There comes a point in every serious musician’s career when creativity, fun, and inspiration are hard to come by. The causes of creative stagnation are different for each of us, but all music-makers experience it eventually. Some musicians are able to spot a lack of ambition or inspiration in their creative lives. Others slowly sink into ruts without realizing it. If you can easily spot one of these red flags in your music career, it’s likely you’re creatively stuck and need a change.
Writing the same songs over and over again
If you can’t help hitting repeat when it comes to your creative process, stagnation is probably to blame. Some of us get into the habit of writing the same music for months or even years because it feels predictable and safe to do so. But as we all know, predictability and safety aren’t helpful when it comes to making meaningful music. Making the conscious effort to let curiosity and risk shape your creative process will help you if you’re unable to write something truly new or different.
Not invested in getting better, feeling unchallenged
One hopeful, beautiful thing about making music is that we are always capable of writing a better song. It’s a challenge that fuels my work and motivates me to write whether I’m feeling creatively inspired or musically bored. If you’re constantly feeling unchallenged and lack the desire to get better, you’re at a serious point of creative stagnation and need to make big changes to stay in the game. Make music long enough, and you’re bound to experience heartbreak and disappointment. But instead of letting this fact beat you down, focus on what moves you in the process of making music. Rather than settling for OK, strive to create music that got you interested in doing this in the first place.
Feeling disconnected from joy and curiosity
Without a strong emotional pull towards creating and performing, musicians will find it hard to make progress in their careers. To put it a simpler way, if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Writing, playing shows, releasing music, and touring should all be fun, emotionally rewarding activities in your career. Yes, there’s a massive amount of work that goes into maintaining a music career. But if there’s nothing fun or instantly gratifying about it, you’ll need to change things around to get back to the point where you love what you do again.
Viewing music-making as an obligation and not as something rewarding and energizing
Most non-musicians would be shocked to learn how much tedious administrative work goes into sustaining a music career and that the vast majority of unestablished and small artists take on duties like booking shows, planning tours, and promoting music themselves. It’s natural to view these things as chores but if the thought of writing songs or playing shows fills you with obligatory dread, something big needs to be addressed in your music career. Whether the project you’re playing in just doesn’t do it for you anymore or you need to take a break from making music and performing your own work, serious changes need to happen if you want to keep making music.
Not having access to new opportunities after years of work
Have you been hard at work for years and are faced with the same opportunities and limitations you found when you first started? There’s a good chance creative stagnation is to blame. Music is a brutal industry to compete in. Yet, if your music is solid and you’re working hard, you should access to more shows and fans over time. A lack of music opportunities could be because you’re creatively stuck and unable to make work that resonates with people. This can be a hard pill to swallow. However, committing to dropping everything in your music career to focus on creating the best work you can may help.
Feeling creatively stagnant isn’t something you should feel bad about. We’ve all been there before as musicians, and those who haven’t will at some point. Rather than accepting defeat and waiting for inspiration, you can diagnose the problem and work towards a solution.
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.