If you’re a decade or two deep into your music career, stack up the music you’re making now against what you were doing when you started. What’s different and what’s the same? If you’ve been working from the same musical playbook for years, you’re essentially writing someone else’s music. Songwriters and producers have the best shot at creating engaging music when they embrace curiosity, newness, risk, and exploration. Everyone changes over time and your music should change along with you. But keeping up with your changing musical persona demands a willingness to fail and start over again in your creative process.
Someone else’s music
I’m not the same person I was in 2010, and neither are you. Some musicians change dramatically in their personal lives but bend their creative processes to fit the music they were creating when they started. The reasons for creative stagnation ranges from musicians wanting to embrace nostalgia, to those hoping to replicate the unexpected success they found early in their careers. Others are creatively frozen with fear and refuse to try anything new because they’re terrified that they’ll fail.
When we make the same music today that we did years ago, we’re writing someone else’s music. The person you are today is different from the one you were in the past. You look different, believe different things, and live in countless new contexts. Leaning on the same musical and lyrical themes you did in the past can be thought of as swiping someone else’s musical ideas because you aren’t that person anymore. Your creative core––the energy and uniqueness you bring to your music––might be the same as it was 20 years ago. Yet, that won’t help you if you aren’t taking creative risks and making music that reflects who you are now.
The current you
Writing from your authentic current perspective doesn’t mean ditching everything about your old musical persona. If you wrote folk music a decade ago, you can keep writing it today. What sets apart musicians who try new things and take risks aren’t the genres they stick to or depart from. Rather, it’s whether they honestly feel like what they’re creating is personally challenging and rewarding or not. Folk is seemingly limited because it’s something we all understand as a musical genre. However, what ambitious songwriters can do writing in it is endless.
Creating with true authenticity requires musicians to know who they are in the moment more than the past. This means being brave enough to try ideas knowing full well they might not pan out the way we expect. Many of us write the same songs over and over again because we believe what we’re doing is working. Or possibly, that straying away from our creative formulas won’t be worth our time. But if you’re not where you want to be in your career, you’ll never move forward without offering something new. The truth is, letting the fear of failure scare you into creating safe music will actually cause you to fail.
Let your curiosity and risk guide your process
Like so many other elements of a healthy music career, creating music written from an honest, in-the-moment perspective takes balance. It means knowing who we are now, remembering the curiosity that led us to music in the first place, and letting that adventurous spirit continue to shape our process. There’s nothing stopping you from writing the same music you did years ago. But doing so not only hurts your career but also threatens your ability to create music over the long-term.
The only guarantee of success in music that any of us will ever have is that we’ll be emotionally fulfilled by making it. The longer you stay stagnant in your writing process, the more you’re likely to feel uninspired and listless while making music. Newness and risk aren’t just optional benefits for musicians. They’re crucial elements needed for creative survival. You can’t embrace curiosity if you have the blueprint memorized for your new music before you write it.
The willingness to try and fail over and over again isn’t easy, but it’s a characteristic that will keep your work vibrant, rewarding, and true to your authentic and current self.
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.