Know how to write good songs? But everytime you play it in front of someone they say "Oh I think I've heard that before" or "Oh you're just ripping of that one song", well here are some tips to being an original songwriter.
Posted on Jan 22, 2004 11:47 am
Let me just start off by saying that if the reason you play guitar and write songs and started a band is because you saw Good Charlotte, or Sum 41 play and you thought, "Oh I wanna be just like them", then this article is not for you. It's shocking how many Sum 41 or Good Charlotte bands there are around today. Usually a few teenagers that just started playing guitar. Soon after they write their songs and they sound okay and well put together and everything and hey people may even enjoy hearing them. But they aren't original at all? Now is this a bad thing? No its not, you don't have to be original if thats not what your going for. However if you truly wanna touch other people with your music or make a big impact with it you have to be doing and saying something new. Don't follow anyone else, but yourself. Here are some tips I think are useful for getting that original sound.
1. Listen to a wide variety of bands. Go out and look for other music and for the love of God don't go to a Walmart and just buy every popular cd off the rack. Go to a local rare record shop that has pretty much any indie band that has ever exsisted or take a look at All Music Guide and look for some highly rated influencial indie bands of the past. Buy them! Listen to them! Whatever. Buy some records that maybe have barely sold at all. Some of them are quite good. Just because a band isn't popular doesn't mean they aren't good. Branch out on what you listen to and widen the music catalog that you own.
2. This is going to sound weird but, don't learn a lot of covers. This one is probably going to be conterversial for some who read this but the more cover songs you know the less original your own work is going to be. If you just learned a song from a band you like more often then not the next song you write is gonna try and sound like or close to that song. Hendrix, Lennon, Cobain, none of these people were self taught and had very few if not none lessons from professionals. Play the guitar and learn it the way you want to. Don't ever let another guitar player tell you, "thats not the way I do it, you're suppose to do it this way."
3. Forget about rules. Since when did rock n roll have rules anyway? If you don't wanna learn chords, then don't. If you don't wanna have the typical bass, guitar, drums, singer in your band then don't. Have a keyboard player, or a cello, anything you can think of. These are just examples you don't have to do any of this because then you would be following what I told you to do. Just forget about it all. Play how you wanna play and don't care about what other bands or people think.
4. Experience life. This I find to be the most important one for me, especially in the lyrical department. Go out and do stuff, experience life, get into trouble if you need to, anything that tickles your funny bone. If you don't experience life then what do you have to write about? Nothing, because you weren't there. Lyrics and songs in general are so much more emotional if the artist or artists actually experienced some of it in some form or another. If something painful happens in your life, write about it. Everyone can relate to songs about pain. Although it may hurt sometimes in the long run consider it a blessing if you get a good song from it.
5. Play around with all your instruments. This one is for the music. If you have written song after song in normal standard tuning, then change it up. Or have an acoustic song, or maybe a block of noise. Black Flag was pure noise at times, but were they influencial? Yes.
6. Less is more. The most influencial bands and artists of all time realized this. Don't try and be Eddie Van Halen none of us are. Be yourself and keep it simple, you don't need to have a million changes in your songs. Ramones, Nirvana, The Sex Pistols, The Beatles (early stuff anyway) all had simple songs and then some evolved from there. Let the songs get more complex as your skill level improves, and once you are a master at your guitar don't be afraid to go back to the basics. When it all comes down to it melody is everything, no matter how the song is structured or if it is complex or not. People are always drawn to a good melody.
7. "No one I think is in my tree/ I mean it must be high or low", are lyrics from the Beatles "Strawberry Fields" which is a perfect example of #7. Don't feel you have to make sense with any of your lyrics. Don't even feel you have to rhyme. Just do what you want. And change it up, use different rhyme schemes and never try to repeat yourself, keep evolving and trying something new. Lyrics are an afterthought, if it has a great melody they don't matter. Trust what you write and always try and rewrite lyrics or shift theses lyrics to this song if you think that would work better but don't tell a story. Every song it seems tries to tell a story. Forget telling a story. Sing us a song your the Piano Man, just your tune and make up words to get some original and out of the blue thoughts. Remember the music always comes first anyway so don't even spend a lot of time on lyrics if you don't wanna. Be spacey, be ironic, be whimsical, and so on. Just don't be cliche. I hate that word by the way. All I here on the radio today is songs about the same thing. How original! Thats why people think Cobain is a God. Because he was original and new and fresh and exactly what we all needed. Keep in mind most original and influencial artists and bands don't recieve credit or become popular while they are around usually. But being respected later on by followers is just as sweet! Every concert the Ramones played, a couple of kids went home and started a band.