Serious musicians hate failure. This disdain was bred in most of us back when we learned how to play an instrument for the first time. There are only a few ways to correctly hold drum sticks, finger guitar chords, or belt out vocal exercises; and there are countless ways of getting things wrong. When we master our instruments and start writing songs and playing shows, failure shows up for us in a myriad of new and painful ways, like when your local alt-weekly magazine trashes your album or when no one shows up to the show you’ve been promoting for months. Failure can be excruciating. But it can also deliver huge benefits to your music career if you let it.
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.
If you’re a songwriter or professional performer, the thought of learning a new instrument might sound fun but not worth your time. You might figure there’s more than enough new ground to cover on your current instrument or instruments, so why take the time to learn something completely new? Learning a new instrument gets you out of the musical mindset you’re currently in, and this is essential for creativity and growth as an artist. You don’t need to master a new instrument in order to get the benefits of learning it. Instead, tackling a few basics will give you a new creative perspective and countless musical directions to work with. Here are a few important reasons why you might want to consider learning a new instrument as a serious musician:
Whether it’s a talkative roommate or the constant desire to be on your phone, distractions can be one of the most significant barriers standing between you and your full potential as a songwriter. If you’re serious about making the best music you can and sharing it with the world, you’re going to need to identify what distracts you the most when you write. Then comes the hard work of consciously removing distractions from your writing practice. While this gets easier the more we work at it, it’s a job we’re never finished doing. Distractions will always make writing music harder than it has to be unless we do the constant work of addressing and removing them.
Whether you make folk music or EDM, technology is now an unavoidable part of your daily life as a musician. From DAWs and sophisticated recording equipment to smartphones and computers being ever-present while we write, it’s now virtually impossible to separate technology during the music creation process.
Every songwriter has been in the unenviable position of loving a specific musical idea but not being able to take it anywhere. A dead-end idea can be as simple as a synth riff or as packed as an entire song. This situation happens when you come up with something you really like, but feel like it’s not going anywhere. When you’ve got a dead-end idea stirring around your brain and taking up room on your computer, do you pull the plug or forge ahead? The answer completely depends on your specific idea and goals. But if you’re leaning towards keeping your idea alive by giving it somewhere to go, these suggestions might help you make meaningful progress:
Inspiration is one of the most powerful forces in music and every other form of art. But like a great meal, it’s just one ingredient. Waiting for inspiration to fall into your lap before you start writing consistently and developing your unique musical voice is a recipe for not making any music. In concert with other habits, strategies, and approaches, inspiration will absolutely help you write your best music. Let’s talk about what those other things are and how to use inspiration when it graces us.
Without realizing it, we’re vulnerable to being sucked into lazy habits, ruts, and unproductive routines as songwriters. When making music doesn’t feel exciting or challenging anymore, it’s time to add newness and risk back into your process. However, for a lot of songwriters, this is easier said than done. What we often forget is that falling into ruts isn’t just a single decision, but countless small choices designed to keep things as comfortable and predictable as possible while we write. If it’s time to blow up your process and start over, consider trying out these strategies: