COVID burnout or Songwriting?
It's been two years, which is a lifetime for some. Is it possible that it FEELS
even longer? As a musician navigating the music industry I can safely say YES. It hit me earlier this week that it's difficult remembering what running a small arts business was like without COVID. Two years of rapidly learning new skills, trying new methods, changing behaviors, adjusting e
xpectations, possibly to completely scrap the projects or ideas at the end of it all. Not to mention, all of us at the shop have lives and careers built on performance art - one of the most devastated industries during this 2 year pandemic. Wait a minute... I think I just described the process of songwriting and original music in the modern world. OOOF. As dark as that might sound, recognizing the similarities gave me some perspective at this dreaded 2 year mark. No way, you say! But hear me out on this...
Learning new skills - everyone I know (and those I have the joy of reading about) has creativity that exceeds their skill level. They have late-career Beatles arrangements in their head but their hands and mouth are still writing 2010 pop hits. What happens at that point? Well... time to learn some new things! Pick up another instrument so you can play that funky bass line, learn about scales to layer all those vocal harmonies, or layer those funky pedals so you can add the insane sounds you imagine beefing up your chorus.
Try new methods - songwriting ebbs and flows, sometimes pouring out all at once in completed song forms. However, when inspiration disappears, songwriters start getting creative about how to jolt the creativity into motion. Sometimes that means journaling in the morning or making yourself play nonsense until a golden phrase pops out of your instrument. Sometimes it's a combination of 3 different methods that finally make a song (or song section) come together.
Changing behavior - Imagine this: you're incredibly proud of your newest song. It's the best thing you've ever written. You put together a little set of your songs and realize... they all sound the same. You're faced with the realization that you have a go-to writing habit that you need to change, and to do so, you have to actively make songwriting choices that go against your instinct. You listen to musicians outside of your normal playlists, and eventually something new emerges in your creative writing.
Adjusting expectations - this might be the hardest part, but it's the end of the songwriting process. There are three options: you made a song that was exactly what you wanted, was better than you expected, or worse [insert "more boring"] than expected. Honestly, by letting go of your initial goal you can better see how the song holds up. For the same reason we learn new skills (to match our reality to our dreams), songwriters almost always feel their song falls short. Taking away the "achievement" comparison allows you to reconnect to the creativity and art of the final result.
Songwriters and creatives have been practicing this learn/create/change/let go pattern for the entirety of their musical career. At the end of it, we throw out 80% of the ideas. The process is joyful and laborious, but absolutely necessary to creating original work. I believe, 2 years into this pandemic, we are transitioning from the stage 3, changing behaviors, to stage 4, adjusting expectations, stage of songwriting. Instead of constantly comparing back to January 2020, trying to make life function in a way it's not meant to at the moment, we're making choices about how to exist, connect, and create that work for the time during which we exist. It's a long, messy process and 80% of the work is left on the table, but there's no avoiding it if you want to create something new and grow.