As songwriters, we like to think that all of our creative decisions are intentional and 100% up to us. A lyric written about a personal experience or chord progression composed spontaneously probably feels generated right there in the moment and only by you, but the truth is that a lifetime of musical influences and hidden tendencies are at play each and every time you try to make music. We might think the new songs we write are comprised of ideas we’ve never explored, but what we’re really doing is piecing together a countless number of old memories, habits, and loved songs from other artists. There’s no way to completely negate a life of musical experiences, but taking a short music cleanse can help break habits and inject new energy into your songwriting practice.
What is a music cleanse?
A music cleanse is a break from listening to and/or writing music. Most musicians naturally do some version of this after writing a record or a long tour, but it’s an act that takes on a new meaning when it’s intentional. Sticking to a writing schedule and making the effort to listen to music are crucial parts of being a productive songwriter, but when you find yourself wedged deep into a rut, breaking routines to explore different tactics is necessary. A week or a month’s break from music can renew your creative energy and give you new ideas to work with.
Resting the songwriting muscle
Songwriting takes not only time, but lots of energy. Many musicians tend to think that making music should be rewarding and fun 100% of the time, but this is one of the biggest reasons why so many of us quit. Seasoned songwriters know how challenging and thankless the songwriting process can be, whether it’s laboring over the same song for years or putting out work that never resonates with audiences. Music cleanses aren’t just frivolous self-help prescriptions, but crucial opportunities for musicians to rest and regain perspective.
We all know how hard it is to be a serious musician in 2020, so the thought of taking regular breaks in music might sound unrealistic or unhelpful. But burning out in music is very much a real thing, particularly for career songwriters and those who tour constantly to make ends meet. Music cleanses can help fight creative fatigue in a way that sets us up to be productive musicians over the long-term, not just when we feel inspired to make music.
Making a clean, serious break
To get the most out of a music cleanse, you’ll need to set the terms of your break beforehand and stick to them. Taking a complete break from listening to music is a lot harder than you probably think, but not writing or playing an instrument for a month can be even more challenging. If you can, spend the time you’d normally be making music taking care of yourself, whether it’s exercising or investing in your relationships. When you get back to work, you’ll find that new ideas and inspiration will be easier to find.
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.