Between Inspiration and Hard Work, the Latter Always Wins

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Guitarist on stageThere’s a great quote from the late American composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (“West Side Story”, “Candide”, etc) that sums up how inspiration figures into the life of a composer: “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.” It’s great when musical ideas hit you, and you suddenly see the whole song laid out in front of you. But if you’re normal, that’s a rare occurrence. So while you’re waiting for inspiration, what do you do?

Songwriting takes discipline, time and work. It’s an ability that you hone and improve on.

Songwriting is something you study. It’s something that gets you curious. You hear something in someone else’s song, and you immediately ask yourself, “What was that, and how can I do something like that?”

Songwriting is an art, but just because it’s art does not mean that the technical side, the craft, is somehow subordinate in importance.

To be a successful songwriter, you need to be able to more than respond to inspiration. You need to be able to create a work of art even when (or especially when) the inspiration doesn’t happen.

But how can you do that? If music is inherently creative, how can you write successful songs if you don’t feel creative? The factors that create great songwriters are the same factors you use to avoid writer’s block. Here they are:

  1. Set a regular time aside every day that is your time to write. Treat that time with respect; don’t let anything distract you from your writing time.
  2. Listen to other songwriters’ material every day. Keep a journal, and write down why you like what you hear, and why you don’t. Verbalizing in this way improves your own abilities.
  3. Listen to music from genres apart from the one you write in. If you’re a pop/rock kind of writer, get listening to Classical, jazz, country, folk and other genres. It will open your mind and inspire you.
  4. Practice your songwriting. Don’t always feel you must write a complete song. Open a newspaper, take the first sentence you see, and try to create a melody that expresses the meaning of the text. Then try another sentence. Songwriting “games” like this take the pressure off having to complete an entire song, and teaches you so much in the process.
  5. Record and listen to your songs. It’s a way of keeping the whole process relevant.

When songwriting becomes a daily activity in this way, you’ll find yourself in the happy circumstance of simply not worrying if inspiration is hitting you. Frankly, you’ll be too busy to care!

And you’ll also find that when you do feel inspired, you’ll feel better equipped to take those inspirational ideas and create a better-working song with them.

All the best with your own songwriting projects!

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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    • Nothing succeeds like success. My feeling is that musicians, whether writers or performers, have to be courageous. Once you get those first few successes, you gain confidence. Ultimately, expressing yourself in the arts means putting yourself out there in a way that can feel uncomfortable. And you’ll never please everyone, so in the end it’s all about expressing yourself. Hopefully with each song, you gain a sense of self-confidence.


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