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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Zallo

A community approach to breaking free from writer’s block

Thanks to the amazing response by readers to my last editorial, “What is missing from music today?

I recently posed another question (in this case a two pronged question) to my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, asking, “Who has experienced writer’s block? If you’ve ever broken free of writer’s block, what inspired you?

I was fascinated and inspired by everyone’s feedback, as seen below:











These responses were helpful to me as I’ve recently experienced a bout of writer’s block. I tried many of the tips provided by everyone, with many of the suggestions pointing to the productivity gained by getting in a room with like minded individuals to foster a creative spark. I immediately organized a writing session at my home studio with an array of artists, producers, and creatives of many kinds coming and going throughout the day, working in various rooms, all providing a burst of creativity that was productive and exhilarating.

Those who came to this writing session included:

  1. Vicu Schek on the production and lyrical tip,

  2. Matt Veirs working on drum production and songwriting,

  3. Julian Coles and Gabby Nguyen working with me preparing instrumental tracks for their future vocal sessions,

  4. videographer Cameron T. Williams capturing the action,

  5. musicians emailing their parts, including

  6. Yoed Nir String Productions sending cello parts from New York,

  7. Marcus Mitchell sending saxophone layers from Washington D.C.,

  8. Markus Huber sending his bass guitar from Nashville, TN,

  9. David Joubert sending his keyboard playing from New Jersey,

  10. Lana Lubany sending her lead vocals and harmonies from Israel,

  11. Vahagn Stepanyan emailing us piano parts from his studio in Armenia, and

  12. Kenny McNeil consulting via phone from Las Vegas, NV.

A big shout out goes to Vicu & Matt V. for working the entire 12 hour day and helping to make progress on five new songs; even helping out with Gabby, Lana and Julian’s song productions.

RT: Cameron Williams shot some fresh footage of yesterday's epic 12hr production session w/ @VicuSchek & @MattVeirs. — Matthew Shell (MTS) (@MTS_Music) February 8, 2016

Private link to Matt Veirs & Vicu Schek’s full demo:

Basically, it was a crazy productive Saturday and a lot of it has to do with the inspiration that everyone gave me.

However, this still requires further analysis. What do you do when the following scenarios occur and you’re friends aren’t around to encourage you and spark your creativity? One or many of the following scenarios my be occurring:

  1. You can’t come up with an idea for a song. *

  2. You have a ton of ideas for songs but can’t commit to any of them.

  3. You have the first half of a song completed and have no idea how to finish it.

  4. You have a terrible feeling your song is not making sense and you just hit a dead end.

  5. You’re bored with the song before finishing it.

  6. You keep imagining all the reasons people are going to say your song sucks, and it paralyzes you.

  7. You can’t think of the right words for what you’re trying to convey.

  8. You had this incredibly cool song story idea in your head, and now you’re turning it into words and music and it’s suddenly dumb.

  9. You’re revising your work, and you just can’t get it right.

In most of the above scenarios, the solution is often to remove the pressure that you put on yourself to be epic, dope, amazing, legendary, etc. and rather get your ideas out on paper no matter how dumb they may seem, make a rough recording, and revise more critically later. For me, it’s often second guessing myself during the revising and editing process where I get stuck, so this advice is easier said than done, but keep at it.

I am learning from everyone’s feedback, that even if a song might need to be scrapped, it is not the end of the world. One bit of advice that has helped me the most is the reassurance that a lyric or a song idea might be salvageable to be used in a future song. With everything in mind, be encouraged and don’t give up.  Like anything in life, the more you do something, the better you’ll be at it.

* Back to the first issue on the list. Passionately conveying emotion is one of the most important aspects of songwriting. If coming up with a powerful song concept is your major hangup, Camile Robinson has created a song concepts list to get your creative juices flowing.

I came up with this list as a tool for kick-starting the songwriting process. It was made by listening to a Beach Boys best of, a David Bowie best of, and my favorite couple of Beatles albums, and trying to reduce the concept of the lyric for each song down to a one word kernel (you’ll notice I didn’t always succeed with the one word thing). Each one is an abstract although hopefully emotive starting point from which to begin brainstorming lyrics.

  1. Alienation

  2. Being in love

  3. Worry

  4. Hope

  5. Escape

  6. Defiance

  7. Fear

  8. Fragility

  9. Nostalgia

  10. Paranoia

  11. Helplessness

  12. Fate

  13. Wonder

  14. Shock

  15. Altered perspective

  16. Fantasy

  17. Seduction

  18. Idolatry

  19. Betrayal

  20. Jealousy

  21. Pride

  22. Flirtation

  23. Tragedy

  24. Breaking the rules

  25. Desperation

  26. Need

  27. Loss of control

  28. Obstinancy

  29. Feeling lost

  30. Confusion

  31. Being at a loss

  32. Obsolescence

  33. Commodification

  34. Greed

  35. Excess

  36. Time

  37. Ageing

  38. Contempt

  39. Loss

  40. Conspiracy

  41. Having the answer

  42. Sexual politics

  43. Rejoicing

  44. Shame

  45. Heartbreak

  46. Melancholy

  47. Toughness

  48. Irony

  49. Memory

  50. Reminiscence

  51. Desire

  52. Gratitude

  53. Protection

  54. Loneliness

  55. Joy

  56. Giving

  57. Universality

  58. Be careful what you wish for

  59. Dashed hope

  60. Outrage

  61. Searching

  62. Submission

  63. Devotion

  64. Contentment

  65. Showing off

  66. Reassurance

  67. Refuge

  68. Lecherousness

  69. Change

  70. Communication

  71. Excitement

  72. Mystery

  73. Danger

  74. A journey

  75. Regret

  76. Growing up

  77. Elation

RockDaFuqOut readers, please comment below and add to this conversation. I hope everyone’s feedback can help creative people everywhere overcome writer’s block.

About the author, Matthew Shell


Matthew Shell aka MTS, is an audio production engineer, music business instructor, and multi-instrumentalist. Based in Alexandria, VA, his versatile production style spans genres as wide as jazz and rock, to RnB and soul. Matthew writes and produces music released as solo productions under his own name, as well as for other bands and solo artists. He is the founder and CEO of publishing house and record label MTS Music, a company founded on integrity with the goal to provide the highest quality services & products.

Shell’s work on the production for Marcus Johnson’s album Flo: Chill reached #7 on Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Chart in 2009. Later that year he worked as the engineer on O.A.R.’s album Rain or Shine that reached #5 on the Independent Albums Chart and also #7 on the US Alternative Albums Chart. In 2011, his work on Grammy Nominee Carolyn Malachi’s Beautiful Dreamer was featured on FOX 5 DC Morning News.

Shell’s career as a Recording Artist took off in 2012 when “Freedom”, his collaboration with Trey Eley was launched by the Recording Academy via a Worldwide Exclusive First Listen at in 2012. The album was also featured as one of Generation Bass’ Top Albums for 2012.

In 2013, Shell collaborated with Arun Shenoy on “Genesis”, a jazz instrumental which received massive airplay as the lead single on the full length album, “Victorious”. The video for “Genesis” was released via Steven Slate’s youtube channel in a cross-promotion for the Raven MTX multi-touch control surface.

In 2014, Shell released a single “My Baby”in association with DJ Flexx. The song featuring the vocal talents of IhsAn Bilal, Honore’ & D.C. Don Juan was a song Shell co-wrote and produced for his wife, Terra.

Shell released his follow-up to “Victorious” in 2015 titled “Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning”. The music on the album was conceived over a 15 year period. During this process, over 200 songs were created and scratched before this final version of 11 songs were picked to be recorded and release as part of this project. Shell’s wife, Terra, inspired the completion of this concept album which goes from two destined souls being alone, to meeting, to growing in love, to protecting each other, to finding true love that lasts a lifetime.

As a freelance audio production engineer, Shell has produced for several other artists including Kenny Wesley, Gerald Albright, Greg Adams, Paul Jackson Jr., Wouter Kellerman, Rocio Marron, Vicu Schek, Kenny McNeil, Collin Brooks, Substantial, Rafael the Drummer, D2D, Kolten Perine, Javier, and Marcus Johnson, has remixed for Selena Gomez, assistant engineered for Philip Lawrence, engineered for O.A.R., and mixed for Free, Jeff Lorber, Ricky Kej, and Marcus Mitchell, among others.

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