When things are going well in our music careers and personal lives, it’s easy to think we’d be able to stay just as productive and creative during times of crisis. But when life gets tough, our ability to write songs, practice, or even think about music is challenged. Creativity can help us cope through times of stress, anxiety, and loss, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to embrace. No matter what you’re going through, the following tips can help you approach musical creativity in a positive way through rough periods:
Accept your limitations
The musician you are under the best circumstances won’t be the same one in the face of a big challenge. You may waste energy defying your limitations and trying to stick to your normal creative routine. You’re better off accepting your limitations and facing your situation honestly. During a crisis, “normal” gets thrown out the window whether we like it or not. Depending on what you’re going through, simple acts like getting dressed or out of bed might feel like monumental challenges. This said, picking up an instrument and creating could be out of the question some days. Forcing yourself to be creative you don’t have the energy for it won’t result in you magically being productive. Instead, check-in with yourself each day to see whether you’re up for giving attention to your music. Fighting the gravity of your situation won’t result in great music. You’re better off saving your energy being creative when it genuinely feels like something you want to do.
Focus on the most gratifying aspects of your musical creativity
The creative efforts you explore during tough times should be natural and rewarding, not tedious or overly technical (unless those things are fun for you). Practicing the same song over and over again is something that can wait for when things get back to normal. Whatever you love most about making music during ideal times is what you should focus on the most during rough periods in your life. It’s best to leave tackling the most difficult aspects of creating for occasions when we’re better prepared to.
Let your situation fuel your work the best you can
Hardship, sorrow, and isolation have fueled some of the world’s most incredible music. However, focusing on making your best work during a crisis could backfire. Devote your energy to what you can control, and try to let your genuine feelings fuel your music. Depending on what you’re experiencing, this could be both incredibly painful, but also therapeutic. Because life experiences inform our work in unique ways, how each of us responds to hardship through music is different. Find what feels right for you and pursue it in an organic, unforced way. You may create the best work of your career! Or, you may end up with a couple of demos you inevitably don’t end up pursuing. Either way, you’re succeeding if the music brings you joy, release, and comfort.
When we let grief and sorrow fuel our creativity, the music we make can be intense and even a little jarring. Try not to be judgemental of what you create and how you feel during this process. Again, we only have so much energy and attention to go around during tough times. Placing unneeded expectations on our music-making processes won’t do us any favors. If you’re brave enough to show up to the creative process during hard times, your willingness to make something new alone is an important and admirable success. By saving the typical music career pressures to be acknowledged later, you’ll have the best chance at making meaningful work now.
The truth is that many musicians won’t be able to be as productive while they face serious challenges as they are during ideal circumstances, and that’s ok. We can fight against gravity, or we can accept where we’re at and make the best of it, even if that means being less musically active for a while. But no matter what ends up happening, it’s crucial to be kind and accepting of yourself.
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.