When you hear the word “discipline,” you might think of the work it takes for a bodybuilder to build and maintain muscle, or someone saying no to certain foods because they’re on a diet. But as music-makers, discipline often means the difference of being able to write great music or not. It’s one of the most important attributes we can embrace if we want to be productive and meaningfully engaged.
You might not realize it, but discipline has probably already helped you succeed as a musician. Whether learning your first instrument came completely natural to you or it took tons of practice and sacrifice, discipline was there with you all along like the wind at your back. Discipline is the act of prioritizing goals and actions over everything else happening in our lives. It’s the act of saying yes to one thing and no to everything else. When you learned an instrument for the first time, you may have shown discipline when you chose to practice instead of hanging out with your friends on a summer afternoon. If you were ever so frustrated that you wanted to quit but kept going anyway, this was discipline working its magic in your musical life.
But while it’s crucial to be disciplined in the way we learn an instrument for the first time, it’s easy for experienced songwriters to quickly forget lessons about focusing, saying no to things, and driving forward when things feel impossible. We often think since we already attained the experience needed to make music and write songs, inspiration is all we need to meet our goals. This is a flawed way of thinking about music creation, and it will absolutely keep you from writing music and meeting your potential.
Discipline is crucial in the life of a serious songwriter. It allows us to build time into our daily lives by writing on weekly schedules. It gives us the confidence and intention we need to move forward when we feel like we’ve hit dead ends creatively and professionally. It teaches us that while inspiration is a nice perk, it’s not a reliable one and that if we’re serious about making great songs we have to show up to the writing process again and again no matter how we feel. It shows us that music creation is a hard job, albeit a fun and rewarding one.
If music creation isn’t doing the things you want it to in your life, there’s a good chance a lack of discipline is the reason why. For someone who loves making music but can never seem to finish songs, write anything different, or meet reasonable career goals, an undisciplined approach to music is often what’s behind the lack of structure, motivation, followthrough, and opportunity.
Discipline will allow you to write music when you don’t feel like it, finish songs and albums, and develop your career to give you access to opportunities you’ve never had before. The truth is that discipline takes work and sacrifice, but living a life in music without it is actually much harder and frustrating. Sitting around for months waiting to feel emotionally inspired enough to write a song is a recipe for not being able to make music and wanting to quit. Letting social media, friends, partners, pets, and other distractions get between you and your writing process makes doing anything in music so much harder than it has to be. And creating idea after idea that either sounds the same or never becomes a finished song is discouraging and unfulfilling. If you don’t embrace discipline as a serious musician, you’re probably not going to be a serious musician for very long.
It’s as simple as saying yes to music and no to everything else when it matters most. It takes work and dedication, but this is exactly what allows you to finish songs and albums, tour, write consistently, and meet your creative potential. If music is important to you, it needs to be one of your life’s biggest priorities. The more discipline becomes a part of your life as a music-maker, the more rewarding, stable, and exciting your work will be.
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.