If you struggle with feeling forced to decide between following your creative intuition and staying stylistically consistent as a songwriter, you’re not alone. It’s not easy to know whether to stay the course or constantly forge new creative paths as a musician, and, spoiler alert, there is no one wrong or right way to go about this because every songwriter is unique. But there are a couple of universal truths you can look to for guidance if you find yourself in this tricky position as a music-maker.
Honing in on your musical identity
It’d be a useless endeavor to create the same songs and albums over and over again year after year. No matter what your identity is as an artist, there has to be room for change, growth, newness, risk, experimentation. How much you embrace these traits and grow as an artist completely depends on your needs and what you feel matches your musical aesthetic. A constant sense of renewal and boundless exploration might be part and parcel of your musical persona, and that’s a conscious decision that grants you lots of creative freedoms but also some significant challenges.
Depending on who you are as an artist, changing too much too quickly between releases can make everything from building a connection with fans to booking shows harder than if you stuck to a cohesive style. If you constantly hop from one genre to the next, for example, fans might have a hard time keeping up and staying invested in your work. Local clubs and tastemakers may find it hard to know what to categorize you and send opportunities your way. Large, well-known artists will have an easier time embracing change in their music than smaller ones.
Ideas will come and go throughout your musical career, but your core identity as an artist is something much more solid and definable. The things you sing about, the way you play your instrument, and how you weave your life experiences into your songs are all aspects of your identity as an artist. Instead of getting stuck on the question of whether or not your music should sound consistent, you should ask if what you’re creating is in line with your identity as an artist.
For some artists, music creation is deeply personal and therapeutic whether they’re big superstars or just write and share songs for their own fulfillment. For others, songwriting pays the bills and creating a product people want to hear is a big priority. Who you are and what you want to accomplish in music will have the greatest impact on how consistent your songs sound.
If you’re not sure what’s best for your music, try taking stock of your long and short-term goals and identity as an artist. For example, if you’re just starting out and don’t have an audience, you don’t have the burden of needing to sound a certain way to please managers, labels, or audiences. You’re free to create any sort of music you like to discover what works and what doesn’t. If you’re someone that’s been making music for years and are still struggling to connect with a wide audience, the cohesion vs creative freedom conundrum gets more complicated. Do you intentionally carve out a distinct but consistent style or adopt a freer creative approach that’s totally unique from album to album? There aren’t easy answers here, but if you’ve been at it for a long time and lack the success and connection with listeners you want, then it’s probably time to change your strategy, which could mean opting for consistency or vice versa.
When everything is said and done, the most important thing to pay attention to is what inspires you during the music creation process. If dialing in on a specific sound and perfecting it fulfills you as an artist, that’s what you should be doing. If you tire easily of creating the same types of songs and thrive with newness and novelty, then creative freedom needs to be prioritized in your process. No matter what kind of a songwriter you are and where you’re at in your career, the trick is paying attention to the world around you and to yourself.
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.