Creating When You’re Not Inspired

This is the perfect topic for today because right now I don’t feel like writing.  I’m in the school library sipping a La Croix, trying to get some work done, and no topic is calling out to me.  It’s not that I don’t want to write; it’s that I don’t have anything to say.  I’m uninspired.  This happens in music too.  I’ll be trying to write and nothing seems to flow, my progressions feel as bland and stale as every song I’ve ever heard.  It’s like I’m writing the same tune over again, repeating myself.  It’s all very deflating.

A common misconception is that creativity occurs only when you’re inspired.  If you’re not feeling it you have writer’s block or something and shouldn’t even try.  In his book, On Writing, Stephen King writes, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”  There’s a lot of great quotes on the topic, but rather than just share what others have said, let me offer my own experience.

What we call “writer’s block” isn’t the failure to create; it’s the failure to create something you like.  Under that definition, you can always write.  There’s no reason not to.  You don’t need to share everything you try, and you don’t need to like everything you finish, but you always need to be trying.

If you’re in a rut listen to some great music, try something you’ve never done (new synth sound or chord progression), or approach the song in a new way (starting with melody instead of chords or vice versa).  There’s a lot of techniques you can do to shake things up, and pretty soon you’ll be inspiring yourself.

That being said, every song you finish isn’t going to be great.

Earlier this year, I was attempting to write three songs a month.  I put my best effort into them: writing, mixing, and mastering.  I wanted a solid product.  I was hoping to release an EP every month, focusing on different genres.  What I found is that for every three songs or so, I only really liked one.  You don’t realize that at the time, of course.  You don’t think, “Man, this song I’m writing sucks,” but looking back it’s easier to be critical.  What I’m getting at is you need to keep writing so you have songs to pick from.  Otherwise you release an EP of two songs you like and three others that are there just because it’s all you have.

I’m not advocating you write songs you don’t like.  Just write the best songs you can and when it comes time to share them, be picky.

KING, STEPHEN. ON WRITING. SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2000.

An Introduction

   I’ve recently found myself in the unique position of being back in school at 27. I’m not pursuing anything reasonable like most adults who go back, but instead I’ll be going after my Bachelor’s in Music Industry. In this blog I’ll be documenting the experience and showcasing whatever projects or songs result.

  But first, let me give you some backstory.  

  In 2011 I was a composition major at McNally Smith College of Music. My parents and I had taken out a loan for the first semester, but due to the high cost they decided I couldn’t go back.  I wasn’t able to take out a loan that large by myself, so I had to dropout.  I knew I could afford to go to MSU Mankato, or Winona or somewhere, but I was enamored with McNally Smith.  At the time it was the only school I knew of where you could study and write in contemporary genres. They had rock and metal ensembles; you could even get a hip-hop diploma.  I loved the integration of production, and that composition majors like myself could work in the studios once we passed a competency exam. Teachers played gigs all around the Twin Cities, and amazing local acts would perform right in our cafe.  It all seemed so relevant. Unfortunately, all that charm came with a price tag, and even once I was able to get a loan, I couldn’t justify it. McNally Smith was just too expensive.

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My first day of school (2011).

 Over the years, I did music on the side:  performing live, writing songs, and learning production along the way.  I released singer-songwriter EPs, electronic side projects, remixes, and experimented with videos.  All the while I flirted with the idea of going back to school. One of my issues was not be able to choose between audio production and composition; I wanted a degree that taught both.

 In December 2017 McNally Smith announce they’d be closing their doors due to lack of funds.  I was shocked. (I won’t go into how they handled it or what it did to students, but I mention it here because it was a turning point for me).  What this did was eliminate an option I had been subconsciously clinging to. McNally Smith was out. I could either give up on music school or go somewhere affordable.  The choice was easy.

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Performing at the Contented Cow, Northfield, MN (2015).

 That month I began scanning the music programs page of MSU Mankato, and I came across something new: a major in Music Industry with a focus on Songwriting and Production.  This would be a combination I hadn’t seen before and exactly what I wanted. I learned that you can write in any genre you want, that Mankato was building studios for students over the Summer, and that the school didn’t care what DAW you used (most schools make you use Pro Tools, but I’m an Ableton man so this was good news).  In January I took Music Theory II and I liked it a lot.  This semester I’ll be taking a couple more classes.  Stay tuned for updates and song demos!  

(I should’ve started writing this during my first semester, but as I’ve learned with all creative pursuits, it’s better to start late than never start at all).