These last few months have been kind of crazy for me! I’ve gotten to travel and play a lot of shows, I got my first music video premiere on CMT, I finished up a personal project of mine (building a tiny home from scratch to rent out); in between all of that, I’ve been letting songwriting fall by the wayside a bit, practicing the songs I already believe are strong for the performances I give. It’s reached the point now, though, where writing is what I need to be focused on again.
In Nashville, our schedule is divided into seasons. Summer is touring season, for instance. It’s when all the festivals are going on, when the weather is perfect, and when people are most motivated to go spend money on tickets. Fall/Winter is recording season.
Now that I’ve rolled out all my 2019 releases, it’s time to get focused on the new year, and that means new music (yay!!). Pressure is on! And everyone knows that when you absolutely need to get something done, it becomes the hardest thing in the world to do, especially if we’re talking creatively.
When I was in the songwriting program at Belmont University, we were taught to be “creative on demand”. Before this, I wrote when inspiration hit me. Sometimes it was late at night, sometimes it was early morning. Sometimes I wrote three songs in a week, and other times a month or two would go by between them. School was not only trying to prep me for a publishing deal, but also for the cowriting culture in Nashville. The whole idea of scheduled cowrites seems odd to people outside of the music business.
“So how does that even work?” they ask. “You say, let’s meet two o’clock on Tuesday and you write a song?” Yeah, pretty much.
As an independent artist, our lives are often wrapped up in all sorts of things- our day jobs, our relationships, our booking, our promotion, our networking… and in the midst of that, it’s important for us to develop the skill of being able to “create” creativity and inspiration. Sometimes it is easier said than done.
Different things work for different people. I usually keep a running list of notes on my phone which contain song hook ideas, titles, cool lines, etc. I’ve heard of people using random word generators as well as those “daily challenge” calendars, tailored to songs (example: Oct 1- write a song with a color in the title). My roommate jokingly says she messes up her personal life everytime she needs some good song inspiration (after all, wasn’t Fleetwood Mac’s greatest album, Rumors, written in the midst of some crazy band turmoil?).
For me, my best songs always tend to come when there isn’t any particular pressure on the session. I’m not trying to write for an album, not trying to go for a very specific vibe. It organically ends up being something cool and authentic because the vibe and tune just come naturally. Which doesn’t put me in the best spot currently when I know in order to prepare for next year, what I need are good songs.
It might seem unnecessary, all the stressing and overthinking. I have a bunch of good songs I haven’t released yet. I could go into the studio, work with one of my favorite producers, and come out with a really cool sounding track. And there are people (and genres, even) that believe production is bigger than the actual content of the song. However, country music is a very lyric-driven, story genre. And I truly believe that songs make the artist, not the other way around. People are more compelled to listen to a decent singer sing an amazing song than a phenomenal singer sing a bad song.
Working with writers that I trust and have written with in the past is important in getting past writer’s block because not only do these people know me the best (both as an artist and person), but they each bring their own unique perspectives and skills to the cowrite to pick up the slack where I leave off.
There’s a fine line between pursuing perfection and putting out something you’re proud of. As a self-described perfectionist, it’s often difficult for me to decide when a project is “done”. Knowing this distinction is important though. As an artist, we need an amazing product to release. It defines how well our promotion will do, how many people will buy tickets, how many spins and plays the song will receive, etc. At the same time, we can also easily end up in limbo if we become over-obsessed with the idea of making sure something is “perfect”- because realistically, nothing ever is. And your fans probably don’t want it to be, either. There’s a reason live albums are so popular- people love the authenticity of the imperfections. It feels real.
This is also one of the reasons I don’t want to have somebody else write my releases. There are plenty of amazing artists who source songs from equally incredible songwriters and find a way to connect their performance to the heart of the song’s message. Personally, I’ve always been a songwriter. I’m able to connect best with my own writing because it contains stories and messages I want to send out into the world. I love collaborating with other writers and making it even better than I could make it myself- but I have to be a part of that room. Otherwise, it doesn’t quite feel like me.
I’m booking out my schedule over the next few months to partner with some amazing songwriters to try and combat this writer’s block. Fingers crossed we make some magic. What are some methods you use to get through writer’s block? Sound off in the comments!