Words by Annie-Mei Forster.
The most impressive art exhibition I’ve ever visited was at The Met Breuer in New York City called ‘Unfinished’. It addressed an intriguing concept in art practice: the question of when a piece of artwork is finished. We are all our own greatest critics, and it’s natural to doubt your ability. Claude Monet once slashed 15 of his paintings because he thought they weren’t acceptable. If you’re a budding musician, you probably attempt to write music. How many pieces of paper have you scrunched up and put in the bin? How many times have you scribbled out lyrics because you thought they were terrible?
We’ve compiled some tips and tricks that you can use when you are stuck for ideas or have doubts about your ability.
Write it down
You don’t have to use a journal but more of an ideas book. Any time you have an interesting thought or something you’d like to try later–write it down. Say you’re walking down the street, and in your head, you hear some interesting chord progressions. What changes are you going to remember by the time you get home? Probably next to zero, so always carry a book and a pen so that you can write things down.
In his book, ‘Decoded’, Jay-Z says he stores rhymes in his head to build up his memory ‘muscle’, which might work for him but it’s always safer to write things down. I have a suspicion even Jay-Z has forgotten an odd rhyme or two over the years.
Find inspiration in other arts
Just because you’re a musician doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to finding inspiration in music. Look around you at all the creative projects people are working on in different areas. When you’re struggling for new ideas or you can’t seem to get the lyrics down on paper, take a stroll through your local gallery and have a look at some art. Just like music, art evokes powerful emotions, and people respond differently to paintings, murals and sculptures.
Other ways you can excite your senses is by watching a film or going to the theatre. There are so many genres and international movies, so dive into something new. If you see a film with someone else, discuss your thoughts, and how it made you feel.
You could also read that book that’s sitting on your bedside table gathering dust. If you’re stuck for ideas, then you’ve got no excuse. If you’re a songwriter, instead of merely reading the book, analyse the way the author has written it. Look at exciting adjectives they use to describe objects and write down any new words you don’t know. Those words might end up in your next song!
All right stop. Listen to Vanilla Ice and find someone with whom to jam. Not all collaborations eventuate into something more, and you probably won’t write the next big hit, but bouncing around new ideas with other people gets your creative juices flowing. So, when you do go back and start writing again alone, you might have a fresh perspective.
Look for people to collaborate with that you think are exceptional musicians or have a completely different style to yours, but that you feel would complement each other. Encourage them to play tunes they’re working on and vice versa. Provide feedback and offer helpful suggestions to make each other’s music even better. Then think about how you can bring out each other’s strengths. If you’re not ready to write something new together, begin by playing covers and improvising.
Find a mentor
Having a mentor not only inspires you, but it gives you someone in whom to aspire. Find an artist who’s happy to be a mentor, then ask them if they will listen to your music and help you improve. It can be someone you already see regularly, such as your piano teacher, or your favourite music radio show host.
Don’t be scared to show your mentor your lyrics or music. They’ve agreed to see your work, so they aren’t going to laugh or make fun of you. If they do, then they have no right being a mentor! Take on board any constructive criticism they give so that you can improve your music. Even the most famous musicians receive criticism from music reviewers and fans. To make it in the music industry, you need a tough skin, so you may want to start working on that now.
Experiment with new technology
Never has there been a better time to experiment with new technology than now. Commercials have been using artificial intelligence (AI) to write jingles for quite some time now. However, artists are beginning to experiment with writing whole albums using AI. While some people might argue that tech is replacing humans, it will always be the human factor in the live music that appeals to people.
So, instead of thinking tech is replacing people, think of it as another tool in your music belt, that you can use to write new songs. You’ve probably already played around on your laptop with inbuilt instruments or beats, so why not give more advanced technology a try? You’ve nothing to lose, well not for now anyway!
Those are our top tips on how to find inspiration when you’re a little stuck for ideas. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know and ask them to collaborate or to mentor you. The worst thing that can happen is that they say ‘no’.