Songwriters get into trouble when they view the hard work of making music as something completely reliant on inspiration. Serious songwriters and producers who make music as a career can’t afford to wait for inspiration to come, and neither should you. The truth is that making great music takes work, sacrifice, and an uncompromising willingness to try and fail over and over again. If you’re tired of waiting on inspiration to make music, here are three exercises aimed at helping you increase your musical output:
1. Write one song a week for a month
In order for some songwriters to move forward and finish projects, they need to be forced. A good way to go about making sure you finish what you start is by committing to completing one song a week for a month. By finishing a song, I don’t mean adding all the extra instrumentation, production, and mastering bells and whistles to an idea, but instead focusing on completing simple fully formed song demos. The idea is to force yourself to finish ideas. Coming up with a bunch of ideas you never bother to finish can be paralyzing because it’s an action often rooted in being afraid that we’re not capable of making anything good. By forcing yourself to finish four songs in a month, you won’t have the fear of failure to contend with.
2. Experiment with creative song covers
If you feel hopelessly stuck in your songwriting efforts, covering another artist’s work is a good way to reset and renew your musical perspective. Learning another artist’s song is not only educational, but also provides a chance for musicians to interpret someone’s work through their own creative lens. The more personal and creative you can get with a cover, the better. Yes, it’s someone else’s song, but the best covers are those that bring an entirely new identity and energy to a piece of music. To get the most out of this exercise, you should add in the instrumentation and production elements you would with your own music. This means that covering a song with an acoustic guitar won’t do you much musical good, unless you’re an acoustic artist.
3. Set realistic deadlines and goals
If you have vague plans and a desire to write more music, try converting them into concrete, actionable goals and deadlines. Simply wanting to put out an album this year isn’t the same as committing to releasing an album by November 1st, 2019. We don’t like to think of music like we would a conventional job, but without strict goals and deadlines, it’s hard to move forward and get things done. Unsexy stuff like setting and sticking to a daily songwriting schedule can help transform your nebulous plans to make music into definable progress.
When making music feels exhausting and thankless, it’s good to remember that true inspiration doesn’t come around that often for most musicians. Exercises like these are designed to put you in the right place at the right time for when a good idea strikes.
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.