One of the toughest challenges of being a serious musician comes down to an unavoidable paradox. A consistent creative output usually demands lots of discipline and planning on behalf of an artist, but, frustratingly, too much predictability can be detrimental to the music-making process. Sticking to a routine for writing music is doable for many artists, but creating new, adventurous work during designated writing sessions is a lot trickier than simply sticking to a reliable songwriting script.
Why writing the same music over and over again is easy
As humans, we’re always seeking the path of least resistance through things like getting groceries delivered through an app or choosing to take the escalator over the stairs. Most of the time, our overwhelming preference for what’s most convenient in life comes down to unconscious decisions associated with the way our brains and bodies are built for survival.
This evolutionary hardwiring is great for keeping humans alive, but can sap the life and spontaneity from a songwriting routine. We often repeat the same actions over and over again with the same predictable musical results because it’s easy to lean on our previously formed habits and tastes. It might be hard to remember now, but there was probably a time in your musical development when everything felt new, uncertain, and risky. The first couple of months learning an instrument can be frustrating and slow-going, but the “I don’t know what I’m doing” feeling commonly experienced during this time is actually a precious commodity. Not knowing quite what you’re doing in music allows you to access new creative ideas and writing methods. If each and every one of your songs features a guitar solo in it, it’s probably because you’ve gotten good at writing guitar solos. It feels good to be capable musically, but the music you excel at making as a musician isn’t always the best fit for your songs.
How to blow up your songwriting process and start fresh
The only surefire way of adding meaningful newness to your creative music-making process is by adding some amount of risk into the mix. Take stock of your typical songwriting process and closely examine everything you do to create music, from the ways you initially create ideas down to how you put the finishing touches on a song. If you want to create something new and unexpected, you’ll have to inject risk and change in your routine at every available opportunity. It’s time to question all of your actions and do things differently any way you can. If you always write your songs by building a beat in a DAW, try beginning the process by writing lyrics or a chord progression first. If the acoustic guitar is your instrument of choice during the writing process, try working with a keyboard instead.
Searching for new ways to make music isn’t about throwing out what works in your process, but instead finding ways to keep what you create engaging and challenging. Like wearing an old favorite shirt, it might feel good to make the same music over and over again, but doing so will leave you and you fans feeling bored.
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.