Inspiration is one of the most powerful forces in music and every other form of art. But like a great meal, it’s just one ingredient. Waiting for inspiration to fall into your lap before you start writing consistently and developing your unique musical voice is a recipe for not making any music. In concert with other habits, strategies, and approaches, inspiration will absolutely help you write your best music. Let’s talk about what those other things are and how to use inspiration when it graces us.
Build a creative life where musical inspiration can happen
When do you feel inspired? Does it happen in your music studio, while looking into your partner’s eyes, or when you read about tragic world events? The answer is different for every songwriter, but each of us will be able to leverage the profound emotional insights we feel deep in our guts when we build music creation into our daily life. Put simply, this means living a life where making music is as easy as possible. Instead of keeping your instruments tucked away in a closet or across town at a music studio, have them and your recording equipment out and ready to go when you need them. Stop indulging the dream that you can make great music by working only when you feel like it and start creating on a schedule. When you build music creation into your life like this, the inspiration you experience won’t ever go to waste. For example, if a great melody, lyric, or general emotional idea strikes you on the subway, you’ll have the best shot at making a song out of it. But if you wait too long, the moment will pass and you’ll be in a different creative headspace.
Energize your creative practice with goals
Maybe it’s writing a collection of concept albums or recording enough demos to start sharing with local venues to book shows. No matter where you’re at in the complex world of music creation, goals are essential for being not only productive but also inspired. Goals give us a framework to work within when we create and benchmarks to aim for. If you’re writing music just for the sake of it, that’s completely fine. But where is it headed? What’s the endpoint? Do you want to make an album and sign with a publisher or label? Or are you trying to write music that sounds a certain way? Transform vague aspirations into concrete goals and you’ll be able to allow inspiration to fuel your process. With the direction that goals give, inspiration is more prevalent and easy to use. Let’s say you’ve set a goal to write an album about a breakup. With that goal in mind, you’ll be challenged to look closer at the situation, find deeper meanings and insights, and turn everything you’ve uncovered into themes and ideas for your songs. It’s important to separate long-term, big dream goals from realistic and attainable ones: “I wanna get signed and make millions” vs “I wanna make my first album.” You’ll be able to use inspiration better and more often with short-term and attainable goals. Goals are always changing and should be applied to individual writing sessions and longer seasons of your process as well.
One of the best ways to unlock inspiration for your music is by taking risks and experimenting with your music. Musical experimentation isn’t about making your songs sound complex or technically challenging, unless that’s already a part of your identity. Instead, it involves asking questions that take your music to new places. Doing this is especially important if you find yourself writing the same kinds of songs over and over because it adds newness to your process. When you prioritize experimentation and curiosity in your creative process, inspiration is sure to follow.
Inspiration is just one important part of multiple approaches to songwriting. Writing consistently, taking risks, and giving your work structure through goals gives you ways to create meaningful music even when inspiration feels hard to find. The more we show up to the process ready to work and with an open mind, the more prolific and successful we’ll be as songwriters.
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.