Why Nimbleness In Music Is More Important Now Than Ever

If you’re the type of artist that can’t approach music with flexibility and finesse, you’re going to have a rough go of it in today’s music industry. In the spring of 2020, countless in-person music events were canceled, ranging from some of the world’s largest music festivals down to the weekly open mic night at your local coffee shop.

When we get back to normalcy and live concerts again over the next year, we can look at this immensely challenging situation for important lessons that can be applied for artists of every size and experience level in music. Musicians who embraced nimbleness quickly pivoted to the challenging circumstances of the pandemic and connected with their fans through live-streamed performances and other innovative ways. But the musicians who were rigid and determined to get back to playing conventional shows as quickly as possible lost almost an entire year’s worth of opportunities to get closer with their audience and connect with new listeners during a time when people are starved for musical connection. 

In today’s unpredictable music climate, nimbleness and the willingness of artists to open themselves up to new ways of doing things is crucial. In so many ways, the challenges of the pandemic have revealed not only who we are as people, but also who we are as songwriters, performers, and creatives. This strange period will come to an end eventually one way or another, but it’s important to remember how we responded to the pandemic and apply those lessons to our musical pursuits during normal circumstances. 

How nimbleness helps musicians 

The future of your music career will inevitably be filled with uncertainty, whether it’s a record deal falling through at the last second, canceled and postponed tours, or releases not performing the way you’d hoped and planned for. Resilience, the ability to pick yourself up after experiencing disappointments and challenges, is paramount in music. But you won’t be able to develop that important character trait without nimbleness. Nimbleness is a mindset that allows for flexibility when things go wrong in our careers. Your ability to pivot to Plan B or explore other opportunities in music after something goes pear-shaped could literally mean the difference of whether you continue to make music or not. This is because so much can and often goes wrong in music, whether it’s a boggled promotional effort for an album release or disasters on stage during concerts. If you approach your career with flexibility, you’ll be able to retain a positive, curious outlook by being able to identify and embrace opportunities when things don’t go your way. And you may already know this, but things tend to not go our way as serious musicians. 

Nimbleness is a priceless career asset for musicians, but it serves as a powerful music creation tool as well. Two songwriters begin work on a new album. One has an immovable idea of what things can and should sound like, and the other consciously strives to retain a curious, open, and free mindset during the entire process. Who do you think is going to make a better album? When we approach music with rigidness and concrete expectations, we create boundaries and limitations for what we can ultimately create. This sort of rigidity is often the subtle culprit behind the boredom and lack of inspiration many of us experience when we create music. 

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How to prioritize nimbleness

Alongside embracing curiosity and not shying away from discomfort during the creative process, nimbleness is one of the most important traits a musician can have. The trouble is that humans are habit-driven creatures by nature, which makes flexibility hard to prioritize. The first step is recognizing rigidity in our music careers and writing practices everywhere we find it. Instead of looking for big obvious examples, you’re most likely to find it in the small songwriting and career choices you make. Once you begin to recognize your own rigidity, challenge and change it at every opportunity, and recognize that there’s an inherent discomfort involved with doing it. It’s not easy or natural to do, which means that embracing nimbleness needs to be a conscious decision. But the musicians who do the work are far better off than the ones who don’t. 

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. 

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Join the conversation
  • CURTIS D. Barnett Sr. - January 21, 2021 reply

    My stage name is “Artist:Partyman” I have read the entire article on 1) How to strip down a song 2) Laptop qualities for Music production. I have learned a lot from reading these articles and it was a clear confirmation, concerning artist how, for example are nothing more than performers loosing massive income due to not being able to tour during these COVID times. However, it is also a truth that during these Pandemic times, how some artist are changing the “Game” by attempting to start putting together a home music studio production and actually seizing the opportunity or taking advantage of the opportunity to develop their craft as a studio musician and performer/ songwriter during isolation. I am one of those Artist, so this information is very valuable for me to read and understand that and grasp. I have a good habit of adapting to unfortunate situations caused by unfortunate events that is out of my control. but my downside to all of this is, getting into a mindset state of either writers block or not completing songs “starting what I finish” and no matter what I do to encourage myself, I find myself wanting to give up, but the stranges thing is, I can’t because I am so compelled to face my problems everyday and get back to work.
    My question is, Is that normal for musician to go through or no?

  • Ethan Sellers - January 27, 2021 reply

    Nimbleness is good, but sometimes a pause for a larger re-think is more valuable. The pandemic may be one such time. It has been, for me. I’ve come to realize that I don’t miss a lot of things that I found frustrating and yet also felt compelled to do, because they were normative actions in a music career.

    The article cites the transition from in-person gigs to live-streaming as an example of nimbleness, but – in my observation – some artists used it as a form of denialism that things were substantially different amidst a pandemic. Most of the live-streams I watched were sub-par exercises in attention-seeking, not particularly interesting or good.

    I know that this goes completely against the whole “attention-based online economy” paradigm, but… It’s okay to pause, you know? Work on your music without constantly reporting on it via whatever electronic channels – get better and have something to show for it when we emerge. Really it is. Take some time off from “branding” and make something of substance and quality, and I promise that it’ll be more effective than tweeting what you had for breakfast or livestreaming whatever gimmicky cover you learned.

    I also think that a bit of “inspired intransigence” has value – like putting our collective foot down about the absurdly paltry payouts from streaming services. The pandemic’s effect on touring may be the final nail in the coffin of many music careers – including people that had been “nimble” in trying to make a living while the techno-leeches sucked the marrow out of formerly vibrant careers. Now that there’s no “long tail” in touring (or merch sales while on tour), how are these artists (and their support teams) going to make it? They aren’t. Poor public policy (the pathetic management of the pandemic) and end-stage capitalism have created a perfect storm, and you may find your favorite artists in the wreckage.

    I think the best thing that artists could discover during social isolation is some self-respect. Get attention for your best work – not attention for the sake of attention.

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