When it comes to things that can ruin your songs, a lot can happen between the initial spark of an idea and a song’s completion. From bad performances that stifle a song’s potential during recording to ideas that don’t resonate with audiences, lots of factors can make music fall flat. A lack of imagination is one of the most dangerous among them.
How boring ideas can hijack our songs
Being a serious musician is anything but boring. Everywhere you look, there’s uncertainty, whether it’s putting music out there without any idea if anyone will listen or a pandemic coming out of nowhere and canceling your shows. But, for some reason, we often opt for safety when it comes to the music we make, and the results can be disastrously boring.
Whether it’s a desire to please listeners or a reaction against how hard our careers can be, songwriters often choose easy outs when they make music. This is how boring ideas weave their way into our music. It’s not as simple as being faced with a choice of whether to write predictable ideas or creatively challenging ones. Instead, avoiding writing boring music is about discovering your strengths as a songwriter and striving to say something genuine and compelling in music.
Simple ideas, believe it or not, are not your enemy as a songwriter because simple doesn’t equate to boring in all situations. Some of the most profoundly impactful music out there is constructed with simple and beautiful ideas. At the other extreme, music can be packed with complex and busy ideas that never land with audiences. We’re better off forgetting simple and complex when it comes to avoiding writing boring music and focusing on creating music that stirs something in us.
What makes music compelling
If the music you’re making genuinely excites you, then there’s a good chance it will excite your listeners too. This means that any idea that doesn’t meet that standard probably isn’t worth transforming into a completed song that you share with people. If you’ve ever felt stuck on an idea or just out of inspiration in general, you already know how hard this can be. To only release music you feel genuinely invested in and excited about, you have to be able to write good songs.
What sounds meaningful and compelling to me in music is probably much different than what it does to you, and that’s a beautiful thing. Our unique tastes and talents are what drives diversity in music. So instead of writing in a way that avoids what you think the world considers as boring, delve deep into your process and instead think about what makes music exciting and meaningful to you.
Lean into what excites you in music
Witty lyrics, insane guitar solos, infectious beats. These are all completely different musical features that draw the attention of songwriters and listeners alike. You’ll avoid writing boring music if you know specifically what you love about other artist’s songs and lean into them when you write your own. Rather than replicating someone else’s work, doing this draws inspiration outward from specific ideas that can be applied later to your unique process. There’s no one way to go about it, but keeping what you love about music at the center of your process is key.
How objectivity helps songwriters make listenable music
It’s easy to forget if you’re months into creating a record that human beings will eventually listen to it (hopefully). While catering to the masses is a bad idea for songwriters, you should consider your audience when you write. If you’ve spent weeks trying to perfect a beat or riff, there’s a chance that you’ve become too close to the idea and too far away from your audience’s perspective. Ideas that once seemed interesting can quickly become boring when we overthink or over-produce them. This isn’t always the case, but the ideas we instantly love and try to preserve in music often become the ones that excite audiences. Objectivity can help you stave off boring music.
Avoiding boredom in music is like everything else we do as musicians. It takes practice, and evolves over time as our musical preferences grow and change over time. But if you keep fun and passion at the heart of your songwriting practice, you’ll have a solid way to create exciting ideas.
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.