Feeling creatively stuck, lost, or lacking, is an uncomfortable reality that all musicians inevitably face at some point during their careers. Whether it’s the nauseating sense that you’re writing the same song over and over again, or the inability to finish ideas, lacking creative potency can be frustrating. This especially goes for musicians who appear to be bursting with original ideas one day and none the next.
An unconventional way for musicians to address this problem is by thinking about their own unique musical taste. What you like isn’t exactly what you’ll make as a musician, but it’s connected in a big way. Challenging your music taste can get you thinking about music in a new way, and in turn, help to boost your own creativity.
Musical taste isn’t permanent
We like to think that music taste is something as fixed and unchanging as a genetic trait, but that’s not true. Most of us develop our interest in music during our teenage years and listen to similar music for the rest of our lives. But the artists you dug when you were 15 don’t have to shape the music you make when you’re 25. Similar to dragging yourself to the gym, breaking out of the mold of music taste takes work. It doesn’t feel natural to want to leap up off the couch and exercise, even though it’s good for you. It also doesn’t feel comfortable to seek out new artists and question why you appreciate certain types of music, but doing so can shake up your creativity in meaningful ways.
Questioning your musical taste as an exercise
Challenging your musical taste doesn’t mean trying to erase your preferences and start over––that’s impossible and it misses the point. Instead, it means questioning why you like the things you do. What exactly is it about a band or artist is it that you love? If there’s a song you can’t stop listening to, why? And if there’s artists, eras of music, or complete genres you’ve never been compelled to listen to, you should stop and think about why while you’re at it. This is an exercise that will help you pinpoint what aspects of music speak to you and which ones you’re not interested in. By identifying and understanding your preferences, you’ll have a better feel for how your taste impacts your songwriting.
Bring in the new
Challenging your taste also means making an effort to listen to unfamiliar music. Try listening to something like a musical genre you’ve never explored of before. You may love what you hear or will get a better understand of why you were never interested in it in the first place. Either way, defining what resonates with you and what bores or frustrates you about the music will strengthen your taste. If you can, see unfamiliar music performed live. Making the effort to listen to challenging new music will broaden your taste and musical perspective.
A familiar theme when it comes to maintaining creativity is embracing discomfort. There seems to be a link between a person’s creativity and their willingness to take risks and embrace the unfamiliar. If you’re struggling to bring creativity to your music, it might be time to break out of your songwriting habits. Beginning with looking at your own musical preferences is a good start.
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.