Even the most prolific songwriters have trouble creating new work from time to time. Whether it’s the frustrating situation of questioning each and every note and lyric, or not feeling focused enough to follow through with an idea, making new music can feel challenging or downright impossible for some musicians. If you’re currently wedged in a creative rut and are looking for ways to get your writing output moving again, here are three challenges to help:
Write seven bare-bones demos in seven days
Let’s start with a simple weekly challenge. Sometimes, the best thing to do when creative inspiration and follow-through is nowhere to be found is to commit to making a certain amount of new music within a set amount of time. This can be applied to single songs down to entire albums. Try writing a new bare-bones demo every day for a week. What I mean by “bare-bones” is a basic song featuring something like vocals and piano that’s recorded on your phone or computer. The point of the exercise is to help you focus on productivity and finishing songs rather than picking apart ideas.
Create a musical project in an unfamiliar genre
This can be a song, album, or live performance experience. If you’re creatively stuck, the thing that might need to change about your work is your genre. Committing to writing in a new genre, even if it’s just a song or two, can get you thinking and creating differently. While this exercise needs to be approached seriously in order to be effective, it’s important to note that harsh judgments and strict standards heaped on what you end up creating won’t help things. Have fun, create something new, and see what happens––that’s the philosophy behind this challenge, and it should also be one you embrace in your everyday creative life.
Listen to an hour of new music each week
Believe it or not, it’s easy to devote your life to making music without making an effort to listen to new work. Whether it’s a new release or music that’s just new to you, try devoting an hour each week to doing nothing but listening to new music. Doable even for musicians with busy schedules, an hour of new music a week can get us thinking about our work in fresh, productive ways. This can be recorded music or live performances, but the hour doesn’t count if you spend your time listening to music and doing something else like working, parenting, or gaming. Even the act of listening to music without distraction can be a powerful benefit to your creative output. Make an effort to think critically about the music you hear, specifically when an idea inspires or challenges you.
You might not like the idea of trying out exercises or challenges to help your music, but if you’re feeling unmotivated and need a nudge in the right direction, they can actually be a big help.
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.