For most artists, touring is essential for earning an income and building an audience. But being on the road all the time comes with costs, especially with not being able to easily write and record new songs in a music culture that demands more music more often than ever before. Songwriting and touring aren’t exactly compatible, but it is possible to write while you tour. Here are a couple of tips for how to do it:
Schedule days off to create
This might be a luxury for some artists, but it’s so important if you have a serious goal of writing new music while you’re on the road. Whether it’s renting a room for a few days between shows or strumming your guitar in the van, pencil in a few days off now and then to engage with your songwriting process. If the weather is nice, you can even find a quiet spot in a public park to work. It’s not going to look, feel, and work like what it does at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive. If you create dedicated time to write, the ideas will come.
Journal every opportunity you can
Journaling isn’t anything like writing with your favorite instrument or experimenting with a full band, but it’s a great way to create lyrical narratives for your music. You have countless hours to kill on tour whether it’s hanging out in the back row of a van or sitting in the window seat of a plane. If you dedicate at least some of this time to write lyrics or simply jot down your ideas, your songwriting process will be so much better off for it. You could create new songs based on what you write or work towards filling in the lyrical gaps of ones you’re already working on.
Don’t waste opportunities to write
Waiting for your set in the green room is a prime opportunity to drink beer and stare at your shoes. Or, you could break out your DAW and work on some new music. There are so many boring moments on tour, times where you do nothing but wait. If you can see these times as valuable opportunities to create, refine, and explore ideas, you’ll have new music to develop at the end of each tour. These aren’t ideal times for writing, but get over that and create anyway.
Use your surroundings for inspiration
Touring delivers tons of experiences that can inspire your music whether it’s meeting new people or feeling like it’s just you or your band against the world out there. By keeping your eyes open on the road, you’ll have loads of opportunities to access creative energy and ideas. You might have to be resourceful and record snippets of ideas on your phone when the moment strikes you, but situations like these often inspire the best music. It’s easy to forget, but touring can be a grueling experience even for successful musicians. It can be tempting to check out and go through the motions. But by bringing awareness and intention to your daily life, you’ll have fuel for creating. It’s as simple as paying attention to your surroundings, the people around you, and your feelings, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Keep an instrument accessible in the van
It might have to be a humble ukulele or a small handheld synth, but having access to an instrument or multiple instruments in your van on tour gives you loads of opportunities to create and refine musical ideas. If you’re traveling with a band, you can iron out chord progressions and vocal harmonies together. If you’re traveling alone, you can work on new material between long stretches of driving. The idea here isn’t to have a new album’s worth of material by the time you get home, but to keep creatively active and engaged for however long you’re on tour. Maintaining a close relationship with an instrument is one of the best ways to do this.
Touring doesn’t have to mean putting your songwriting goals on hold. With a little planning and effort, you can absolutely create and explore new music during the long hours of boredom on tour, whether it’s in green rooms, rented rooms, or on your way to your next show.
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.