Songwriting Exercise: Turning On The Hit Radio of Your Mind – And Then…Turn It Up

Admittedly, one of my favorite guilty pleasure songs is from 80s hair metal band Autograph, “Turn Up The Radio.” It’s the ultimate metal anthem, chock full of chuggy guitars, phat synths, with an amazing guitar solo and an epic 80s video to go with it. I mean you got everything…especially in the video. A Metal Band on a Spaceship in the Future … Check. Papermate Product Placement (because obviously we are still using Papermate pens/pencils in the future) … Check. What else do you need.

Anyway, but before you go and “turn UP the radio,” here’s an idea I’ve been meaning to write about and share. When it comes to sitting down to write that amazing song…what about FIRST…. “turning ON the hit radio of your mind’s eye” … and then turning that up! Read on to learn how to write a song using this new visualization technique.

visualization - eyeball on forehead

I’ve actually done this from time to time to experiment … sometimes when I’m really relaxed, about to go to bed … I’ll close my eyes and turn on the “radio” on my mind and just see what plays. Like, oh, Rihanna is making a new record. Let me turn on the radio of my mind and time travel into the future and hear what that song might sound like.

Often, I’ve done this and just in the craziest way, heard something amazing, inventive … and I dare say sounding like a hit, and nothing at all that I could have done just sitting at the piano or in front of Logic, etc. just tinkering away. Like in a way, I could never “write” that. Yet, I IMAGINED it and just let the song play out in my mind. Instead of oh … just trying this chord, that chord, that patch that drum patch etc, that lyric, etc which is kind of a haphazard way of writing a song.

Or to put it another way… often I’d feel like this guy on Sesame Street trying to write “Yankee Doodle”

The Songwriting Process: A Different Approach

Of course, we all go about writing songs differently. For me at least, my method was starting from the best concept or song title that I had at the time and then was able to work backwards and forwards from that concept point.

Some people get a whole lyric first. If you ever write with Billy Steinberg, he’ll give you a finished lyric to write from (much like Bernie Taupin and Elton). And then there are producers who have beats and tracks and sometimes that is their starting point.

But what if the starting point was simply, closing your eyes, and “turning on the radio” (and not just any radio, how about the hit radio station or coolest indie pop college radio, etc) to your third eye. Now that I think about it, I think it’s silly I never really developed this beyond just an “oh that’s kind of interesting” type of exercise, mostly because I’ve often had a through written finished song with a production and a whole vision of a song, just play.

And I’ll say it again. I probably could have never “written” it at the computer or keyboard. But I certainly could imagine it in 5 minutes, and that “imagined” song was probably 10x better than anything strenuously belabored at the piano for hours.

I think if I were starting over again this would be, probably one of the only ways I would write a song today. Moreso, the trick would probably be getting in the practice and developing tools to refine and then somehow “download” this song from my mind into a handheld recorder or iPhone. It’s almost like … man if there was just a ⅛” stereo mini jack going from my brain to my computer I could write 10 amazing songs a day (maybe?) … I mean … if I really developed that skill.


Maybe it could be done. Maybe you’re already doing it?!

I’m just putting that out there. I’ve never talked about that with anyone and maybe some people just already write like this, i.e., having the entire song show up in their mind and then just translate it to your Ableton session and…voila. Hit of the day.

Oh and BTW… side note. There really is something like this that’s been developed by military intelligence. It’s called “remote viewing.” This is a real thing and apparently is used in spy warfare, time traveling, to finding lost people. Who knows, maybe it could apply to the songwriting process.

And with that paragraph, I just blew my credibility. But hey… I do think there’s something there. We’re pulling inspiration from somewhere… and maybe it’s from the future or from the God you believe in or just pure inspiration but it’s coming from somewhere.

Songwriting Exercise

So let’s actually try this out. Entertain me and try this exercise which I’ll call:

Turning on the Radio of Your Mind

  1. Make sure you have a PAPERMATE pen or pencil (via Autograph’s video LOL), and paper and a handheld recorder or iPhone.
  2. Make sure you’re in a comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted and where it’s quiet.
  3. Perhaps choose to do this exercise during your most creative hours. For me, that’s the evening, for others it might be the morning (and I just heard a really cool fact that apparently, the best time to be creative is right when you wake up because your mind’s critical “filters’ are mostly off).
  4. Next, close your eyes, get in a relaxed state.
  5. Imagine your favorite radio, it could be an old-time radio, the one in your car, or just an iPhone / Android, etc.woman with boom box
  6. Now turn it on. What do you hear? Maybe you can even imagine the DJ / announcer talking over the intro and announcing the song.
  7. Let it play, let it play all the way through. Now, can you remember it? If you can, please play it back again as many times so you won’t forget it.
  8. This might be a good time to have the recorder available. Start singing it into the recorder. This might include making sonic noises of how the production and beats and parts are supposed to sonically sound.
  9. Whatever you can do … now run … go capture it!
  10. That’s going to be the hard part. Making that magic that you might have never “written” at the keyboard … and transfer it and get it into your session file.

Setting An Intention

Another idea here is … you might even go into this exercise with an intention. Like I mentioned previously, maybe you want to write a song for Rihanna’s next single.

you ready?

What would that sound like? Get her voice in your mind. What genre would it be? What future sound would she be going for or what do you think would be exciting for her? And now, let the mind write it.

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One other last idea regarding setting an intention. The mind is literally a SUPERCOMPUTER. If you give your brain questions and problems, like literally ask yourself a question, your mind will go to work for you to find the solution. It’s said that Benjamin Franklin would never go to bed without first, asking a question to the subconscious. More often than not, Benji F. would wake up the next morning or in a few days with the answer he asked the night before. It’s also why sometimes all of our solutions we’ve been working so very hard on might come to us while in the shower or brushing our teeth or doing something mindless … because the brain has been working hard on it. And finally … that “progress bar” in your mind finally got to the end and shot that answer in your brain as “inspiration.”

So before you go to bed you might ask your subconscious, “What would a new smash hit from Rihanna sound like and how would that song go?” Or maybe, “What would an amazing new uptempo sound like that could redefine the direction of popular music.” Dream up!

Let that piece of grey matter do the work for you. It’s literally the most powerful supercomputer on the planet, so let your beautiful brain do its job.

And maybe, just maybe, you can write a song as good as Autograph’s “Turn Up The Radio.” LOL. Steve Plunkett FTW.

So go for it. Turn on that radio in your mind … and then TURN IT UP!

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The Author of “How Do I Get A Record Deal? Sign Yourself!”

My career in music publishing extends over 25 years, including BMG Music (bought by Universal) and EMI Music Publishing (bought by Sony), as well as the 1st U.S. employee of Kobalt Music Publishing, where he helped build the roster over 10 years as Executive VP of Creative.

Benjamin is currently heading up his own publishing company, Brill Building, as well as label and music filter, We Are: The Guard. Benjamin’s signings range from Ryan Tedder, Kelly Clarkson, The Lumineers, Grimes, Savan Kotecha, OneRepublic, SOPHIE, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin, Tiesto, Kid Cudi, TOKiMONSTA, TR/ST, Cut Copy, Big Freedia, Lindy Robbins, Peaches and yes, even Steel Panther. His specialty in the music business is early artist, writer and writer/producer development.

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