Beoga’s Seán Óg Graham: 5 tips on how to create that songwriting spark
The quintet’s multi-instrumentalist and Ed Sheeran collaborator knows a thing or two (or five) about coming up with great ideas
By collaborating with Ed Sheeran on his monster of a ÷ album, featuring on the tracks Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan, and joining him on stage for his 2017 Glastonbury headline set, Beoga were able to introduce their zestful take on Irish traditional music to a vast new audience.
Having formed in 2002, it must have been a strange feeling for the quintet of Damian McKee, Seán Óg Graham, Liam Bradley, Eamon Murray and Niamh Dunne to be suddenly thrust into the limelight. Rather than retreat into the comforts of the familiar, they have embraced their moment and allowed it to inspire what happened next and new mini-album Carousel builds on that Sheeran-fuelled momentum.
Working with guest artists like Lissie, Devin Dawson and Ryan McMullan, they have made a fresh and accessible record which will appeal to both fans of their earlier work and those more recent followers.
Wanting to catch some of their creative spark, we asked multi-instrumentalist Seán Óg Graham to provide us with five of his top tips…
1. USE TECHNOLOGY
Learn how to use a DAW (digital audio workstation e.g. Logic, Pro Tools). Multi-track recording and production is more accessible than ever, if you own a laptop or iPad you should get to grips with basics.
Every well known DAW has included loops and/or beat-making tools. These can make great song starters and can even throw you into a style/place you would never go. Be bold.
Get a cheap MIDI keyboard and this will open up your creative pallet to the world of virtual instruments (VI) within your DAW. Almost every instrument in the world has been sampled at this point. The quality of these VIs varies drastically but you don’t need the expensive stuff for the ideas.
2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH INSTRUMENTS (EVEN IF YOU DON’T PLAY THEM)
I always keep various instruments to hand me when I write. Even just looking at an instrument might spark an idea. I could be sitting messing around with an instrument while waiting on my mac to start up and accidentally come up with a riff or hook.
3. PLAY AN INSTRUMENT YOU DON’T KNOW
I’m not a great piano player by any stretch but I find it invaluable for creating. All the notes are right there in front of you. I also masquerade as a multi-instrumentalist but I’m really just messing around a lot of the time, and sometimes that results in a new idea. The restrictive skillset can actually be really beneficial in this case.
4. EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR OWN INSTRUMENT
As a guitar player, for me this could be changing tunings, putting a capo on up really high, restricting the number of strings available to play or hitting the guitar as percussion.
For piano it could be putting your hand on the strings, using the felt to get a really muted sound.
For your voice, it could be shouting, whispering, beatboxing, slapping your cheeks… anything goes!
Don’t be afraid to experiment with that loop too: distort it, chop it, delay it. Find a way to make it yours.
5. USE YOUR PHONE
Every songwriter I know, including myself, uses their phone for songwriting. Voice memos are essential. You never know when something is going to come at you. Record snippets and give it a meaningful name like ‘guitar hook Berlin’ or ‘write to this groove!’.
One of our latest songs Homebird started as a voice memo riff six years ago, and was just released last month. Galway Girl also was born as a voice memo. I still have them too so they make nice memories.
I also keep a personal playlist of songs I really like as references for later. I then try to pick them apart and use whatever that idea/theme is to spark a new idea. Obviously don’t just copy, but take the bit you like and twist it and make it your own. Every artist is inspired by other artists.