Sticking to the same script when it comes to how you think about things like writing songs or connecting with audiences on stage as a musician is easy. But, unfortunately, limiting your perspective hurts your music and shrinks down your musical world as a musician. Reaching your true potential as a musician requires you to step back from the natural and comfortable ways you do things and ask if there are alternative paths for seeing, hearing, and approaching music-making. It’s not easy to do, but it’s something that can vastly improve your life as a musician if you put the work in.
How to see and hear music in a new way
Habits, routines, and predictability can be huge benefits in a music career. These are the qualities that help us to master our instruments and show up to band rehearsals on time. However, the tough part is that they can come with a dark side when it comes to creative expression and spontaneity. Something like sticking to a weekly songwriting schedule can be one of the best things you can do for your productivity as someone who makes music. But it’s also important to think about what and how you’re creating during your writing sessions. If you stay in the same patterns of doing things like you always have, your music won’t develop and change in ways that are interesting and meaningful. You might have a lot of songs to show for your time and hard work, but it won’t matter if you don’t feel challenged and invigorated by what you’re doing. The same goes for everything else in your music career, whether it’s playing shows or recording.
Learning to experience music in new ways begins with recognizing that your default mode as a musician can’t stay the same for too long. If it does, your approach will become stagnant and uninspired. Asking questions about ourselves and the world around us is how we can unlock different perspectives in music. You can simply think of yourself as someone who’s creatively curious, or as an investigator of different ways to hear and create music. Take playing shows, for example. If it feels like your band is too much in your own heads during shows, the normal ways you perceive yourselves, your music, and the audience need to evolve. You could try recording one of your live sets and listening back to it to get your audience’s perspective. Or, you could rebuild your set from the ground up with new songs, transitions, and approaches to playing specific parts.
Ultimately, how you try to change your perspectives in music doesn’t matter as long as you’re committed to doing the work of not accepting your usual ways of seeing, hearing, and creating. Noticing your own preferences, habits, and behaviors is the most important part of bringing newness to your life as a musician, but don’t stop there. Altering and enhancing our perspectives in music isn’t about identifying what’s natural and comfortable for you and doing the opposite. Instead, it involves trying to hear and see multiple angles of the same performance, chord progression, album, or riff. There are endless ways to approach writing and performing music. Sticking only to the few you know and are used to will end up curbing not only your creative potential as a musician but also your energy and satisfaction in your work.
For lack of a better word, playing and writing music should be fun on some level. Going through the motions will allow you to play shows and make as much music as you like, but if you don’t love what you’re doing, why would you expect your listeners to? Making the effort to change your perception and ask questions in music takes a lot of work, and this work has to happen throughout our careers instead of just one time. But if you have a goal of performing and creating at your best, it’s well worth the effort. So instead of accepting things as you see and hear them, dig deeper. Ask if there are new ways of thinking about things and different paths to walk down. You never know what you’ll end up discovering.
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.