I’ve been making music seriously for more than a decade now. There are times when writing a song feels like the most natural thing in the world, when chords, melodies, and lyrics spill out of me without effort or thought. But most of the time, songwriting doesn’t come easy to me if I’m being honest. These days, if I made music only when I felt like it, I wouldn’t be making any music. It’s sort of like when a person simultaneously dreads and looks forward to going to the gym. I know that the act of making music makes me a more sane, whole, and loving person, but man is it hard sometimes. And this doesn’t even get into the non-musical aspects of trying to create and share music with the world––booking shows, pitching to blogs, and playlists, etc.
Taking a break every now and then from music isn’t just a good idea. It’s mandatory for anyone who makes music seriously. The problem comes when musicians step too far away from their work and can’t find their way back to it.
How can musicians like me and anyone else who does this seriously get the most out of taking breaks from their work without leaving it completely?
That answer is going to change wildly from musician to musician, but here are a few things I’ve learned when it comes to taking time away from music:
Taking breaks after tours is essential
If you’re a musician who tours a lot, carving time away from music at home is something you’ll probably need to do to preserve your relationships, health and sanity. But even more than those things, post-tour breaks can help put your mind in the right place for making music again.
Feeling run down and out of ideas? Take a break
Stepping away from music for a short period of time can be a sort of palate cleanser when it comes to ideas and energy in music. Songwriters often put loads of time and effort into making music and get frustrated when they can’t come up with songs they like. If this sounds like you, consider stepping away from the studio for a week or two. We sometimes forget that good music reflects life, so getting out there and living for a bit might be the best thing to help you write meaningful music.
Breaks should help you reach your songwriting goals
If you find yourself on the third month of a break from music with no desire to return, you should probably pump the breaks and take a look at your songwriting goals. For people who love making music and want to do it seriously, stepping away from music for long stretches of time is risky because it doesn’t help them reach their long-term goals. Making a career out of music, trying to write an album, or simply the goal of being an active songwriter can’t happen if you break away from your craft for too long. If you haven’t done this already, write down a list of overarching long-term goals and another list of short-term ones. The breaks you plan to take should be based around the things you hope to accomplish in music.
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.