Have you ever had a conversation with someone who constantly talks but never really says anything meaningful or memorable? In our creative pursuits as songwriters, it’s essential to avoid doing this same thing with our music––filling valuable time on our tracks with ideas that we know won’t really say or mean anything to our listeners. Along with curiosity, honesty, and a willingness to fail, intention is one of the best traits we can have as songwriters. It’s an asset that can transform forgettable songs into solid, engaging, and accessible pieces of music for our listeners.
The easy way out––why it’s tempting to fill space in our songs without truly saying something
Anyone who writes music seriously knows the peculiar hell of giving everything you’ve got to the creative process and getting nothing in return. Ideas we’re in love with at first lead us down the path to nowhere, or they fail to materialize at all for us on some days. During rough times like these, it’s easy to throw your hands up, write anything you can so you can finish, and move on to the next project. You might have a feeling that hanging in there just a little longer will result in something great happening with your song, but you don’t have the patience to find out.
This shortcut is an easy way out that we almost always take out of some sort of desperation, and it rarely works. It’s one thing to record demos filled with boring or hastily put-together ideas and never release them, but sharing work you know doesn’t fully represent you and your creativity is damaging on multiple levels for you as an artist. If you know a song isn’t all that good, why would you share it? Maybe because it helps complete an album, or because you were dying to get new music out there for your audience. But regardless of the motive, embracing patience and intention in your process will allow you to bring out your creative voice in authentic and impactful ways.
The power of intention
Sometimes our desire to make progress as songwriters ends up thwarting our creative efforts in disastrous ways. Honestly, it’s as simple as this: When you write music, are you trying to finish songs and crank out hits, or are you truly trying to explore new ideas? If your intention strays away from your own genuine creativity and curiosity about what’s possible in music, you’re already on the path towards writing “filler music”––compromising on ideas, filling up space, creating inauthentically, etc. Before you write, form an intention in your mind, or even write it down if that helps you stay focused. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting your music to be successful or to finish writing the last song for your album, those things are completely separate from the act of leveraging creativity and innovation to make music. If you want to avoid shortcuts and truly say something with your music, build your intention around boundless and unrushed creative exploration.
Doing this sounds easy, but it’s something we forget to do and struggle to accomplish even when we remember. Finding a pure creative intention to fuel our work is so hard because of the constant pressures we face as musicians––to be conventionally successful, to make better work than our last release, etc. When you find yourself tempted to make compromises with your music, simply come back to your intention again and again. Doing so might show you a different way to approach things, or that you’re not in the right headspace to make music. Taking a break might sound counterproductive, but it’s a far better choice than filling up your songs with noise instead of meaningful music. Stick with doing this long enough, and you’ll eventually find ways to focus on building your best ideas in a free, unpressured way. Music is too important not to say something true and meaningful with. So create an intention for your work and focus on writing authentically. You’ll end up being less frustrated in the long run, and your audience will thank you for it.
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.