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.
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.