There are songwriters who treat songwriting like a 9 to 5 job – they essentially sit down and come up with a chord progression, melody and arrangement and call the result “a song”.
Most anyone with some basic music training can do this. The trick however, is to write a song that’s memorable – something that has a hypnotic melody, chord progression or riff; in other words, a “hook”. While there are those that claim that creativity can be taught, I’m skeptical of this. In my opinion (and experience), creativity isn’t a mechanical process that can be formulated – sparks of creativity “just happen”.
Drugs and Creativity
Many would likely agree that most creative era in popular music during the last few decades was the period spanning the mid to late 1960s. Incidentally, this was also the era where the use of psychedelics and other substances was very common among musical artists, with the most notable being the Beatles, the Beach Boys (i.e., Brian Wilson), Jimi Hendrix and Syd Barrett (of Pink Floyd). All of these artists produced some astoundingly creative music during a span of only 5 years.
Is there a causal link between the use of certain drugs and creativity? From my research online, there’s one camp that asserts that drugs such as psychedelics and cannabis can enhance creativity and there’s another camp which states that there’s no direct link. So the jury appears to be out on this question.
From my own personal (long past) experience – certain drugs can make you less inhibited which can lead to enhanced creative ability. You’ve heard of the term “thinking outside the box”? Well, certain substances can pretty much shatter that box and allow your mind to roam freely and make connections between things that you may not normally link.
As I indicated, my own personal experience with substances is long in the past. In my opinion, long-term use of substances is quite stupid and very destructive. And personally, having clarity of mind is of utmost importance to me. So with that being said, how do I put myself in a creative state of mind that will enable me to write that elusive memorable song?
Semi-Consciousness and Creativity
I’ve found that when I’m on the verge of falling asleep, musical ideas appear in my mind – specifically melodies. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a guitar and smartphone beside my bed so that when an idea pops into my head, I’m able to hum the melody, figure out the chord progression that goes with that melody and record it onto my smartphone. Then I’ll completely forget about it the day after and listen back to it a week later with “fresh ears” to assess whether what I recorded was actually any good. If it’s good, I’ll develop it into a full-fledged song.
Using this methodology, I’ve been able to compile quite an extensive library of musical ideas onto my smartphone, some of which have developed into songs.
My theory on why this happens – when I’m falling asleep, I’m in between states of consciousness and unconsciousness. In this “zone”, my mind becomes less inhibited and the ideas just come pouring out of me. So essentially, I’ve replaced drugs with sleepless nights to enable me to write songs!
I don’t know if this happens with other people, but it does happen with me. I’d be really interested to know if there are other songwriters out there who have experienced something similar to what I’ve described in this article. 🙂