Breaking the formula
@hmorg Feb 18
I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in feeling my writing is at times (particularly in February) formulaic. I suppose it's not always a bad thing or undesirable as such, but there have been times I've felt I'm writing the same song over and over and I'd like to hear your tips for breaking the formula or even just reflection on what kind of formula it is that you've fallen into.
@headfirstonly Feb 18
I'm way too fond of I - IV - V progressions. I *like* them; they sound good to me. But I know I'll develop more if I explore other territories. Picking a new instrument (one where I don't know how to do I - IV - V) has really helped me break out of the rut in the past.
I use Ableton, so acquiring a Push controller was a no-brainer. It completely changed my approach to composition, because it lets you do things in VERY different ways. For example: you can actually tell it which mode you want to compose in, and it will stop you playing anything that doesn't fit. Lydian? Harmonic Minor? Kumoijoshi? It's got you covered...
@dasbinky Feb 18
I don't necessarily view a formula as a bad thing, especially if you view "formula" as a synonym for "style". But when I'm trying to break out of it, I have to do it very consciously; planning ahead of time. Your formula is what happens when you just let things happen.
Like "ok, instead of relying on a verse-chorus-verse structure or whatever, I'm going to open with a chorus, and make sure to include a bridge" or "I'm going to force myself to use this instrument I never play" or "I'm going to force myself not to make anything rhyme and it's going to be in 5/8" or "I will (or won't) use any distortion on this song" or whatever. It depends on what formula you're breaking out of. Using tools like the FAWM Muse stuff is great for ideas too.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it creates something I hate that other people love or vice versa. Never can tell.
But FAWM's the perfect place to try it out.
@ustaknow Feb 18
Yes, forumulas are great for capturing an idea, however you can an accurately get to it later. I guess how one defines formulas, - different for everyone here.
I've had plenty of theory and song forms stuff and I get it. However, I view it like, if I pick a Bass Guitar to play, 12-String, 6-String, Harmonica... wow, imagine a harp, every, single, song, every time 😀 hahhh...
So, with that said, - collaborate.
And, not with anyone like "you", your stuff.
As a matter of fact there's a member or two here, as I understand our conversations, - they love "breaking" other songwriters, 😀 hahh!, so to speak...
You can look on your own for that in the song games area.
Moreover, you may find that some of the most non-conventional song form folks with the wildest free form content know an encyclcopedia set worth about "doing this". Kind of like MacGyver - you really need to know some stuff to be able to fix something with duck-tape 😀, gum, and a pocket knife.
So, with that said, I can't now name off a few. And, it's best to find your own way here in this. But, the song-games crowd this year looks outstanding for breaking your boxes.
Find one or two to keep in touch with through the year and take small bites first, - don't want a bad "trip" 😀 hahhh.
@ustaknow Feb 18
Oh, and - hahhh, I've mentioned this before, but never quite understood, (but take it how you may) -- get a stripped down DAW and learn how to do EVERYTHING manually, like pre 1990's era manually (at least in concept method if not physically).
So, e.g., I use Audacity on Linux 😀 and no plug-ins.
Everything is sm57 mic'd, dry to mono, - period, - Recorded. Then, I do what I do and do it in usually an hour or less, "FAWM" is like year round for me, never stops because I can.
Now, mic'g a drum kit (just listened to one of yours 😀 just now, wow, nice stuff... ), -- anyway, mic'g a kit, sucks lemons big time, unless electronic... so, pick the whip you want to be under.
But, if that don't break your box, not much will. But then, the thing is, the next time you click "Enhance"... you'll know exactly, what little it did other than save you 10 mins 😀 hahhh. There's only so much one can slice and dice an analog wave, including segmenting it out 199.99Hz and etc. 😀 versus 200Hz.
So, actually if you don't get what I say at all (and many don't 😉 ) it's a good sign you may need dump the Cadi, and get a VW for a while 😀 or worse, an "MG" - hahhh, "dim, fliker, and off" - gotta luv those english cars (car analogy there if not clear). Better yet, get a bike 😀 yeehaw.
But seriously, not saying start splicing Tape or anything. Maybe like when KISS went Acoustic hahh 😀 how all that starts 1+1, hard to imagine, didn't need the spiked boots to write'em.
@celineellis Feb 18
I love the FAWM challenges for pushing me out of my comfort zone and get me creating in new ways, with new inspirations or new ideas.
@jorh Feb 18
I’ve found collaborating with others allows me to ‘break out the formula’. It generates lots of ideas and gets me thinking in new ways by sharing our songwriting process with each other💡 I’ve found myself taking songs in completely new exciting directions with others advice and suggestions. I often find it sparks off ideas/themes for completely new songs too which I can start working on later. Also take risks with your collaborators - it’s great to put yourself outside your comfort zone and try new genres or styles, whilst learning from their experience. Hope this is helpful!
@hmorg Feb 18
I think I actually have different formulas depending on what I'm trying to write. I'm currently in like 5 bands that are all metal but still quite distinct from each other and each of those styles introduces some rut to fall back on, be it chord progression, structure, lyrics or whatever. This year, when it comes to FAWM, I've been letting the formula work for me by mostly using amp sim and drum sim templates and pre-made mix templates, fudging with them only minimally, which has in turn freed a lot of my time to the actual songwriting, and while most of the stuff I've done so far has been well within my comfort zone, the lyrics I wrote for my collab with @kembole was a breath of fresh air as I have these mental hangups about what I can and can't write about within a certain style, and as I wrote the lyrics first and @kembole did the music after seeing them, I had no idea what the style would be. Of course, it also turned out to be something I could not write myself, so that was cool too.
@lastnightilie Feb 18
I think looking at it from a systematic way should work. If you're not sure what sounds samey in your songs, it's most likely the melody, especially the melodic rhythm. A lot of people think using the same chords is boring, but unless you hate pop and rock music, it's not true. Most great songs all use the same chords as each other but they don't sound the same, even when performed stripped down; that's because of melody. But what a lot of people don't understand about melody is that 90% of the battle is the rhythm, and only 10% is pitch (these are obviously made-up percentages but you get the point). I haven't had a chance to listen to your songs, but most beginner songwriters (myself included until very recently) write boring rhythms. If that's you and you want to level up, take care to ensure you're not always writing on the beat so that your words could basically be changed to "1, 2, 3, 4" (or "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and") and count the tempo! Make sure the rhythm varies between long and short notes within lines and between parts (usually the chorus has more long notes than the verse), and also make sure you vary where you start in the bar. You might sing the first word right on beat 1 for the verse, and sing the first word a beat/half beat before or after beat 1 on the choruses, etc.
If you need more instruction or practice on this, there's no better education than listening to your favorite songs and analyzing the melodies and rhythms. Try to pinpoint exactly what you like about those songs, what you dislike about other songs, and what differs between your songs and the greats.
This is stuff I've learned recently from reading a lot of books and taking songwriting courses. Hope it helps!
-Edit- And it probably goes without saying, but whatever you specifically find that you don't like in your writing, or that's always the same, just issue yourself some challenges to counteract it. If it is chords, then force yourself to use a few crazy progressions, etc.
@the3queens Feb 18
I am finding this year writers are really breaking the mold!
@circle Feb 18
I remember a year or two ago I was writing a lot of songs and then realised that they all had the same chord progression. I didn't discount them because they were all different songs, but I did try to stop doing it.
Sometimes it can work to just start a song differently. Think of a melody, or a beat, or some lyrics. Last year I wrote a song that was so out of my wheelhouse because I went backwards - lyrics, melody, chords. I almost always go chords, melody, lyrics, but I think that song was quite good and certainly really different to what I normally do.
I'm definitely guilty of being formulaic in style as well, but it's just what I like and what's easiest for me to do. And I think I change things enough song to song that it isn't just the same thing over and over
@scottlake Feb 18
Here’s one tip I have to force myself into every FAWM to jump outbid the rut:
Write a refrain line song.
I try to do one every FAWM and it helps me break out of VVCVBCC form for the rest of the time
@scottlake Feb 18
* out of
@thedustcollector Feb 18
I've been playing with the idea of leaning hard into the sameness and going "you know what, they're all part of a continuous, intra-referential song cycle/concept album" and then deliberately try to weave in or resurface themes in different ways across multiple songs.
(also, dasbinky's "Your formula is what happens when you just let things happen" is a really lovely way of putting it.)
@klaus Feb 18
I agree with @lastnightilie
The rhythm of the melody is something that has a lot more possibilities than chords. I think about AC/DC. Very often their choruses are just one note. But it's the rhythm of that one ( sometimes two ) notes that gives the choruses a distinct feel. Good guitar riffs don't hurt either.
I'd add that also pauses, leaving space between the notes is important.
And with chords, it's essential that you vary the harmonic rhythm. I got that from Walter Piston's Orchestration book. ( Didn't actually read it through, just browsed ). Take the Who. Pete Townsend build a whole career out of a couple of chords but he varies the harmonic rhythm of those chords.
Vary the rhythm of your melodies and chords and you can always find something new. That's the theory in any case. I'd have to check if I do what I preach. 😀
@drewhottmann Feb 19
These are all awesome tips for breaking the formula. I think I’ll find the comments about melodic rhythm especially useful as I continue this month.
Something I’ve done to break my habits in chord progressions is to write in a key I never play in; it forces me out of the muscle memory choices and forces me to make conscious decisions. This probably functions similarly to writing on a different instrument than normal, but I can only play guitar, so this works for me.
@quork Feb 19
I’ve been breaking out of the formula by embracing unfamiliar formulas, like disco. Also getting out of diatonic chord progressions by throwing in, say, a D and E7 into a song in the key of Am. Also played open chord patterns up the neck until I found chords that sounded good together.
@radioovermoscow Feb 19
I've never bothered to even find out what things like I-IV-V mean. Yeah, it's frustrating when I know what I want and can't find it, and have to get there through trial and error... but it also means I never, ever, get those progressions creeping in lazily. If they happen, it's naturally - never forced.
@yowhatitlooklike Feb 19
I was stuck in a loopy rut for a long time (still am by degrees) but lately I've started to make my music more informed by the lyrics I write. Like if I come up with 3 rhyming lines instead of two in one verse, I might just repeat some of the chords or linger on a chord and it will both add variety to the structure and work nicer with my lyrics. Similarly with vocal rhythms, writing to the rhythm of your words and switching up the melody in cool ways to match if necessary.
I have also started introducing intentionally weird chords to spice things up, like the Bowie "minor where you expect a major" trick or occasionally something weirder in places where I feel there could be tension. I like to write simpler stuff tho, old folk songs and blues are my favorite, and I think even within simple formulas there's still a lot of room for creativity and emotional depth.
@jeffjerrywalker2 Feb 24
I've tried using only two chords, repeated, for the chorus.
@saltyjohn Feb 24
I use that sometimes - IV, ii, IV, ii etc. Keeps things simple and sounds good with my more funereal lyrics : )
@nadine Feb 24
I totally agree to @dasbinky. Some part of the formula is your own style, your own flavour. You shouldn't change it, just embrace it and expand it.
There are also these toxic formulae which make you stuck for years. Two examples of mine:
1. Sticking to the same chord progression. Unfortunately I listened to music that used my two favourite chord progressions, so I never noticed... until my music teacher told me. The 4 chords song of "Axis of Awesome" healed me. Now, over 15 years after, I understood that this I-IV-V-notation was everything I needed to discover these similarities.
2. End syllable rhyming. Everybody does it since it is very easy. There are even dictionaries for it! But c'mon nobody wants to listen to these "I miss you - I feel so blue" songs. While listening to prog metal I found out that there is good music outside which does not even rhyme at all. It is really hard to get rid of these rhymes!
In my honest opinion collaborating and talking to open minded, honest people is the best thing to do against it.