroundings.
I personally tend to view songwriting as a musical encapsulation of my own personal experience. In every song I write exists elements of my worries, fears, hopes, surroundings, and general mental state at the time I wrote it. As such, I’ve found it immensely beneficial to shake the process up as much as possible in order to expand the breadth of my output.
Of course, you can do things like put constraints on your process. For example, one thing I enjoy doing is challenging myself to write a song using only major chords, or only having three specific notes in the melody, or any number of barriers that I then must use my creativity to circumvent. However, something I have not explored nearly as much is changing my environment and mindset when I write.
Over Labor Day weekend, I booked an overnight cabin in the north Georgia mountains with the intention of doing a solo songwriting retreat. I packed up my guitar and keyboard, and drove about two hours into the wilderness. From the hours of 7pm until about 12am, I wandered the cabin and let inspiration strike.
I promised myself I wouldn’t force a single note, and that anything I wrote on the trip would come organically. I allowed myself to take breaks, to sit and think, and even- at one point- to go stand on the porch in the rain with a little 40-key portable keyboard and just plunk out melodies while watching the rain come down. By midnight, I had somehow completed and recorded five new songs- an average of about one per hour.
On my drive back home the next morning, it occurred to me that I had five new songs that had immortalized the adventure and experience of driving out into the mountains by myself. Every time I listen to those songs for the rest of my life, they will reflect that experience back to me. Whether or not the songs are good enough for public consumption is a different conversation, but I walked away from the trip with five pieces of my soul that would have been impossible to create without the change in setting and mindset that the trip induced.
Stuck in a creative rut? Go somewhere else. Maybe even just try a different room. Maybe face the other way in your desk chair. You might be amazed at how much minute changes in your setting can shake up your process!