Creativity is a tough beast to harness and understand considering how prone to forming habits the average person is. If you’ve ever found yourself writing the same things over and over again in music, it’s for a good reason. Our brains and bodies are set up in a way that favors patterns and habits so that we’re not forced to learn how to do things over and over again. This is why tying your shoes every day isn’t a major challenge. Things like muscle memory help us to internalize the actions behind patterns to help us work competently as musicians. But when it comes to songwriting, habits can be a major challenge to contend with.
Musicians aren’t any different than non-musical people in the way that they typically try to avoid experiencing pain and loss. But where songwriters and all other artists differ from the rest of the world is in the way they’re often charged with converting painful personal experiences into work that moves and relates to people.
Unless you’re a songwriter that happens to crank out great songs every time you make music, predictability and boredom are big challenges to cope with when it comes to how writers work and what motivates them. The process you relied on to write songs a couple of years ago might not provide the same energy and ideas you need now to write something meaningful, but dismantling the way you make music and putting it back together again in new ways isn’t easy. Here are three ways to help you get started:
The relationship musicians have with their fans is pretty fascinating if you think about it. What would music mean if it wasn’t heard by anyone other than the artist that created it? A song has a world of meanings and intentions on behalf of the songwriter, but once that song is put in front of a listener, it evolves into something else entirely. Without listeners, musicians are still musicians, but their music doesn’t have the same purpose. For musicians intent on having an audience connect with their music, being able to relate with listeners in an honest way is paramount. Unfortunately, saying it is easy but putting it into practice can be a challenge for some musicians.
Whether it’s the play-counts you rack up over streaming platforms or the amount of followers you accrue through social media, numbers and statistics have become an almost unavoidable part of being active in music today. But just because you’ve got a perpetual front row seat when it comes to following the numbers behind your music, doesn’t mean you should always be paying attention. In fact, obsessing over your plays, views, followers, and downloads can do more harm than good for your songwriting.
I’ve been making music seriously for more than a decade now. There are times when writing a song feels like the most natural thing in the world, when chords, melodies, and lyrics spill out of me without effort or thought. But most of the time, songwriting doesn’t come easy to me if I’m being honest. These days, if I made music only when I felt like it, I wouldn’t be making any music. It’s sort of like when a person simultaneously dreads and looks forward to going to the gym. I know that the act of making music makes me a more sane, whole, and loving person, but man is it hard sometimes. And this doesn’t even get into the non-musical aspects of trying to create and share music with the world––booking shows, pitching to blogs, and playlists, etc.
Taking a break every now and then from music isn’t just a good idea. It’s mandatory for anyone who makes music seriously. The problem comes when musicians step too far away from their work and can’t find their way back to it.
How can musicians like me and anyone else who does this seriously get the most out of taking breaks from their work without leaving it completely?
That answer is going to change wildly from musician to musician, but here are a few things I’ve learned when it comes to taking time away from music:
There’s no one way to write a song. If you’re a songwriter, you’re probably well aware of this fact. But when a musician comes up with a great idea, it can be difficult to remember this when a single idea fails to materialize into a good song. We often love musical ideas so much that we’ll do anything to protect and preserve them, even if it means ultimately wasting our time or sacrificing other ideas that actually work well in a piece of music.
But how do you know when to press forward with an idea and when to bail? This is a question that songwriters and composers have grappled with for as long as music has been around.
Music is a space where it’s tempting to approach things with an indulgent philosophy. If you think about it, everything from selling out shows to proving your music is being listened to over streaming platforms is dependent on numbers. The better numbers you can generate, whether it’s song streams, fans over social media, or downloads of your music, the better, right? I don’t think it’s that simple, and in an age where music is so intertwined with numbers, we run the risk of valuing musicians too much or too little because everything is attached to numbers now. Rather than adopting a “more is always better” mentality around your music, you could probably benefit in a big way from stepping back and embracing a more minimal approach––especially when it comes to songwriting.