When it comes to the things that can shape great music the most, inspiration is generally thought of as being the most important. But the hard truth is that inspiration is not the holy grail when it comes to factors that will help you write amazing music. Is it important? Yes, without a doubt. But it’s also deeply misunderstood, and, dare I say, overrated. We think inspiration falls into our laps and our ability to create our best work follows. This isn’t the case. While inspiration is an undeniable ingredient found in some of the world’s most impactful songs, it’s often not all it’s cracked up to be. Here are three big reasons why:
It’s not reliable
Your ability to feel inspired is not reliable or predictable. However, your ability to create music absolutely regardless of how you feel is. It’s tempting to think that you need to be inspired first before you can start a new song or finish an old one because if you finish anything you can point to your lack of inspiration as the blame. This is a recipe for never releasing any music and quitting altogether very quickly. When we rely only on ourselves and our drive to create and explore music, we end up making better music more often whether we feel inspired to or not. If you get in the habit of creating regularly, you’ll soon realize that inspiration often graces you when you make yourself available for it in your life. Sure, big life events, traveling, and relationships are all occasions for inspiration to motivate you to make music. But far more often it’s up to you to show up to the writing process and see what happens. Doing this takes the uncertainty out of the equation entirely and puts you, the writer, in control.
It doesn’t translate into great music without experience and practice
Inspiration does not trump musical experience. This means that relying on it more than your own musical intuition and writing process will leave you at a big disadvantage. The unsexy truth about productive songwriting is that it’s a daily grind. It’s hard and often thankless work. You show up over and over again, do your best, and hope to get some decent or even truly great material out of your efforts. When you do feel meaningful inspiration, you’ll be able to immediately put it to work if you already have a framework in your life for writing and recording music. This happens when you adhere to writing schedules and have done the work of building music creation into your daily life. So while inspiration is one of the most powerful forces for musical creativity, it can’t be used the way it can and should be unless you’ve already done the hard work of being an active and disciplined songwriter.
You don’t need it to make meaningful music
This last section might be a tad controversial. We often tend to chronically overthink what makes music meaningful or not, but a song doesn’t have to have come from a place of great emotion or vulnerability to be meaningful. Music about nothing is meaningful. A humorous song can be just as meaningful as one that’s about heartbreak or elation. It all depends on what the listener feels about it. In light of this fact, it’s important to remember that the new music you write doesn’t always have to come from a place of inspiration to mean something to your audience. Maybe you just like the way a specific chord progression sounds, or the way a specific combination of lyrics attaches to a melody. That level of excitement and engagement might be enough to write an awesome song with, and that’s totally fine. Or, something could start out lacking a meaning and pick up one over time. Either way, inspiration is not an essential ingredient found in all great music.
Each item on this list points to the need for songwriters to spend their time and energy doing the work of making music rather than obsessing over feeling inspired. All of us have the choice to make music creation a part of our daily lives. If you do this, inspiration will follow, but that won’t matter because you’ll be creating your best work regardless.
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.