The music business as we knew it is dead. It’s over and it’s never coming back. And that is great news. As musicians we tend to focus on the death of the recording industry. We talk about how record sales have declined dramatically and how people are no longer buying music. I’m guilty of this myself. It’s hard to not focus on these statistics and changes when thinking about the music business. But I’m here to tell you a different side of this story. We are living in perhaps the most exciting time EVER for musicians, artists, comedians and so on. We are living in what author and speaker Dan Carlin has described as a “creativity revolution”.
There is more art and music being made and distributed to more people than any other time in history. Just a few years ago, to get your music and art in front of a massive audience you had to work within a complex and hard to penetrate bureaucracy. Whether it was distributing your music via a record label, or getting your comedy on television, you were forced to compete within an extremely hard to penetrate system. These days, anyone can make music videos, comedy, films and at least potentially reach millions of people. You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission, you don’t have to convince a bunch of guys in suits with shitty taste in music, you don’t really even need that much money, you can just do it. You can do it from virtually anywhere. You could be some kid in Nebraska in your parents basement and potentially reach more people than a cable network. It’s possible and it’s being done by thousands of people on Youtube and other outlets online.
Even though the internet is relatively new, we sort of take it for granted. It’s probably not that astonishing to think about some teenager uploading videos to youtube and getting millions of hits. For the first time in history, virtually ANYONE can make art and get it out to the world on a mass scale. Think about that. As recently as forty years ago, there were three television networks. Just three. Today there are hundreds of television networks, Youtube channels, blogs, magazines, twitter and on and on. There is a massive amount of media and art being created and distributed and almost anyone can get involved.
In 1993, producer Steve Albini published an essay called “The Problem With Music” in which he outlined why he thought the business of recording and selling music was inefficient and broken. Just last year, over twenty years later, Albini gave the keynote address at Melbourne’s “Face The Music” conference in which he celebrated that the internet had dismantled the inequalities of the music business. Steve’s speech is perhaps the most concise and articulate breakdown of the ways in which the music business has changed in the last twenty years that I’ve ever seen. The following is an excerpt of Steve’s speech that summarizes his position:
“Through the internet, which more than anything else creates access to things, limitless music eventually became available for free. The big record companies didn’t see how to make money from online distribution so they effectively ignored it, leaving it to the hackers and the audience to populate a new landscape of downloading. People who prefer the convenience of CDs over LPs naturally prefer downloaded music even more. You could download it or stream it or listen from YouTube or have your friends on message boards or acquaintances send you zip files. In the blink of an eye music went from being rare, expensive and only available through physical media in controlled outlets to being ubiquitous and free worldwide. What a fantastic development.
There’s a lot of shade thrown by people in the music industry about how terrible the free sharing of music is, how it’s the equivalent of theft, etc. That’s all bullshit and we’ll deal with that in a minute. But for a minute I want you to look at the experience of music from a fan’s perspective, post-internet. Music that is hard to find was now easy to find. Music to suit my specific tastes, as fucked up as they might be, was now accessible by a few clicks or maybe posting a query on a message board. In response I had more access to music than I had ever imagined. Curated by other enthusiasts, keen to turn me on to the good stuff; people, like me, who want other people to hear the best music ever.
This audience-driven music distribution has other benefits. Long-forgotten music has been given a second life. And bands whose music that was ahead of its time has been allowed to reach a niche audience that the old mass distribution failed to find for them, as one enthusiast turns on the next and this forgotten music finally gets it due. There’s a terrific documentary about one such case, the Detroit band Death whose sole album was released in a perfunctory edition in, I believe, 1975 and disappeared until a copy of it was digitised and made public on the internet. Gradually the band found an audience, their music got lovingly reissued, and the band has resurrected, complete with tours playing to packed houses. And the band are now being allowed the career that the old star system had denied them. There are hundreds of such stories and there are specialty labels that do nothing but reissue lost classics like that once they surface.
Now look at the conditions from a band’s perspective, the conditions faced by a band. In contrast to back in the day, recording equipment and technology has simplified and become readily available. Computers now come pre-loaded with enough software to make a decent demo recording and guitar stores sell microphones and other equipment inexpensively that previously was only available at a premium from arcane specialty sources. Essentially every band now has the opportunity to make recordings.
And they can do things with those recordings. They can post them online in any number of places: Bandcamp, YouTube, SoundCloud, their own websites. They can link to them on message boards, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter and even in the comment streams of other music. “LOL,” “this sucks,” “much better,” “death to false metal,” “LOL”. Instead of spending a fortune on international phone calls trying to find someone in each territory to listen to your music, every band on the planet now has free, instant access to the world at its fingertips.
I cannot overstate how important a development that is. Previously, in the top-down paradigm allowed local industry to dictate what music was available in isolated or remote markets, markets isolated by location or language. It was inconceivable that a smaller or independent band could have market penetration into, say, Greece or Turkey, Japan or China, South America, Africa or the Balkans. Who would you ask to handle your music? How would you find him? And how would you justify the business and currency complications required to send four or five copies of a record there?
Fans can find the music they like and develop direct relationships with the bands
Now those places are as well-served as New York and London. Fans can find the music they like and develop direct relationships with the bands. It is absolutely possible – I’m sure it happens every day – that a kid in one of these far-flung places can find a new favorite band, send that band a message, and that singer of that band will read it and personally reply to it from his cell phone half a world away. How much better is that? I’ll tell you, it’s infinitely better than having a relationship to a band limited to reading it on the back of the record jacket. If such a thing were possible when I was a teenager I’m certain I would have become a right nuisance to the Ramones.”
Now, of course, as great as all this sounds, the challenge is actually being heard amongst the barrage of art and media available. There’s a lot of content being created and it can be difficult to find an audience. I’ll be the first to admit that reaching a large audience on a platform like Youtube isn’t easy. Hard work is the one part of the equation that hasn’t changed. You still need to work hard to make it in the new music business paradigm. But what’s exciting, is that if you’re willing to work hard (and smart) you can find your audience. The difference though, is that before you had to work hard to convince other people to give you a chance, or give you a break. Now, you just have to work hard at creating great art and getting consumers to like it. The power truly is in your hands in a way that it never has been before. The only one’s permission you have to get to be successful these days are consumers.
Although becoming a viral internet sensation isn’t the easiest thing in the world, the good news is, you don’t need to go viral to make it in new media. You just a need a big enough audience in whatever niche you’re in to sustain you. That’s it. It would be great if we all became internet stars, but it’s not necessary to support yourself. I’m the perfect example of that. I make a living through a combination of making and performing music, blogging, licensing music, selling music courses, consulting and so on. Virtually everything I do can be done online, from anywhere, with the exception of my live performances. If someone stumbled upon my websites they would probably have no idea that I make a good full time living doing this. But, I’ve been supporting myself this way for seven years. I still pinch myself that I don’t have to answer to a boss or a corporation. I just wake up every day and do what I do. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. I just do it.
Around 40% of the world population has an internet connection today. In 1995, it was less than 1%.The number of internet users has increased tenfold from 1999 to 2013.The first billion was reached in 2005. The second billion in 2010. The third billion in 2014. I would argue that the internet is a more historically significant invention than either the printing press or television. Think about it, almost half of the entire world is connected to the same media outlet... and we can create and distribute the content, for free, with the click of a mouse.
For female artists from Lana Del Rey and Katy Perry, to pop stars like Justin Bieber, YouTube has been a great avenue for new artists to self-promote their music. Artists like Gotye, Bon Iver and Karmin, generated so many views on the video sharing site that they were signed to record deals as a result, made songs for movies, and in the case of Bon Iver and Gotye even won Grammy awards.
What About Money?
You can make money directly on sites like Youtube, but it takes a LOT of views to add up to substantial money. According to my research, a video that generates a millions views will generate between 800 and eight thousand dollars, depending on the ads shown on the videos. Youtube shares over half their ad revenue with content creators. It takes a lot of views to make substantial money on youtube. The more exciting potential for me is using sites like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook as a way to drive traffic to other sites that can be monetized in a variety of ways. For example, I have a Youtube channel for How To License Your Music.com that drives traffic to my site every day. I don’t make much money at all directly from my Youtube Channel, but I’m able to generate new subscribers and leads for my website every day from videos that I’ve already created. I’m doing the same thing in terms of promoting my music, by driving traffic directly to my website where I promote my shows, videos, blog and of course, my music.
Although I've had a Youtube channel for several years, I'm really just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible when it comes to promoting my own music online. Although it’s a slow process, I’m starting to see consistent growth in my numbers. Promoting your music online takes work and effort, just like it does offline. The big difference though is that when you promote yourself offline, for a show for example, in most cases you’re lucky if you get an extra twenty or thirty people. My youtube channel got over 2,000 views last month, which is nothing compared to many other musicians and Youtubers online. But think about it, my videos are sitting online and getting over 2,000 eyes and ears a month while I’m working on other projects, playing shows, getting coffee and so on. Compare that to running around town hanging up flyers in the hopes of getting an extra 20 people to come to your live show. The potential online is exponentially greater than offline. Of course, you can’t replicate the experience of a live performance online, but in terms of the potential to promote your music, shows and overall brand, there’s nothing better than the internet.
I’m currently focusing on how to crack the code with Youtube and reach a much wider audience. I’m just getting started and have a long way to go, but I will figure it out and when I do I’ll come back here and show you how I did it. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my channel and check out some of my music. I have some really innovative things planned for the next few months designed to get more views and grow my channel and look forward on expanding the content I offer related to this subject.
If you’re interested in following my promotional strategy, subscribe to my channel here:
Let’s face the music (pun intended), the music business has permanently changed. It’s never going to be like it was before. This is simultaneously exciting and scary. It’s both a challenge and an incredible opportunity. We have the ability to both make and distribute music in a cost effective way that we couldn’t have dreamed of doing twenty years ago. The barrier to entry for starting a band and making albums has never been lower. The challenge, of course, is creating a financially sustainable system that will allow bands to thrive and flourish in the new paradigm we find ourselves in. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m optimistic that a path will emerge that is mutually beneficial to artists and audiences alike. I’ll leave you with Steve Albini’s thoughts, which pretty much mirror my beliefs:
“The music industry has shrunk. In shrinking it has rung out the middle, leaving the bands and the audiences to work out their relationship from the ends. I see this as both healthy and exciting. If we’ve learned anything over the past 30 years it’s that left to its own devices bands and their audiences can get along fine: the bands can figure out how to get their music out in front of an audience and the audience will figure out how to reward them.”
You can read Albini’s entire keynote address about the state of the music business here:
Also, be sure to check out these videos for more great inspiration on how to make it in the digital age:
The New Media's Coming Of Age - Dan Carlin
Amanda Palmer - The Art Of Asking
For as long as music has been a part of my life, I’ve been passionate about music. I love writing and playing music more than probably any other thing that I’ve pursued. I felt drawn to making music at a young age. I got my first guitar when I was twelve and even before that I took piano and saxophone lessons. I started taking guitar lessons when I was twelve and have studied and practiced guitar more or less ever since. There have been periods where I’ve practiced and played music more than others, but I have never really quit for any extended period of time. The longest I can remember going without playing the guitar was a period of about two weeks a few years ago. Music has been a very consistent part of my life.
As much as I love music, there have been periods where the sense of passion and enthusiasm I have for music has waxed and waned. Although I’ve never quit, if I’m honest, there have been periods where my heart was not fully in it. Currently I’m experiencing a sort of resurgence of my love for playing guitar, writing music, performing and practicing. I’ve been writing and practicing more than I have in a long time, perhaps more than I have in over a decade. I feel a sense of rejuvenation for music that I can’t totally explain. I just love it again. Not that I ever stopped loving it, but I like, really love it again. During this article I’m going to explore why passion is such an important ingredient for the life of a musician, and for people in general, why passion comes and goes, and how we can maintain our passion for things like music.
Having a sense of passion for your occupation is an important ingredient for having a happy and successful life. Most of us spend a very large chunk of our lives working. It makes sense then, that if you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about and excited about, you'll be a happier and more enthusiastic person.
In the past, I spent years working in jobs that I wasn’t excited about it, and although it was bearable, it definitely affected my overall sense of well-being. It’s hard to stay super happy and excited if you’re spending eight hours or more a day doing something you don’t enjoy, or even worse, despise. Every element of our lives is connected to every element of our lives. If you’re not happy all day at work, then it’s likely this dissatisfaction is going to spill over into other aspects of your life, like relationships with friends, family, significant others and so on.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about passion as it relates to your occupation:
“When an individual is passionate about their occupation they tend to be less obsessive about their behavior while on their job, resulting in more work being done and more work satisfaction. These same individuals have higher levels of psychological well-being. When people genuinely enjoy their profession and are motivated by their passion, they tend to be more satisfied with their work and more psychologically healthy. When an individual is unsatisfied with their profession they are also dissatisfied with their family relationships and experience psychological distress.”
If you’re lucky enough to do something you’re passionate about for a living, it makes sense that this would be beneficial to all areas of your life. If you’re pursuing something like music as a career, it’s most likely because you’re passionate about music. But why does passion seem to come and go? Is there anything we can do to nurture our passion and develop our interest even further? Is passion something we can even control, or does it just rise and fall of its own accord, independent from our will?
Here are a few conclusions I’ve reached about why my own passion for music has fluctuated over the years:
Music As A Career
When I was first discovering music and guitar at the age of 12, there was no pressure to try and make money from music or make myself known. I was simply enjoying the process of learning an instrument and discovering what I was capable of as a guitar player and eventually, songwriter. Everything was new back then and it was exciting. I would spend hours a day sometimes during high school practicing scales, improvising and learning new songs. In some ways, this is the purest way to approach making music, simply doing it for the love of it. When I was just getting started, because there was no pressure or stress about how to “make it” in the music business, I just enjoyed music for the sake of music. The simple act of practicing, learning and progressing as a musician was enough to keep me motivated and passionate about music.
When I went to College to study music, the passion continued. Because even though I knew I would eventually have to figure out how to earn a living as a musician, I didn’t yet have that pressure and my passion for music flourished even more. It wasn’t really until several years after I finished college and had played in a couple bands that I really started to experience a dip in my passion for music. One of the challenges of mastering something, is that you typically have to invest so many hours into mastering something like a musical instrument, that burnout becomes a very real threat. I don’t care how much you love something, if you do it for hours and hours, day after day for years, you’re going to get tired of it sometimes. It’s sort of like a great relationship, even in the best of relationships, it’s normal and healthy, to want to have some time apart. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder and spending too much time with one person or doing one thing, poses the very real threat of making you grow tired of the very thing that you were once so passionate about.
Yet, it’s not enough to just back off and not do the thing you love as much, because in most cases, to truly excel you have to push past that initial resistance and keep going. To a large extent, I think this is what separates true masters from those who just approach something like music as a hobby. Here’s a great video clip of the author of “Mastery”, Robert Greene, discussing how to avoid burnout on the path to mastery:
One of the ideas that Greene talks about, is that to truly excel and become a master at something you have to have a high enough level of commitment to overcome the periods of boredom and frustration you’ll inevitably experience. Michael Jordan surely experienced days where he didn’t feel like going to the gym and practicing, but his desire and commitment to be a great basketball player was greater than the frustration he experienced. He pushed through, and became one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
This may all sound rather obvious, but think about it, what is your goal and level of commitment to that goal? Do you just quit and put music on the side when you’re frustrated and bored? Or do you keep going, despite the setbacks you experience? One of the reasons I’m so excited about music again is that I’m much more focused on things I can control, like just being the best guitarist and songwriter I can be. I do my best to be as great as I can be and after that it’s out of my hands.
Detach From The Outcome
One of the things that probably has contributed the most to the periods where my passion and excitement for music has faded, is my frustration with the business side of music. Once you start pursuing music as a career, there is a whole new set of stressors and challenges that can make it hard to maintain the same level of passion you had when music was just a hobby. Pursuing music as a career is stressful. The music business is a highly volatile and uncertain business, and if you’re trying to make a full time living from music, it can definitely affect the passion and excitement you feel for music.
So, what to do?
Well, the answer is very simple and you’ve probably heard the concept many times before from a variety of self-help books and speakers, but it’s taken me a lifetime to start to fully embrace and live. What’s helped me tremendously on my journey is simply letting go of my attachment to how everything plays out. In other words, I no longer lose sleep about how I think I should be more successful or that the music business is too hard or anything like that. Now don’t misunderstand me, by detaching from the outcome I’m not suggesting that you don’t pursue success or try to move your career forward, of course you should keep doing those things. But if you can pursue success in a more lighthearted, less serious way, you’ll probably be a lot happier as a result. Do everything you can to progress and move your career forward, but after you do that, relax about the outcome and let go.
This sort of approach to life is helpful in all areas. I recently started a new relationship with a beautiful young singer I met recently. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt “that feeling”. You know, the one where every minute of the day you can’t stop thinking about them and you look forward to every interaction and every moment spent with great excitement. It’s an exciting and beautiful experience that I cherish every moment of. Yet, despite the excitement, when I’m honest about my emotions, there’s an element of apprehension mixed in with all the “good feelings”. I start to have thoughts of, “what if this doesn’t work out”, “what if this doesn’t last”, “where is this heading”, and so on. When I catch myself thinking this way, I remind myself to snap out of it and just enjoy the experience for what it is, and not worry about the future. When I’m able to just relax and enjoy each moment, everything flows so much smoother and my girlfriend seems more excited to spend time with me.
In the same way, when you’re constantly worried about where your music career is headed, it can disrupt your ability to just enjoy the process you’re engaged in and can actually deter your progress. Getting good at playing and creating music, is extremely exciting in and of itself. Lately, I’ve been so focused on the music I’m making and the progress I’m making, that I’m not overly worried about where I’m headed. I’m of course promoting myself every day, playing shows, making new videos and so on, but I just simply feel more relaxed about how things are unfolding.
All we can do as musicians, is do the best we can. It may sound trite or obvious, but think about it, why stress about things you can’t change? Do your best to write great music, learn about things like marketing and licensing and get up every day determined and willing to move forward. Then, let the chips fall where they may.
When I attended Berklee College of Music in the 90’s, I attended as a songwriting major. Guitar was my principal instrument and I focused primarily on learning how to write pop songs and improving my guitar playing. I was mainly interested in rock and pop, but because Berklee is so Jazz oriented, I couldn’t avoid being exposed to lots of Jazz when I was there. I never developed a real passion for jazz music, but my playing improved by learning many of the concepts jazz guitarists utilize. By learning more colorful voicings for chords for example, I broadened my music palate, which helps when I write songs, improvise, etc.
After Berklee I focused on performing original rock music. I didn’t have a lot of experience performing live at that point and I used to get really nervous before shows. I can remember one of my first performances with the band I formed after I left Berklee. I was so nervous the night before our first show that I couldn’t sleep. I was excited to finally be playing music in front of crowds, but I didn’t have a lot of experience performing. It took me a couple years to get real comfortable playing music in front of people, but eventually I got used to it. Now when I perform I rarely feel nervous at all. Maybe a slight twinge of nerves here and there, but I can’t imagine losing sleep over a performance these days. By stepping outside of my initial comfort zone I forced myself to grow.
When the band I formed after I left Berklee broke up in 2002, I decided to take a break from playing in bands for a while and pursue licensing my music. Once again, I was in uncharted territory. I didn’t really understand the business and didn’t have a lot of experience calling music executives, trying to get my foot in the door. But gradually, I started learning how the business works and within about six months, landed my first licensing deal. By pushing myself outside of my comfort zone I was able to move forward within the music licensing industry and over the years have landed many placements for myself and for my clients.
In 2007, after several years as working as a guitar instructor, I decided it was time to start a business online and take back control of my schedule and freedom. Again, I would have to step outside of my comfort zone since I didn’t really have that much experience making money online. I immersed myself in everything I could get my hands on about making money on the internet. I read books, I took courses, I read blogs and websites. I did whatever I could to figure out how to get my business off the ground. Once again there was a learning curve, but through determination and dedication I was able to quit my job and become fully self-employed in less than a year. Had I not stepped outside of my comfort zone I’d probably still be giving guitar lessons and bitching about how I wasn’t happy doing it any longer.
A few years ago, a friend of mine invited me to spend a few months in the Caribbean, to play music at a restaurant he owned. The idea of spending a few months on a Caribbean beach playing music sounded enticing, except this would be a solo gig, where it was just me and a guitar, singing and playing. I’ve sung off and on over the years, but had never really considered myself a great vocalist and preferred the role of playing guitar and having someone else handle the lead vocal duties. But, I decided this once again would be a great way to expand my skill set and step outside of my comfort zone. I accepted the gig and spend the next three months, playing three solo shows a week, just me, my guitar and a microphone. At first, it was nerve wracking. Playing in a band with three other people is one thing, but to be on stage, alone, with all eyes solely on you, is a whole different challenge. But, I persisted and over the next few months became more and more comfortable in this role. These days I’m playing in a group with two other people and handle about 30 percent of the lead vocal duties, but I’m so grateful for the months I spent honing my skills playing solo. It helped me grow tremendously as a musician and person.
I think one of the worst tendencies people have in life is to get stuck in routines doing the same thing, day after day. In my experience, not only is this detrimental to growth, it also seems to be a recipe for unhappiness. I am without a doubt, the happiest when I’m growing and moving forward. Whether it’s in relationships, business or music, stagnation is a recipe for failure.
Recently I got invited to join a local bluegrass trio, playing acoustic bluegrass tunes by artists like Bill Monroe, Del McCoury, Old And In The Way and more. I’ve listened to a little bluegrass over the years, but have played very little bluegrass music. But, I thought about it and decided this would be one more opportunity to stretch myself and grow. To my great delight and surprise, I’m starting to love playing bluegrass. It’s so much fun! So, I’ve spent the last month honing my bluegrass chops. Check out this little bluegrass improv I recorded a few days ago!
I used to think the goal was to get really, really good at one thing and become successful at that. That seems to work for some artists. But over the years, what I’ve found has worked for me, is developing multiple skills, in different areas and creating a revenue stream based on combining those skills The more skills you develop, the more you have to offer. The more you have to offer, the more potential ways to make money and provide for yourself. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be known for one specific thing, be it songwriting or guitar playing. But in the meantime, I’m pretty happy to be able to make a living doing things I love. What about you? What do you find works for you?
I love writing blog posts. I love to write blog posts almost as much as I like to write songs. They’re both creative outlets that I really enjoy. They’re obviously very different forms of expression, but they both fulfill an important need of mine, which is to express myself and connect with others. Despite the obvious differences between the two, they share a lot of similarities. Both forms of expression require consistent effort to get good at, and both require a certain amount of inspiration to do well.
It’s hard for to write a song if I’m not feeling inspired and it’s hard for me to write a blog post if I’m not inspired by a subject or theme that I want to write about. The last couple weeks I’ve lacked inspiration for writing a blog post. It’s not that I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like it. I just didn’t have any new ideas that I wanted to write about. It started to worry me a little. Normally ideas flow to me on a regular basis. Sure, I might go a few days without coming up with a new topic. But sooner or later, I always get inspired to write about something.
But the last couple weeks, whenever I would sit down to write something, nothing came. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I’ve simply been very busy lately. It’s hard to come up with new, creative ideas when you’re constantly thinking about the next thing you have to do. For me, I tend to be at my most inspired when I’m fairly relaxed with minimal distractions. Relaxation seems to breed creativity.
So over the weekend, when I finally found a couple hours to sit down and unwind, after a jam packed week of work, playing music and socializing, the idea finally came to me. As I sat staring at my blank computer screen, not sure what to write about or where to begin, the idea popped into my head… I should do a post about writer’s block I thought. I’ve been struggling with it lately, and I’m sure it’s something we all can relate to. As much as we would like to keep our creative channels open, sometimes, despite our best intentions, we get stuck, unsure what move to make or where to turn to get back to the well spring of creativity. Sometimes, to no fault of our own, we’re just not feeling it.
In today’s post I’m going to address writer’s block, why it happens, and most importantly, how to get out of creative slumps and move forward.
What Causes Writers Block?
For me, I tend to experience the most writer’s block when I’m stressed and busy. This state of mind seems to be counter-productive to creativity. When I think about the best songs I’ve written, I’m almost always in a relaxed frame of mind when inspiration strikes. By relaxed, I don’t mean that I’m in a meditative state or getting a massage or something, but just that I’m fairly relaxed without a lot of distractions or things on my mind. It’s hard for me to focus and allow ideas to come to me if I’m busy, stressed or worried.
Wikipedia has this to say about the role of stress as it relates to writer’s block:
“It has been suggested that writer's block is more than just a mentality. Under stress, a human brain will "shift control from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system". The limbic system is associated with the instinctual processes, such as "fight or flight" response; and behavior that is based on "deeply engrained training". The limited input from the cerebral cortex hinders a person's creative processes, which are replaced by the behaviors associated with the limbic system. The person is often unaware of the change, which may lead them to believe they are creatively "blocked".
Solutions To Writer’s Block
Since according to both my research and experience, stress seems to be one of the biggest causes of writer’s block, one of the first things I do to get out of writing slumps, whether it’s writing music or blogs, is to simply take a few steps back, relax and see what I come up with. If I’m writing music, I like to carve out a decent chunk of time, preferably a couple hours or more, to sit down and really allow myself the time to develop ideas I come up with. I will often do quick spurts of 15 or 20 minutes of playing and writing throughout the day. But to really let an idea develop and go where it wants to go, I need enough time for that to happen. Sometimes ideas come quickly, but usually it takes a little while to get relaxed enough that ideas start to flow. If you’ve ever meditated you can probably relate to sitting down and having a million thoughts bouncing around, outside of your control. It can take several minutes to slow the mind down enough to allow space for creativity to flourish.
Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like Writing
Sometimes we can convince ourselves we have writers block when we really don’t. We tell ourselves we’re not “feeling it” and that we’ll wait until we’re feeling more inspired. So we wait a day or two, we’re still not “feeling it” and so we decide to keep waiting. This sort of complacency can easily create a vicious cycle of feeling less and less inspired, simply because you fall out of the habit of writing. I find that writing music is sort of like priming a pump. The more we’re flexing our creative muscles, the more ideas tend to flow more and more effortlessly. I’ve written before about how when I’m in a really intense period of writing music I’ll often dream songs. It seems like the more I “prime the pump” of my creativity, the more and more it flows. But conversely, when I stop writing music, whether it’s due to my schedule or just laziness, the ideas stop coming as readily.
Listen To Inspiring Music
One of the things that inspires me the most, is simply listening to great music that I find inspiring. First and foremost, I’m a music fan and music lover. I started writing and performing music because I love music. I enjoy a diverse range of music. Everything from heavy metal to jambands to singer/songwriters to classical music and everything in between. If I’m lacking inspiration, often times just listening to an artist I like will be the catalyst for coming up with new ideas. This exercise works especially well in the context of licensing, because supervisors tend to look for songs that sound like someone else. Listening to other popular music can inspire you to write your own original songs that are in the style of music that is contemporary.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you probably know that I read a lot of books. I find that reading books and blogs that I’m interested in, often lead to insights that make their way into both my music and blogs that I write. The ideas I get from books and articles I read often inspire me to write about my own take on existing ideas, or lead to insights that generate entirely new topics. None of us exist in a vacuum and connecting with others through their writing and music is one of the best ways to get inspiration for your own creations.
“Once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right”.
Find The Beauty In The Mundane
I think one of the most common reasons for writers block is simply failing to find inspiration in your circumstances and surrounding. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical as you move through life and fall into a routine where you’re failing to see all the potential sources of inspiration all around you. I recently heard an interview with Jerry Seinfeld where he talked about coming up with the idea for his hit sitcom, Seinfeld. Jerry said when he was initially called into his meeting with NBC about possibly doing a sitcom he was asked if he had any potential ideas. He replied he didn’t have any ideas at all but simply had always wanted to have a meeting with high powered executives.
A few weeks later he was in a deli with his friend and writer Larry David and they were making comedic observations about simple, mundane day to day things. It was this moment, Jerry recalled, that the idea for Seinfeld was born… a show about nothing. But of course it was about much more than nothing, it was about looking at the simple day to day things we all experience in a fresh and humorous way. Seinfeld’s genius, in my opinion, is his ability to find and articulate humorous observations about things in life we can all relate to.
Everything is potential fodder for creative ideas. Everything. Even writer’s block itself can be a source of inspiration, as this post is evidence of. Most of us have similar experiences in life. We all long for the same basic things and we have more in common than we have differences. Great art articulates and expresses these commonalities in unique and creative ways. Often times we experience writer’s block because we’re simply failing to see all the potential sources of inspiration all around us. Take a deep breath, relax and look closely at this amazing world you’re a part of. Then, start writing.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.