TIP #2: Be Creative and Unique in the Right Things
In Song Craftsmanship Pt. 2, I recommended keeping things simple when writing your songs.
Simple doesn’t equal ordinary. For a well-crafted song, you need to be imaginative with the right things. There are many areas of your song that have plenty of room for originality while the rest of the song remains simple – but two of my favorite are lyrics and sounds.
This is a big one for me. I hate (and fear) mediocre cliches – especially in lyrics. I’m still trying to erase my memory of a song I wrote when I was 16 for my then-girlfriend that featured such lyrical gems as “now you’re gone and my days are filled with rain” and “I should’ve been there for you” and the always touching “I’d give anything just to see you smile”. Yuck! I was only 16 but still …yuck! The problem is, though, that we hear these types of uninspired platitudes over and over in famous songs by people who are much more successful than I’ll ever be.
Run from cliches!! If you must write another love song, either deliver it in a new way or write about a unique part of being in love. What do you find fascinating about the person you love? Look for something quirky, strange, or funny. Use bold and exciting words.
If you’re going to say something – get in deep and really say something. Another cliche I’ve heard over and over in the “socially conscious” category is “there are people crying (and dying)”. I mean – yes there are, but is that really all you’re going to say? I’m looking forward to your next hits Water Can Be So Wet and Sometimes It Gets Dark At Night. If you don’t have enough knowledge (or boldness) to write about something in a deep and unique way, don’t attempt it. Write about something you do know and can boldly talk about. Write about insights you have that the rest of the world doesn’t.
Another ingredient in your song that can add originality without alienating your listener is unexpected or uncommon sounds. This can be a weird guitar effect, an original synth or drum sample, an old crackling electric piano, or better yet, things you totally make up. I always like to have lots of “stuff” in the studio for just the right sound. Besides countless virtual instruments (both expensive and free – the free ones often being the most unique), I have a pile of weird percussion instruments, flutes, chimes, old microphones, and stringed instruments. I rarely use samples but like to instead use these odd things in place of more conventional instruments. I’ve used a fuel oil tank for a bass drum, blowing on a mic run through a distortion pedal for a great industrial snare, a violin bow on an electric bass, books, wrenches, glass jars, guitar cases – basically whatever is around and sounds right for the song.
The KEY to doing this right, though, is to be tasteful – don’t overdo it. I still use mostly conventional instruments in my productions. Listeners still need some solid ground to stand on. In fact, I usually record all the core tracks and the vocals before I add these weird sounds….and then only when/if they’re needed. And the sounds are almost always way in the back – not used as a gimmick but as texture. If done right, the listener often doesn’t even realize why your song sounds different until they’ve heard it several times. They just know it feels good and is memorable.
Jonah Brockman is an independent music producer and engineer dedicated to empowering songwriters with the resources they need to make great music. Visit jonahbrockman.com for more information, rates, and work examples.