How To Come Up With New Song Ideas

This is for the electronic music producers (EDM) starting out, for the novice and intermediates alike. Some people wonder where I get so many song ideas. I don’t always have a set formula when I’m creating and sometimes I do but after so much trial and error, you begin to get ideas of what works and what doesn’t.

You begin to understand that there is method to a lot of the madness you create. This is a rundown on how I tend to come up with new ideas for creating new songs, specifically for electronic music. But I think they can be applied for other styles as they do allow for flexibility.

Combine styles

One of the things I like to do is combine styles. Style combining, adding/removing of elements from other genres, really helps to create something completely new to the unsuspecting listener. I find that many of the modern electronic music genres have all been adapted from merely combining styles.

For instance take dubstep. Dubstep was an adaptation from the roots of dub, the basslines and the tempo, while also hyphening with the rhythm, syncopation and percussive elements of 2-step music, that developed in the UK. They amalgamate to create the phenomenon that is dubstep.

Another example of this can be found with Drum n’ Bass/ Ragga and Jungle music, which similarly take the bass roots from Reggae and Dub Roots, while uniting the force of classic samples and taking break beats from older soul records, chopping them up, splicing them and reprogramming them.

When you combine different styles it can create something entirely unique and interesting. Whenever I make a remix there’s always a lot of combining styles because it adds a new dimension to the track and it smacks the original expecatation of what it is supposed sound like.

Examples of remixes where combine style are in my Aphex Twin remix as well as my remix for Encephalon, which had mix of IDM underlying it all.

Mix artist/ instrumentation style

Similar to the combination of styles another way to look at it is if you take ideas from the idea tree and go nuts. Make bassline like instrument/artist X’s style, Make Drums sound like instrument/artist Y’s style, Make Chords as artist Z style.

Some may believe this is cop out but I don’t. Creativity is exponential in this manner, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but piecing together other wheels into a new one can be cool. I definitely did this in the process with writing my Klomb record  and my style was very much to do with multiple artist/instrumentation mix up to create something new.

Switch up your sequence

I don’t only mean song sequence here, but the sequence of effects, mixing and musical ideas. There are many ways of ordering these concepts within a song. ABAB. ABCDE. ABACACAB. The possibilities are limitless. You can only switch up to a certain point, but beyond which you will find the average mind will find it intangible. Unexpected Climax! Play it in reverse Inside-out. Fiddle with time-signatures.

Music you wrote 10 years ago is recyclable and easy as pie to reuse, over and over again. If you want to create challenging music come up with an unexpected sequence of events to spice things up, but do realize you can’t go too far so as to lead the listener astray. You are the writer and director.

Sequence is definitely something I review over and over again when I’m done a track. Since digital music allows to re-sequence atypically, we can stretch time, we mute things in/out, we can add effects, the capabilities of sequence are quite limitless.

When you realize you can shift sequence non-linearly, your mind starts to work backwards, wander inside-out until you have something utterly confounding. We are fortunate that the technology affords us the capability to try something new at the drop of a hat! Think in that fourth dimension and switch your sequence into something special. I love when a track takes me to a new place through it’s sequence.

Improvise

When I have no idea what I’m doing or any ideas fully throughout, I improvise. Improv works great for several reasons.

First, improvising can serve as a warm-up for the more solid ideas to come. If you don’t write regularly, you can consider it a warm-up to ramp you and get you back in to the gear of things.

Secondly, if you improvise you should record everything, even if it is bunk.

When you improvise and you do it for a considerable length you might capture fascinating elements that you would have never thought of before. It would be silly not record everything with our technology today, we tend to write our ideas out, but we should also record our ideas we can not immediately write on a sheet of paper because we can not do both at once.

I believe improvisational playing operates on a different level of the brain, the brain frequency resonates on a higher plane. I enjoy visiting this concept and wonder how it relates to Jazz improvisation, which I’ve discussed before. I think this plane can possibly underlying elements of the subconscious, and that’s why it can trigger something extraordinary.

Thirdly, improvising or warming up affords you time when you have recorded a lot of it. I think a lot of music writing is just really good improvising really. It’s just that when people write, they are more in tune, inclined with that frequency wave and their creative genius flows much more promptly.

Try Expressiveness

Changing dynamics where they should be, vibrato, pitch bending, all these subtle things on a track can change the overall expressiveness of electronica track, I find there is a lack of use of this. Considerably, for the kind of heavy EDM music that just wants heavy fat bass all and all in your face (Electronica Americana?).

It loses some feeling in my opinion when it loses some headroom, there is little chance for the music to breathe. You can procure all kinds of expression on a synthesizer using modulators and it can it spark some new song ideas. Sometimes just a simple melody with expressiveness compels me to write a whole new track before I know it!

Add new or contrasting textures/timbres

On Native Instruments Absynth there is a list of predefined textures or timbres. High, Low, Distorted Clean, Dark, Warm, Cold, Fat, Thin, Hard, Soft, Muted, Detuned, Dissonant, Noisy, Metallic, Wooden and Exotic. Cycling through these and mixing up the texture and expressiveness has the potential to create something remarkable. I see these guys as characters, you have to orient them in your play.

See what works! What happens if you have a synth hopping along with muted sounds and suddenly a soaring yet dissonant pad comes along and modulates into something metallic and tears shit up! With exotic plucks phasing left/right, again, the possibilities are only limited to your imagination!

If you are new at this: Remember to put in the work in and it will come together!

These are some of the ideas I can come up with at the moment. I probably have several more that I habitually use, albeit unconsciously but it puts things in to perspective, looking at how I work. If you can take these elements and turn them into a Rubik’s Cube of ideas and sort them out, you should be able to come up with a new song idea more readily. Stay Imaginative!

“Imagination. Use it as a weapon.” Off of Juno Reactor’s Beyond the Infinite.
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