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Breaking the mold

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by morebass4me, Dec 19, 2012.

  1. morebass4me


    Oct 15, 2009
    So I've been lurking on here for a while, love all the advice and experience on here and I figured I'd try to take advantage of it. :)

    Anyways, right now i'm playing in a power trio, standard guitar-bass-drums format. We play all originals, pretty straight-ahead 4/4 rock with some punk and indie overtones, and right now I'm the principle songwriter/arranger. Since I'm nothing special in this area, I'm wondering if any of you could share some ideas on how to keep my songs from all sounding the same/being boring, since if there's one thing I hate, it's a generic rock set where you can't tell any of the songs apart.

  2. SirMjac28

    SirMjac28 Patiently Waiting For The Next British Invasion

    Aug 25, 2010
    The Great Midwest
    How much are the other band members involved in the writing process? If you are doing 80% of the writing and arranging and the other members don't have much input it may become boring or stale to you but on the other hand you may be developing your signature sound most bands have one and your fans will want you to be consistent in your sound they don't want something new every album.
  3. morebass4me


    Oct 15, 2009
    That's a good point mjac, I hadn't thought of the signature sound aspect. However, I think a lot of our style comes from the playing/vocals rather than any particular characteristics of the songwriting. I'll keep that in mind though!

    I try and keep the entire process as democratic as possible, and the other guys for the most part write their own parts, unless someone else has a better idea to share. However, the lyrics and basic composition are usually mine, and I tend to fall into a rut with composition and/or lyrics, which is the main thing I'm trying to avoid.

    P.S. By composition I mean both song structure (verse chorus verse,) and sound.
  4. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    Good question.

    2 things come to mind for me. 1 is writing as much as possible, and then weeding out the worse (most redunant) of your tunes.

    The other is to dive into some music unlike what you're accustomed to. Learn a bunch of motown tunes, or zeppelin tunes, or disco tunes, or anything other than what you're music sounds like. I find when I just into something and stay there for a week or 2 I start unconsciously being inspired. I was never much into weezer, but had a CD running in my car for a week or 2. Wound up writing this http://joenerve.bandcamp.com/track/abducted and realizing only after it was done where the influence came from. It was a definite change from the other pop/punk kind of stuff I was writing at the time.
  5. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    the Intergalactic Mind Space
    Song Surgeon sofware
    Learn music theory, analyse songs by other writers from different genres,study poetry, study vocabulary (especially adjectives), keep a journal of daily observations, listen to people and write down what topics they talk about and how they describe their interests, read classic literature, take an online music/english/literature classes, buy song writing books, etc.

    Expanding your knowledge on an ongoing basis, IMO, is the way to go to not get stuck in a rut.
  6. Laid back songs are the perfect time to play some chords, especially triads on the A, D, and G strings (C string if you have one). Focus on a unique groove and then some of the specific notes become less important as long as you're not always using the same phrases. Also, consider harmonics, effects (room for lots of distortion and wah on heavy songs). Mix it up a little
  7. One word: Rush. Those guys have been around for almost 45 years and they definitely have a signature sound. You know it's Rush. And look at their fan base. Ravenous. :) Also, If I'm not mistaken, Geddy is the main writer/composer for the band. (?)

    Makes me want to go form a power trio, dig out my keyboard and start doubling like Geddy. If only I could sing and play like him. H3ll... if only I could sing period. lol


    Currently I'm going back and forth between Rush, Gramatik, John Mayer and 311. How's that for variety? lol

  8. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Try starting with the story. Lyrics first, chords next, melody from the chord tones. Then match everything so it flows. Lyrics set the tone....

    If you have a different story to tell everything should end up sounding different. If it's just another - someone done someone bad song - then it probably will sound like a cookie cutter someone done someone bad song.
  9. If the song sounds okay, but lacks something, try and find a hook. "Like A Rolling Stone" is a good example. Without the hook - "how does it feel?", the song would never have worked.

    I can't write songs for crap, so feel free to ignore me (I generally ignore myself, so I won't be offended).
  10. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    I'm a big believer in books
    so for songwriting I'd recommend one or more ( I understand there's a more recent compendium of his work) by Rikky Rooksby.
    They are a fairly gentle introduction to theory for pop/rock songwriting and have plenty of good examples to steal from.

    The theory aspect is very nice because one can hear the practical application of it and it really sets a base for learning more 4 note jazz theory if desired.
  11. morebass4me


    Oct 15, 2009
    Thanks for all the awesome replies everybody, I've got a lot to think about now!

    Joe, I'm working on writing more, the creativity comes and goes though, but I have definitely improved a lot from where I started : )

    Stumbo, I couldn't agree more, I love learning new stuff and you gave me some great ideas that I hadn't thought of to go to for new material.

    Oniman, good thinking with the effects, I have some pedals laying around that I should start getting some new sounds out of. Realizing that I sound like a complete noob, do you know where I could get some more information on triads and phrasing? My knowledge of theory is not what it should be :)

    Gecko, true story with Rush! If only I was an awesome... everything... than I could have the ravenous fan base too :)
  12. morebass4me


    Oct 15, 2009
    Phew, it was starting to feel like writing a novel, so I just posted what I had.

    Malcolm, i have written a few story type songs, it's actually how i got started, but I'm finding it harder to fit it into this context, especially since I want to get the crowd involved in the music more. But maybe I should be embracing some of that more (for that signature sound;))

    Mark, I like the hook idea, I need to work on that. Like I said, I've mostly done story type songs which haven't lent themselves to repeated lines, that's a good way to mix it up. I'll tell you if it works so you can quit ignoring yourself :)

    Wrench, it looks like time for trip to the library. Thanks for the suggestion!
  13. morebass4me


    Oct 15, 2009
    Oh and BTW, I should probably confess (with guilt and shame) that I'm the guitar player at the moment
  14. If you're playing guitar learn different chord voicings and inversions as well as non-open chords like c# minor. Using a wide range if tones will help. The theory can be learned right here at talkbass
  15. As for books, there's also Songwriting for Dummies.
    I find these books full of information, but easy to digest. I have it, as well as the Bass and Guitar books.

    And a lot of that advice is the same as others have mentioned. Read a lot, expand, pay attention to people and things they say and do. You never know where inspiration for something really cool will come from.
  16. I'm a guitar player too. Just say three "Hail Marys" and four "Our Fathers" and God may forgive us.
  17. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    If you're worried about sameyness, try making a checklist. For each new song you write, use a different key, a different tempo, a different set of meters, different subject matter, different atmosphere, different style or feel. That way, you can plan things out on paper and see that things are different from the get go rather than having to wait until you've already written and rehearsed the song fifty times before deciding that it's too similar to your last song and throwing it out of your set. Three completely different tunes:

    Title: Coffee On My Pants
    Key: G minor
    Tempo: Fast
    Style: Ska
    Meter: 13 (lolololol)

    Title: 12:12 12.21.12
    Key: B major
    Tempo: Slow, with a fast B section
    Style: Grunge rock
    Meter: 4

    Title: Acid Squirrel Brisket Retrieval: Part MXCVII and ⅓
    Key: C minor, E♭ major, A♭ major, C major, F# major, E minor...
    Tempo: Dishwashing liquid
    Style: Broadway show tune
    Meter: 17, 23 in B section, 9 in C section, alternating between 5 and 13 in D section...

    Even without hearing these songs, you can get an idea of how they will sound, and that will inform you of how to write them. If you start with a plan, you can build up rather than bumping into things and trying to find your way as you write.
  18. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Some great advice, so I will add only this, let any song take on its own identity.....give it a chance to show itself. One of the things I know about songs is they do not always work first time...even for the 100th time, but put it a side and take on another. Never really force a song, never set out with the idea that a song will be this or that, let it develop.
    Sure you can have a structure, but that structure can develop, so in trying to remember how a clever arrangement goes you sometimes forget to play it, your focus is not on playing, but on remembering.

    Then as you write and develop more ideas, some of those ideas you had that did not work, sometimes appear to work as part of your new song. So that great melody you had for the verse of a song, now seems to work as the chorus of another. That great intro now becomes a great middle 8 or bridge.
    In song writing nothing you ever develop is wasted, of not with this band, then maybe later bands.
    Within in the art of writing there are formats or templates that you can use. It's not always verse, chorus, verse chorus etc....sometimes there is no chorus, maybe no solo, maybe a solo opens the song or finishes it, maybe start with a chorus, even the title of the song does not have to appear, Or look at the Beatles early releases, the title of the song is mentioned in the first few opening lines, or is the opening line.

    I have been writing songs and lines for over 35 years and the older I get the more the ideas flow, the more I have to draw on from life and experience......maybe even the return of some styles and genres that were ' out of fashion' return and allow old ideas to be fresh again...if some what retro.

    The big piece of advice is never judge a song, never let anyone who has anything to do with it judge it.....put it out there and let the audience judge it. Never compare it to other songs, let the song stand to be judged on its own merits as a song of its time.
    As I get older I hear bands with sounds, songs with meaning, music for a new age..etc, but I can relate it to something I have heard before, but something is always new to someone at some point....and that's the point, whatever you write is new.

    So take a story, set it to music, and see what happens.;)
  19. Piggy8692


    Oct 2, 2010
    Northern Utah
    I don't know if staying in 4/4 is something that is by design or part of the rut. You can always add extra beats or take out beats within the measures to make things sound different from time to time. I throw some mixed time signatures in on occaision to keep things different. Not really mainstream, but different at least.

    This was mainly supposed to be a bump, I'm just here to read.

    Please continue.
  20. Sloop John D

    Sloop John D

    Jun 29, 2012
    This is the best way to develop your talents. Knowing what you need to do is usually not the hard part. The hard part is having the discipline to actually go through with it.