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During his career, Bob Dylan wrote and published over 600 songs. Many of them are stone-cold classics, and when he eventually decided to sell his catalog, they netted Dylan around $300 million. We should all be so lucky.

Writing songs can sometimes feel like a slog for the rest of us. That’s especially the case when you’re under pressure from your bandmates, your record company, or yourself! – to come up with some new material. Some days, you have it – and other days, you don’t. When you haven’t “had it” for days or weeks, though, that’s when you know you’ve got a serious case of writer’s block. You’ve written good material before, and you can do it again. Even the greatest musicians have had trouble putting pen to paper from time to time. They overcame it, and so can you. Here are some strategies for overcoming writer’s block as a musician.


Step Out for a Smoke

Sometimes, writer’s block for a musician is a serious issue that can feel like it will stretch forever. You’re trying to develop an album’s material and have nothing. That kind of writer’s block can be a soul-crushing experience. Other times, though, it’s not such a big deal. The basic idea is in place but isn’t quite coming together. In this case, you need to remove yourself from the situation momentarily and clear your head.

In other words, you need to step out for a smoke. In the words of Paul Simon, it’s time to “breathe some nicotine.” No, we’re not talking about smoking a cigarette. That’s totally 1977, and not in a good way. Instead, keep a Tyson vape in your pocket and puff on it when you need a pick-me-up. People are still using nicotine in the 21st century, and they’ll probably never stop. It’s evolved past the caveman stage, though, and there’s no need to stink anymore.


Try an Oblique Strategy

Speaking of the ‘70s, not everything that came out of those years was bad. Here’s a good thing you might not know about from the bell-bottom decade. In 1975, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt devised a deck of cards called Oblique Strategies. You’ll find a printed message on each card, such as “Don’t be frightened to display your talents” or “Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events.” Some cards suggest things you can do to break a creative roadblock, and others are simply ideas to ponder. Although the project was spearheaded by a musician, Oblique Strategies can apply to any creative endeavor. The cards have been out of print for a while and are pretty overpriced on the secondary market. However, there are several web-based versions that you can use for free.


Play Some Cover Tunes

If you’re having trouble coming up with new material but don’t want to go outside and remove yourself from the working environment, playing some cover songs is another great thing you can try. Try riffing on one of the old favorites that inspired you to become a musician in the first place. You might stumble upon an interesting melodic line or chord sequence, which could become the basis for something new.

Playing covers is a great way to relax your mind without getting out of music mode – and when a new idea hits, you’ll be ready to capitalize on it immediately. If something sounds good, it might be worth using as an outtake or bonus track on your next release. Some of the best-known musicians have played covers to get out of creative doldrums or overcome personal lows, and that has resulted in some well-received albums like Run Devil Run by Paul McCartney, The Honeydrippers: Volume One by Robert Plant, and Renegades by Rage Against the Machine – so even if you’re only doing cover tunes to entertain yourself and your bandmates, don’t forget to record everything. You never know what might happen.


Avoid Distractions that Numb Your Brain

Sometimes, distracting yourself is the best thing you can do when you have a bad case of writer’s block. The trick is to eliminate some of the pressure without taking yourself so far out of the moment that you forget what you were even doing. In other words, if you’re serious about getting something done, your studio needs to be a no-phone zone. Chris Cornell once said that no modern writer has ever rivaled the works of Shakespeare because the Bard didn’t have anything to do but sit and think.

There’s probably some truth to that. Think about what happens when you’re bored or frustrated, and you pull your phone out of your pocket to start checking your social media feeds or browse through the day’s sports scores. Before you know it, an hour has passed, and you haven’t gotten a single thing done. Distracting yourself for a few minutes isn’t a bad thing when you’re having trouble writing new material or getting a track record, but there’s a point where it can go too far. If you’re scrolling endlessly on your phone, you’re probably doing more harm than good.


Revisit Some Old Material

If you’ve been in the music business for a while, you’re probably sitting on a lot of old material you’ve never finished or used. Musicians, after all, tend to save everything. If you’re having trouble writing a new song or laying down a track, now is the time to dig out those scraps of paper, voice notes, and half-finished Garage Band projects. An idea that didn’t seem quite right at the time might feel perfect now that you have a different mindset and a bit more experience. Van Halen’s final album A Different Kind of Truth was comprised almost entirely of unfinished ideas from the band’s creative high point in the 1970s. Hey, maybe the ‘70s weren’t that bad after all – and maybe it’ll turn out that you’re sitting on a goldmine of ideas as well.

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AlexandreG.
Is just a guy who got tired of bothering his friends talking about music, and decided to create a blog to write about what he loves the most.
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