Brisbane-based singer-songwriter and founder of I Heart Songwriting Club, Francesca de Valence offers three ways out of a creative rut
The I Heart Songwriting Club is a global online community for songwriters and artists with a focus on collaboration, support and personal development. Founded by Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Francesca de Valence, the club has generated over 8,000 songs for songwriters from over 15 countries. With an International Songwriter of the Year Award (Los Angeles Music Awards) and an Australian Songwriting Award to her name, de Valence is well-placed to assist other artists with their own work. Here, she shares her tactics for avoiding the songwriting doldrums…
One of the biggest tips I share with songwriters’ is don’t wait for inspiration to strike before songwriting. Instead, create a regular practice for songwriting. A practice where you’re writing every week so that, at a foundational level, the writing gets done and you have songs. On another level so that you can stay connected to your craft and continue to evolve and grow, and at an even higher level, so that you can continue to open up to possibilities and opportunities.
When songwriters start writing every week in a regular practice, they’ll often tell me, ‘OMG, Francesca, this is really working. I can’t believe I’ve written three finished songs in three weeks.’ But after some time, something happens. This practice becomes normal. Could you imagine how that would feel for songwriting to be a regular weekly activity? Well, that can happen with a very small amount of effort. And it is truly life-changing and life-affirming to become that prolific songwriter.
But something else can happen too. This new ‘normal’ can lead to… boredom.
I have a weekly songwriting practice and have had for the past five years and, I admit, I can get bored with songwriting. I go through stages where all my songs start to sound the same. I hear a melody and I’m pretty sure I’ve written that exact melody before. That same chord progression, that same lyrical idea – are we still talking about that, Francesca?
So how do we keep the spark in our regular songwriting practice? And what do we do when boredom strikes?
Getting bored in songwriting can feel like you’ve hit a wall, like you’ve reached a potential limit. But this just an illusion and it’s not true. I know this because I’ve worked out how to get past boredom and I can help you do that too.
If boredom is just an illusion, then the key is to change your perspective. And changing your perspective requires you to get creative. Isn’t that the very thing we want to do anyway? When you solve this problem of boredom, not only are you going to be enjoying writing again but you’re going to be doing things in new and innovative ways and be able to continue to grow and thrive as a creative person. Let me show you how you can have this.
Here are my top tips for getting un-bored and sprinkling some magic back into your songwriting:
1. CHANGE YOUR TUNING
When I do this, straight away, I can’t go to any ‘known’ or habitual chords or shapes and I’m forced to use my ears and play. As a result, not only are the harmonic changes unique and fresh, but my melodic ideas are too, as one influences the other.
Over time some tunings have become comfortable for me. For example, open G is a comfortable place for me to play in. So, when I started repeating ideas in this space, I went to a new place – open D. My song Red Cat, one of the singles I released earlier this year, was my first experiment into open D. It’s now played on radio around Australia and Ireland. Not a bad result from one experiment.
More recently, I tried open A. Oh, this one is my new sweet happy place of unknownness and my latest song obsession was born in just one hour in open A. There’s just no opportunity to get bored in these new musical places and spaces so go there when you feel stuck and same-y.
2. PLAY WITH LANGUAGE
My biggest cringe moments in songs tend to be around lyrics. Sometimes they can be so damn cheesy. To get out of this judgement, which can mask as boredom, I started to write in another language… French.
When I started writing songs in French, I had taken lessons for all of two months. I was a total beginner. I started by googling well-known French phrases, rather than using direct translation, which can be incorrect. For example, I found the saying, “Vouloir, c’est pouvoir”, which means, “To want is to be able”. And so I created a song around what this means to me.
Of course, you could do that in English. But since you already know how to write in English, why not try a new language? So many things shifted for me when I did this – my rhyming, my phrasing, not to mention the expansive learning. Two years later, I’m conversational in French and have a good handful of original French songs that I regularly play in both Australia and France, and my next single will be my first French release. All of this from just playing with language.
3. FIND A NEW LOCATION
When I’m home in Brisbane, I love to drive down to the Gold Coast beaches with my guitar and set up a picnic blanket and my beach umbrella and just write. The psychology of space and creativity is that our mental space is proportional to our perceived physical space. Looking into the distance or being in expansive spaces can bring about high levels of abstract thinking.
Expand your environment, expand your thinking!
Pick a wide and open space that you love to be – the country, on the top of mountain, a rooftop overlooking a cityscape – and simply go there and write. You don’t even need an instrument to write. Just start playing.
Writing outdoors is something I do regularly – with or without an instrument, when I’m at home or on the road. I’ve even taken a piano to the beach once! The reality is bored songwriters can become apathetic about their writing leading to long creative hiatuses, which can lead to a downward spiral of confidence and even worse.
So take fast action. When you feel bored, use my tips to reignite the spark in your songs.
Francesca is offering readers of Songwriting Magazine a 75% discount off of their first term at I Heart Songwriting Club. Just click on this link: iheartsongwritingclub.com