All musicians get bored with the process of creating and performing every now and again. However, if you’re suffering from chronic musical disinterest, it’s something you should worry about. We can’t always rely on our emotions to inspire us as musicians. If it’s been months or years since you’ve felt moved during your music-making process, it’s time for a change. By “change,” I don’t mean subtle tweaks in your musical routine, but a massive, top-to-bottom overhaul. When it’s clear the regular way of doing things isn’t doing it for you anymore, it’s time to blow up your music-making process and start over.
Why musicians lose inspiration
No two musicians lose inspiration for the same reason, but there are typical red flags you should watch out for, such as doing too much and getting burned out and not allowing risk, curiosity, and failure to be a part of your process. If you’ve been creating music for a long time, it might be hard to remember now, but things felt exciting, new, and maybe even a little dangerous when you first started. But somewhere along the way, the abundant joy surrounding musical creativity and expression faded. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Like many things in life, keeping musical passion alive can take work.
To blow up your process, you first need to understand how it works
You might not realize it, but you have a specific way of creating or performing music. Every musician does. Your process encompasses everything from the way you play your instrument, the music you listen to, and the way you collaborate. Each and every creative decision you make is a part of this process. The quicker you embrace the self-awareness needed to identify patterns, habits, and rituals in your process, the quicker you’ll be able to knock it down and start over.
If it helps, write down everything about your process from start to finish. Include even seemingly unimportant details like where you create music, the time of day, and equipment you use. These details are important because knowing them gives you an accurate portrait of the ways you usually make music. This exercise alone will probably help show you what areas are lacking in your process, but don’t stop here.
Now that you have an accurate picture of your process, it’s time to build an entirely new one. This means changing everything you can with your music routine. In a way, this helps you rediscover the risk, passion, and direction felt before as a creative. To do this, you’ll need to change not only the direct processes you rely on to create but also things like the times and settings you work in as well. It’s hard to feel bored when everything around you feels new, which is why the changes you bring to your process need to be dramatic and consistent to work.
You don’t need to learn how to play a new instrument to blow up your process. Yet, you do need to learn how to approach it in a new way. Experiment with new tunings, tempos, song-structures, and time signatures. Do you typically write by singing and playing electric guitar with your band? Try singing over bass and drums first. If reliance on technology is a major part of your process, let organic instrumentation be your focus for a while. Remember, being uncomfortable is not only inevitable during this exercise, but it’s also the entire point. To make things new and exciting again, risk and the potential for failure needs to be a part of your new routines.
Just because you tear down your old process doesn’t mean you can’t rebuild it. Ideally, this exercise will show you better and more rewarding ways to create and perform music. Down the line when your new processes become routine, you’ll need to shake things up again and again and again. If this sounds like a lot of work to you, you’re right. But finding new ways to make our creative processes rewarding is an essential part of the job. Music is too hard to make over the long-term without an emotional payoff.
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.