The Top 3 Reasons You Aren’t Making Enough Music (And How to Write More)
Most songwriters, producers, and artists I know want to create more music, with less frustration, than they do now. Yet just sitting down and creating more music remains an evasive goal. Why?
I’ve spent large chunks of my writing and music-making career searching for some way to be a more productive creator. But like most things in life, there is no secret to writing more. There’s no inner force waiting to be unleashed. Paul J. Silvia said it best, in his masterpiece for writers, “How to Write a Lot”:
Writing productively is about actions you aren’t doing but could easily do: making a schedule, setting clear goals, keeping track of your work, rewarding yourself, and building good habits. Productive writers don’t have special gifts or special traits — they just spend more time writing and use this time more efficiently.
Silvia, a professional psychologist, targeted this advice towards writers – especially academics. But it’s valid for songwriters, producers, and artists, too. Like writers, many of us musicians get sidetracked on the way to productivity by a few common barriers — barriers that are often complete fiction. Below, I’ve adapted Silvia’s barriers for writers to apply to musicians. We often struggle as much as writers — but have less advice about how to become better.
If you want to write more, write better, and be inspired more often, then read on.
3 Common “Barriers” to Making Music (& The Solutions)
1. “I Can’t Find Time to Make Music”
This is the most common and insidious of all writing blocks. Yet finding time isn’t the actual root of the problem: prioritization is.
Everyone gets the same 24 hours to work with each day. And everyone’s schedule includes some inviolable hours: you must eat, sleep, and — for all but the luckiest few — you must work. You don’t have trouble finding time for your shift at work. It’s in your calendar, and you never miss. In the same way, there’s no such thing as “finding time to make music” — you have to make time for it.
Making time to create can seem difficult at first glance. But take a second look through your schedule, and you’ll likely find some gaps: times when you watch Netflix, go out for drinks, or scroll through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Most likely, you have a lot more time to make music than it seems.
I think our schedules so easily fill up to avoid creating songs because writing is so difficult and so profoundly personal. But you can reduce the anxiety and pressure of a writing session. During your writing time, you don’t have to just stick pen to paper, or your hands on the Push. Your writing time can be anything related to the craft — whether that’s analyzing another writer’s lyrics, or breaking down a Mike WiLL beat, or creating something brand new. What matters more than how much time you spend in each writing session is how often you work on your craft and how focused you are.
If you missed it, an earlier post on CareersInMusic called “How to Become Exceptional By Focusing On What Matters Most” details how to spend your time creating music. Duration is not as important as focus. In fact, you’re better off working on music for an hour per day, every day, than three hours per day, twice per week.
So right now, look at your schedule and try to identify where you regularly have free time. Start simple: find four or five hours through your week that you can work on music without interruption. Try not to make it too hard on yourself. Short sessions during a time of day when you’re not too busy, like early morning or after dinner, are perfect. I have mine scheduled for 7:30am to 8:30am every weekday morning.
A final tip: treat your creative time as sacred. Other people will not respect your time. They’ll try to schedule lunch, or hang out, or watch TV, or anything else. But to you, this time is now set in iron. Don’t bend.
This is the only way to be a more productive, more proficient, and better music maker. You simply must create more music, and the key to creating more music is to set a schedule and stick to it no matter the obstacles.
2. “I Don’t Have the Right Tools”
This block plagues producers far more than songwriters. You think — “I need a microphone to make music; if I can’t record, what’s the point?” The hunt for new plugins, new samples, new monitors, and other resources can turn into a tactic for procrastination.
I don’t think anyone really believes their gear is holding them back from being able to create music. They know they can make music with the bare essentials. And yet I still hear this excuse all the time (and catch myself using this excuse any time I travel). Why is it so attractive?
There is a grain of truth in the desire for new and better resources. As a producer, I’m way better off with a laptop, a copy of Logic or Ableton, and a controller. As a songwriter, I work much faster with a guitar or keyboard at my side. It’s most likely true that getting better gear, mentors, and so on will help me become a stronger producer. But nothing will help me like practice will.
And so, once you have met the barest requirements for gear, you should schedule your music making time into your calendar. If you’re a songwriter, you can get away with a laptop — or pen, paper, and a flat surface — and a guitar or keyboard. If you’re a producer, you can get away with a DAW and headphones or monitors. You won’t be churning out the most professional of mixes, but at least you’ll be putting in your hours.
3. “I Can Only Write When I’m Inspired”
Creative arts like music, poetry, dance, and acting foster the idea that the greatest creations are born of inspiration. To an extent, this is likely true. I know my best work comes when I’m inspired.
But many music makers take this argument too far, and only write when inspired. After all — if you can’t produce your greatest work when uninspired, why waste time trying?
The answer comes from Robert Boice, a researcher who examined the differences between productive and nonproductive academics in a famous 1990 study. Boice separated professors into three groups. The members of the first group weren’t allowed to write except in case of emergency. The second group scheduled 50 writing sessions, but only wrote if they felt inspired. And the members of the third group scheduled 50 writing sessions and were forced to write during every session. The result? People who wrote every session wrote 3.5x more pages than people who waited for inspiration. This isn’t particularly surprising, and it’s not the most important finding.
It turns out that forcing people to write increases the number and frequency of creative ideas they have. People who wrote every session had creative ideas twice as often as people who waited for inspiration. The very act of writing generates inspiration and creativity.
This is why actors, dancers, musicians, and novelists all sit down and do their work every day, even when they aren’t inspired. That uninspired work helps them become better at their craft and helps generate more inspiration. Hell, that’s why Kanye West wrote 5 beats a day for 3 summers.
Y’all don’t know my struggle, Y’all can’t match my hustle
You can’t catch my hustle, You can’t fathom my love, dude!
Lock yourself in a room doin’ five beats a day for three summers
That’s a different world like Cree Summer’s, I deserve to do these numbers”
-Kanye West “Spaceship”
So schedule time for deliberate practice into your week. Even if you feel too busy, or you don’t have the right gear, or you’re uninspired — just schedule an hour a day, sit down, and do the work.
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