7 Unusual Tricks For Writing Powerful Prog

how to write powerful prog

Songwriting is tough. I mean, you’ve written some golden hits you’re proud of, but, for every song you’ve composed, you’ve created three more that are bordering on forgettable. In addition, you have about a dozen unfinished songs and half-baked ideas floating around in your head that you’ve never quite been able to do anything with. You begin questioning yourself: “Was my writing before just a fluke? Did I use up all of my good ideas already? Should I give up on my dreams of music and pursue competitive hot dog eating instead?”

Fortunately, the answers are “No,” “Definitely not,” and “Maybe” (if eating 62+ hotdogs in 10 minutes seems appealing to you.).

The reality is that composing music can be extremely challenging, and it is very normal for you to have these feelings. Not to mention there about a bajillion different resources for those who want to improve their instrumental abilities but very few resources for songwriting (much less prog song writing), so it’s hard to find guidance. The good news is that your songwriting problems can largely be overcome with some improvements in both your mindset and your process. With these following tips, you can overcome a lot of hurdles you might not even realize you have and push you closer to completing that awesome album!

1. Trashing a “good” part of the song is sometimes the best thing you can do.

The triumphant feeling you get after you write a great riff or section is unparalleled. You are one step closer to finishing this awesome song right? NOT SO FAST! You may not realize it, but the “awesomeness” of the riff may be in fact holding you back. It’s very easy to let the flashiness of a certain riff you wrote blind you from realizing that it’s incongruent with the direction/message of the song. A good way to diagnose whether or not a riff is needed is by imagining the song as a story. What part of the story does this section of music tell? Does it move the plot forward or does it simply distract from it? If it’s the latter, it may not be the best fit for the song.

Cyborg Octopus

Cyborg Octopus

2. Put creative limits on your writing.

When I was getting started writing progressive music, I went CRAZY. One piece of music started with a heavy groovy section, which led to jazz bars that transitioned into a black metal blast beat, then morphed into to an 8-bit breakdown, then to a grindcore mess, then finally ended with a salsa jam. Now don’t get me wrong, this, and other similarly crazy songs I wrote were all crowd pleasers in one form or another, and I enjoyed performing them. However, one thing I began to notice after writing this way for an extended period of time was that each song I wrote lacked its own identity or focus. What emotional impact could any of my songs have if each of them were going in a million different directions all the time?

Since then, I’ve discovered the strategy of putting creative limits on my writing. Instead of focusing on switching genres every four bars, I would experiment with limiting myself to just one genre per song. Instead of cramming a million entirely different riffs into a song, I would try to reuse the same four in different variations. Finding different ways to limit the scope of my writing in each song helped me bring significance and character to each piece.

3. Be Polarizing.

Wanna know how to make boring music that’s extremely forgettable and dull? Play it safe. Cater to all the clichés that have already been set for your type of music and market it to the target audience that has been proven to be into this genre.

Prog is all about innovation, change, and pushing the envelope. Although progression is great, change inherently makes some people uncomfortable and turned off.  It’s much better to take risks and write music that can turn some people off than write music that you know nobody will hate. Although writing polarizing music can repel some, the people who like your music will REALLY like your music for it’s differences.

4. If you passively wait for inspiration to come, you could end up waiting forever.

Be aggressive in your pursuit of ideas and motivation. One good technique is to listen to a type of music you’d usually hate and find out ways to love it. Deconstruct the song and put it back together. I would even recommend downloading the song in some type of tablature form so you can clearly see how the instrumentation is working together.

Oftentimes, the act of writing itself can inspire ideas, which causes you to write more, which in turn causes more inspiration and more writing. It’s an awesome cycle that essentially boils down to one thing: taking action. So the next time you catch yourself waiting for inspiration to strike, start writing then and there, even if you think you have writer’s block. I promise that you will surprise yourself. This brings me to…

5. Give yourself a 30 day challenge of writing everyday.

The ability to write is a muscle, and composing daily is a workout that will increase your speed and quality of output (Do you even write bro?). This will happen for a couple reasons: First, because you are becoming progressively more aware of your writing style. Second, you are getting in the habit of working to solve your writing problems as opposed to just giving up when you’ve hit any kind of writer’s block. Third, it’s just common sense: the more you try, the more chances you’re giving yourself to write something awesome.

6. Never be 100% comfortable with what you’re writing.

An art professor once told me that our greatest artistic moments happen when we pull the rug out from under our feet and we’re in midair. That moment while we’re in mid-air, struggling to survive, before we regain our footing again, is where we’re forced to innovate.

To be truly progressive, one needs to consistently push him or herself to problem solve as many songwriting problems as possible in a variety of different ways. This mindset will prevent your songs from getting predictable and dull.

7. Never write on your main instrument.

As counterintuitive as it is, this can actually be a HUGE hindrance to your ability to write great music. What you may not realize is that the note choices you make will be subconsciously influenced by the muscle memory you’ve developed from playing your instrument. What I recommend instead is downloading a tablature program like Guitar Pro or TabIt for writing. Not only will this remove your muscle memory bias from the equation, it will help you expand your focus and think about the song from a holistic, all-instruments perspective.

Now It’s one thing to read these tips on a blog post and think “I’ve become a smarter writer!”, but it’s quite another to put these ideas into practice. In order to successfully implement these tips into your writing, you need to develop systems to change your thinking. You need to break old, ineffective habits (which can be very hard to break!). You need to invest time into it at the expense of other things. I’m not gonna sugar coat things: The road ahead is going to be tough.

But think about that one album that changed EVERYTHING for you. That album that still to this day, you could listen to over and over again without getting tired of. That one album that was more than a group of songs that you really liked, it was a craft of perfection that you LOVED.

The path to creating something of that magnitude is difficult, but if the end result is creating something that has the ability to inspire people the way you’ve been inspired, isn’t it all worthwhile?

Thank you so much for reading this article! I hope these tips help you out in your songwriting journey! For those seeking more tips, I’ve created a series of free videos that discuss topics like ‘getting over writers block’ and more on our channel ‘RiffShop’. Enjoy!

Check em out here! http://bit.ly/2j9B6PE

David Wu is the founder and primary songwriter of the Bay Area Progressive Metal band Cyborg Octopus. He is also the co-founder of Riffshop, an online resource primarily dedicated to helping you improve your songwriting skills through tips, tricks, and tutorial videos. He still lives at home with his mom.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: