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Writer’s block is real, and it’s not just authors, but also songwriters and composers. Thinking of top hit songs can be difficult, so how do the pros do it? Where do they get their inspiration from?
In this post, we’ll explore the different ways these songwriters get inspired by the world around them, from a dentist visit to a deep dive in culture, they show how music can come from.
Billie Eilish is an American singer-songwriter who co-writes almost all of her music with her older brother, Finneas O'Connell, and it all started from their bedroom in their parents’ house.
The two siblings get their inspiration from many sources of their daily life. One of Billie Eilish’s top hits, “Bury a Friend”, sings about the perspective of a monster under the bed. With its dark nature, the song contained “interesting” sounds that she recorded from a dentist drill, a staple gun, crushing glass and even Eilish’s own scream that was modified and tuned to match the song. All of which are attributed to its stark uniqueness from other popular songs.
“I don’t want to be in the pop world…the alternate world, the hiphop world, the R&B world…I want to be kind of like ‘what kind of music you listen to?’, Billie Eilish kind of music.” - Billie Eilish source.
Watch the entire interview of Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell breaking down their music production process and how “Bury a Friend” came to life.
Deriving music from your surroundings, identifying suitable sounds, and modifying it to suit your song can help make your music pop. Be creative! Perhaps even the clicking of a pen or the crushing of a chip bag can inspire your next hit!
Lay Zhang is a Chinese singer-songwriter and rapper who takes inspiration from Chinese culture as one of the driving forces behind his unique spin on modern music. His most recent EP, 西 (West), at its core, stems from classical Chinese poetry and history, as he combines traditional Chinese instruments with contemporary popular music styles, making the best of both worlds.
Watch his newest music video, “Veil”, to hear Chinese traditional instruments such as the erhu, as he weaves different sounds between the past and present together with stunning choreography.
“Traditional Chinese music should be appropriately integrated into the right places - it can’t be too overt or too subtle. It has to be just right.” - Lay Zhang source
Bringing your roots to the stage not only presents a part of who you are, but also introduces your culture to the world. Diving deep into your background and finding what resonates with you can help with the formulation of your next idea or theme!
Edgar Barrera is a Mexican songwriter, producer, and musician who has written top Latin hits for singers such as Camilo’s “Vida de Rico,” Maluma’s “Hawái,” and Marc Anthony and Daddy Yankee’s “De Vuelta Pa’ la Vuelta”.
Barrera believes his lyrics are one of his main strengths, where he helps artists with their stories and writes songs that feel “real to them”. His inspiration stems from directly connecting with artists and their stories (such as their backstory of becoming a singer), before using these ideas to craft a song that “reflects reality, without too much poetry”.
“I think the common trend among successful acts is that they’re being raw and authentic, being true to their sound and not trying to chase whatever is working for someone else.” - Edgar Barrera source.
Barrera is a songwriter, not a singer. He focuses on producing music that will stand out from other songs written by other writers, and he does this by listening to the real stories of other people. This way, he not only connects to the music professionals he’s working with, but also to the audience who may have similar stories.
We have only listed a few of the many ways professional songwriters get their inspiration, and there are certainly many other ways to get inspired, such as reading literature or travelling the world! Find things unique to you.
Inspiration can come in many forms, and it’s worth the time and effort to explore before crafting your next song. It is important to find something that matters to you, or an interesting topic that you want to write about.
Although writer’s block can be frustrating and difficult, it can be overcome. Try not to let the block take over you, try to take a step back, think of it as a sign for you to get up, tune out of your studio for a bit, and search for that spark of inspiration.
Perhaps your next song is closer than you think!