Going from a musical collective to a group of musicians who can put out a finished song takes some hard work and practice, as we here at Not Bad are learning every day. Turns out that songwriting – good songwriting, anyway – is challenging too. Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it sounds good.
Plus, just because it sounds good as a song, does not mean it will look good on paper.
Personally, I find it tough to shut up my inner editor when I’m staring at my attempts to pen pop songs. But Amy and I recently discovered a wonderful exercise to generate starting-place material. It makes you laugh and gets you past the hump of “where do I even start, hasn’t every single topic been done to death?” (Well, yeah.)
Here’s the exercise (it works best with partners, who can choose for you!):
- Choose a common song topic. Yes, it’s supposed to be cliché! Pop songs are cliché as hell! Here are a few to get your ideas flowing: first love, a broken heart, loss, dancing, the club, true love, revenge, rivalry…
- Choose an artist you’re familiar with. Again, popular is good here – you want their style and “tells” to be obvious and easy to emulate.
- Choose something entirely random. If you’re totally stuck, look around the room and pick something you see. We’ve done “the Pyramids,” “bacon,” “walnuts,” and “Big Ben” before.
- Set yourself a timer. Don’t give yourself more than 10 minutes… You’re supposed to have to move quickly enough to run right past your inner critic.
- In the duration of your timer, try to write as much as you can of a song about the topic you chose, mentioning or featuring the random thing you chose, as if the artist you chose would perform it.
Ta-da! When you’re done, you’ll have something resembling a song. If it’s anything like mine, most of it will be crap, but you’ll have a line or two that sparks an idea for a full original song of your own.
Or, at least, the mental capacity to tell yourself, “OK, maybe I can do this.” Some days, that’s all you need.
If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.