The things we write music about in our early twenties aren’t usually the things we write about in our late thirties as songwriters. That’s an obvious observation, but what’s much more subtle are the ways that musical inspiration can bend and shift over time as we develop life experiences. If music creation is an important part of your life, the truth is that you won’t be able to write authentically if your musical inspirations stay the same year after year. You and your music change over the years, so the ways you feel creatively inspired should too.
Musical inspiration evolves as we encounter big changes in our lives
If you’re married and have a kid on the way, it’s safe to say that your creative mindset is probably a lot different than it was if you started making music when you were younger. Countless first songs written by artists are about things like teenage breakups, which means that the initial things that inspire many of us to write music don’t have a lot of creative staying power unless that brutal breakup you experienced at 16 stays with you for the rest of your life.
To stay consistently inspired and creatively engaged, we have to pay constant attention to what’s happening in our lives as well as the world around us. The core things that drive your music may stay the same throughout your music career––the endless drama of romantic relationships, the grandeur of nature, personal stories from your life like your upbringing––, but you’ll need to approach inspiration with flexibility and pay close attention to who you are now for these things to meaningfully inform your music.
If you found yourself unable to write about anything other than love and relationships when you first started writing music, you might find that your focus and energy needs to be directed towards other topics and ideas as you gain life experience. What you constantly care and think about are the things that should drive your songs. Transforming these things into relatable, listenable, and engaging music is both the major creative challenge we face and the delicate art form we’re all trying to develop as songwriters.
Chronically bored and uninspired songwriters often find themselves in debilitating ruts because they haven’t made the conscious decision to let their sources for inspiration and meaning in music evolve. To keep your creative process fresh, challenging, and productive, the places you turn to for inspiration and meaning in your life have to grow and change alongside you. If you found success early in your career writing about specific things in specific ways, it’s probably tempting to try to replicate those wins in your career by repeating your process over and over again. However, doing this ultimately won’t do you or your creative process any favors. To create authentically and passionately, the inspiration behind your music has to constantly update and evolve as you age and develop new life experiences.
Why the ever-evolving nature of creative inspiration often needs songwriting routines to be discovered
It’s important to recognize that inspiration in music is best applied to the songwriting process when consistent routines and writing schedules are involved. We work around inspiration’s schedule, and not the other way around. This means that the more chances we avail ourselves to feel inspired and create music, the better and more current our songs will be. Writing only when you feel like it is unreliable because there will be countless times when you just don’t feel like putting the time and energy into creating music and finding inspiration in your life. But by making yourself engage with the creative process consistently and at the same times every week, you’ll give yourself all the time and space you need to keep your sources of creative inspiration and musical creativity updated.
The ways we write music need to constantly evolve for things to stay challenging and rewarding. We naturally want to feel comfortable as human beings, but that’s when we’re most at risk for things to become stale and predictable. Embracing the parts of your life that inspire you the most every day and letting them fuel your work is a way to keep your work fresh, genuine, and interesting.
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.