How Setting Impacts Songwriting

Making music is a creative process in which the lines dividing a solo artist or band from the spaces they work in become blurred. You aren’t your music studio or the pristine desert landscape that might have inspired your last album, but where you work makes an indelible mark on your process and what it is you ultimately create. 

Settings can inspire musicians––or do just the opposite

The same musician who writes an album in a crowded dorm room is going to come up with music that will probably sound different if they write music in a gorgeous nature setting. But before we jump to the conclusion that only musicians with money and access to ideal songwriting conditions can succeed, consider the fact that some of the best music in human history was written by those with little resources and recognition. Some musicians draw inspiration from the challenges, drawbacks, and dramas of their surroundings. Limitations are tools we can use in music to give us direction and force us into resourceful mindsets. You might have loads of expensive gear and a state-of-the-art recording studio located on a picturesque cliffside facing the ocean, but it won’t mean anything unless you do the hard work needed to make meaningful music. 

This, of course, doesn’t mean that making music in a nice setting hurts musicians necessarily, but instead that new and unestablished musicians without lots of resources can still make incredible music that finds its way to large audiences. Settings can be huge sources of creative inspiration, or conversely, they can lull us into complacency or provide conditions that make it difficult or impossible to create in. An old cabin in the woods sounds like a lovely place to make an album in until you get there and realize there aren’t enough electrical outlets to plug equipment into. 

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But even more concerning than the technical issues associated with a setting is whether a space is creatively inspiring or not. Creative ideas suffer when safe routines crowd out risk, energy, and curiosity. Making music in an unfamiliar place is ideal for the building of new ideas and the abandonment of mundane processes and predictable tendencies. Rather than forking over thousands for a fancy rental in the middle of nowhere, you can bring inspiration to your process simply by changing up the room you’re working in, working in a friend or collaborator’s space, or spending a little money when you’re able to by renting out small spaces near your hometown. If you’re feeling stuck in your work, moving your process to a new setting is a good way to unlock ideas and gain a new creative perspective. 

Nothing matters more than curiosity and work

Setting can be an important factor in music, but nothing can replace the power of curiosity and hard work. You might be stuck in your parents’ basement or an apartment the size of a closet, but you can still create amazing work that breaks barriers. Powerful songwriting happens when we make the most of our resources and opportunities, now matter how big or small. 

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.

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