This article originally appeared on the Sonicbids blog.
Your creative time is valuable, and sometimes it’s hard to find uninterrupted chunks of time in the day to dedicate to your music. If you work long hours at a day job, it’s even tougher. The time you spend commuting every day adds up quickly, so why not use that time to work on some songs? Whether you drive, bike, walk, or take public transit, we have some suggestions for how to write new music and finish up old songs while you make your way to your destination.
If you’re in a car-dependent city or town, there’s really no way to get around without getting a ride or driving yourself. If you’re behind the wheel, you obviously need to be as alert as possible, with minimal distractions. However, one thing you can do is make good use of your stereo system. They’re not all created equal, but let’s look at them in two ways:
- You have a terrific sound system – use it to listen back to your demos, pick apart the issues with the song, the mix, the composition, etc.
- You have a not-so-pristine sound system – this is actually a good opportunity, because you get to hear your song in the same setting as most of your fans. While everyone probably wants a state-of-the-art stereo, most settle for something far less impressive. If your music can sound good in an average-to-poor car stereo, you’re doing something right.
What’s the real difference between the bus and the train? Well, the bus runs on the streets. What good does that do you as a songwriter, you ask? Tell stories of what you see. If you’re one of the lucky few who can grab a seat, pull out a pen (or even a note-taking app on your phone) and start writing down descriptions of what you see on the streets. If nothing strikes you as terribly interesting, use your imagination and create your own stories around the people or things you see. Even if you just write free-form poetry, you’ll be exercising your mind’s ability to create on the go. And who knows, maybe you’ll come up with some great similes and metaphors to add to your lyrics later!
Several trains run above ground, giving you city sights to see; however, it’s not always that glamorous. You’ll typically be underground, surrounded by other commuters (and the smells they bring with them). Use the time between train stops to do writing challenges with yourself. For example, between each stop, write five stanzas, or whatever works for you and your commute. You can also use the time to sit with unfinished songs, rearrange ideas, and experiment by pushing your writing to be more clear, impactful, and lyrical.
Musicians are always looking for ways to cut corners and save a little money, so it makes sense that so many of us are bikers! Not to mention that it’s good exercise and environmentally friendly. I don’t recommend biking with headphones or trying to type up cool new lyrics on your phone as you ride (look Ma, no hands!). Rather, use this time to practice singing lines to your songs, and use the freedom of your ride to flesh out your melodies. Get creative, sing new riffs and runs, experiment singing them an octave up (or down), and adopt new personalities. You might be surprised by what you discover!
When getting around by foot, there are tons of writing possibilities to take advantage of! Just please don’t be one of those people who walks into strangers, or even traffic, because you’re staring down at your phone or a notebook. However, what you can do is bring headphones on your walk and use your phone. If you have the instrumental laid out for a new song, make a loop of it long enough to span your commute. While you walk, dream up new lyrics, melodies, and hooks. But don’t forget to record them once you’ve gotten to your destination. Pretty much all cell phones have a small audio recorder – always capture your ideas, even if you don’t think you’ll use them. You never know what you might hear when you listen back.
Also while walking, take time to map out to yourself what you’re trying to say in the first place. Who are you as a songwriter? What’s your vision? What do you want people to understand when they listen to your songs? Walking is the perfect time to get introspective and think about how you’re doing the best you can to express yourself as a songwriter.
Sam Friedman is an electronic music producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, NY. His music blends experimental ambience with indie-driven dance music. In addition to pursuing his own music, he is a New Music Editor for Unrecorded and is passionate about music journalism. Check out his music and follow him on Twitter @nerveleak.