Phil Collins

Getting Beyond the Labels

Putting a label on something is usually meant to be a help. You might put an address label on a package you intend to mail, for example. That’s obviously helpful.

You might, after years of aches and pains, discover that you have arthritis. Labelling your aches and pains gives doctors a clearer path to treatment, and so those kinds of labels are necessary and good.


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There are those very few times, however, when a label might create more problems than solutions, and I think this happens in the arts a lot.

For example, your band might gain the label of being a pop music act, when you really want people (and industry execs) to know that you can dig deeper and do music that offers much more than a typical pop song. The Beach Boys might be a good example of this.

You might get labelled as a singer of fluffy ballads, as Phil Collins was during the 80s and beyond. With that label, his career as a drummer of astonishing quality, particularly regarding his work with Genesis and Brand X, seemed to fade (or not appear in the first place) in many people’s minds.

There’s hardly anyone in the music business who likes labels. Labels are almost universally seen as limiting, boxing artists into a predictable package. They’re only really helpful at all to audiences because they give them an initial sense of what they’re probably going to hear, and to producers who have the responsibility of targeting that audience.

Writer’s Block as a Label

There’s another label in the world of songwriting that can also be unhelpful: that label we call writer’s block.

When you’re going through a tough patch, and it seems that much of what you try to write leads nowhere, we call it writer’s block. The problem is that there are times when you might feel a bit stifled creatively, but the label of writer’s block makes it worse by creating a self-fulfilling prophesy: you’re stuck!

For any time in music when a label isn’t particularly helpful, I encourage you to reject the label! And particularly when it comes to writer’s block, you can turn frustration into something more effective by doing any of the following:

  1. Avoid frustration by refocusing on something else. If writing is causing you irritation, refocus on playing your instrument. Or purposely writing small snippets of music and lyrics. Or producing someone’s album. Just change your focus!
  2. Compile bits of unfinished tunes. You’ve likely got a virtual shoebox full of ideas that went nowhere. Once in a while, it can be well worth the time to play through incomplete bits of songs you’ve written over the months and years, and see what partners up. You might be surprised that your next few songs have already been written.
  3. Write about songwriting. It’s amazing what writing about something does to help you refocus on what it is you’re actually doing as a writer. Write about your influences, your experiences, your successes. You can do this in the form of a blog, or even as a short essay or book. It’s a powerful and useful exercise.
  4. Work with other songwriters. Even if it’s just a temporary arrangement, you can get a jolt of creative excitement by partnering with other songwriters to get past a creative block.
  5. Take a break, and label it as such. Here’s one label that’s a good one. Take a break from writing, but plan it and stick to it. Assign a week as your time away, call it a break, and don’t write, even if you feel that you want to. You’ll return to writing a week later feeling refreshed and ready!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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