Every time you release a new single or album, you’re not just giving people music to listen to. Music has a unique ability for forging powerful connections between artists and listeners. And, believe it or not, these connections can happen whether you’re an artist big enough to sell out arenas or are releasing your first couple of singles and are unknown to most listeners. Your next song could easily be a huge source of comfort, understanding, and visibility for the people who hear it.
How an unguarded creative process builds authentic connections in music
Why do people listen to music? This is an incomprehensibly large and complicated question to ask when you stop and think about it. Music serves countless different purposes in cultures around the world ranging from marking holiday traditions to getting crowds excited for sporting events to celebrating births and grieving deaths. But there’s something especially intimate and special about a person listening to their favorite artist in their car on the way to work or on headphones while they walk their dog. This kind of listening is intensely personal, and you could argue that it forms a unique and vital relationship between a listener and the creator(s) who made the music.
On a personal level, music has a deeply profound impact on not just hardcore music fans, but most human beings. A teen-aged boy gets dumped by his first girlfriend and listens to the same couple of songs dozens of times to get him through his heartbreak. A 35-year-old workaholic relies on her favorite playlist to help her relax after a long week in the office. Listening to calm, meditative music is integral in the self-soothing process of a war veteran struggling with PTSD. The roles music plays in our lives are as diverse as each person listening, which essentially means that the points of connection are endless.
As a music-maker, you have the unique opportunity to give people something profound each time you release new music, and this is true whether you make emotionally charged music or not. All sorts of music ends up finding its way to listeners and connecting with them in different ways, but your best chance at making music that truly resonates with people is by creating from a place of unguarded authenticity. Doing this means making music that you want to make and not creating work you think the world wants you to make. It means writing music that’s shaped by your preferences, curiosities, and experiences and doesn’t seek to sound like someone else.
It sometimes takes a lot of work to make music that comes from an honest and open mindset, even if you’re a successful songwriter with lots of experience. Sometimes the baggage of expectations makes it easier for songwriters with a fresh perspective to create than seasoned music-makers. But regardless of your background, the only way to resonate with audiences is to make a lot of work, share it, do your best to make sure it gets heard, and see what happens. Creating as much music as you can gives you the time and space you need to create authentically.
Aim to be yourself, not to please
A weird and frustrating thing about songwriting is that you’ll probably write bad songs if you obsess too much over creating the kind of music you think people want or need to hear. It might sound like corny advice, but the more you focus on being yourself when you make music, the easier it will be to create work that’s human and accessible. When a new popular style of music or artist emerges, there are always artists who try to capitalize on the trends by imitating what they think will make them successful. It takes much, much more work to create music that’s truly authentic to you and your experiences, but you’ll end up finding more success working this way if you’re seeking to form real and lasting relationships with your listeners.
Music has a profound talent for letting people know they’re not alone. The experiences that shape your music might feel totally unique to you, but they are actually opportunities to relate to and connect with your audience.
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.