Where does a musician’s creativity come from? Is it something a person can learn and develop or is it one of those “you’ve either got it or you don’t” sort of deals? While it might be tempting to try to understand and summon musical creativity with hard and fast rules, it just doesn’t work that way. The creative process is different for everyone, and the things that help me write meaningful music won’t necessarily work for you.
But while everyone’s creative process is different, we can all relate to feeling lost, uninspired, and stuck when trying to make music. Creative frustration can feel irritating, stifling, and even depressing for some musicians, but it can be turned around. Here’s a few tips to transform creative frustration into something that works in your favor:
Pinpoint what exactly it is that’s making you frustrated
What is it that makes you frustrated during the creative process? Asking this can help you understand and leverage your creative frustration. Sometimes it’s easy to feel musically bummed out and overwhelmed without knowing why. Going that extra step to discover what it is in your process that’s frustrating you can help you address and look at things from a fresh perspective.
Let’s say songwriting goes swimmingly for you until you get to the lyrics. If you know lyric-writing gives you trouble, then that’s what you should focus most on. Read books, watch tutorials, experiment. Learn about great songwriting lyricists and pinpoint what makes them special.
Let go of expectations and embrace the energy of your frustration
This next tip is tricky but hugely useful. All that creative frustration you feel is almost certainly linked to a set of expectations you’ve given yourself. Things like trying to be conventionally successful or feeling like your music needs to sound and feel a certain way can be hugely stifling. If you can, step out of your expectations for a second. Recognize that for as irritating frustration can be, there’s definitely energy in it. The problem is that that energy is wasted on trying to cram your effort into ideas that strictly adhere to your standards. By dropping your standards and simply making music for the sake of it, you’ll have the best chance at making something good without hating yourself in the process.
Use frustration as a tool to blow up and rebuild your process
Sometimes there’s no getting around the fact that we’re feeling frustrated for a good reason. We want something to happen––creativity––and when it doesn’t work out the way we want, we get disappointed. Rather than wrestling or negotiating with our frustration, sometimes the best course of action is to listen to it. If you’ve tried everything under the sun to create music in a certain way and nothing’s working, it’s time to destroy your process and start over. It might sound strange, but in this way creative discontent can be a massive help in admitting there’s a problem and starting over.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.