[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]

Endings can be brutal, especially in the context of a music project that’s been thoroughly labored over and sacrificed for. 

Few people hear music and connect what they’re listening to to the work that goes into creating music, an artform with no guarantees for success that leads many music-makers through years of dead ends, false starts, and career disappointments. The world tells us that in order to succeed in something like the music industry, tenacity and a refusal to stay on course are attitudes we can’t do without, but there’s a big piece missing from this piece of conventional wisdom: reinvention.

A willingness to change course and do something completely new is crucial for a musician’s creativity, whether it’s the form of exploring a different musical direction for an album or embracing a completely new musical persona. We’ve all heard about “sophomore slumps” in music when an artist’s second album fails to live up to their debut, and a failure to embrace new ideas could partially explain this phenomenon. 

In a lot of instances, musicians create interesting work after first finding their voice and keep working from the same playbook with diminishing returns. Other times, artists become so bogged down with the baggage of genre or the expectations surrounding their work that they’re left with no choice other than to reinvent themselves if they want to keep making music. 

Why creative risk-taking delivers rewards

Creative reinvention, whether it’s something we willingly plan for or experience out of our control, can be a terrifying but exhilarating spot to be in because it forces us to explore risk in our work. When routines rear their predictable heads in our unique creative processes, things get comfy and repetitive, and this isn’t a good thing. 

There’s a burst of genuine excitement and wonder that happens on behalf of a musician when they explore challenging music for the first time, but this energy tends to dissipate when the same ideas get written and recorded over and over again. Newness fuels creativity in a huge way, and it demands risk on behalf of artists in order to thrive.

Change things up, explore new ideas, or blow things up and start over?

Some musicians need only to change their creative processes slightly and open themselves up to exciting new musical approaches to benefit their work. Others need more drastic forms of change in order to make the impact they’re looking for––scrapping stale songs or entire albums worth of material and starting over, exploring a completely new genre for the first time, parting ways with an old music project and starting fresh. 

It can be hell trying to know what to save and what to scrap when it comes to music, and you’re not always going to make the right choice. A helpful thought to consider is to imagine what you’ll regret doing or not doing later in life. After a decade with the same band, is it worth it to keep going, or is it time to quit and do something different? 

How you envision yourself feeling about it down the line can tell you how you’re really feeling right now in the moment. If the status quo of your writing process or collaborative projects isn’t giving your what you want, try zooming in and finding out why before giving up something that’s important to you. Dramatic musical reinventions don’t always demand walking away from something or someone permanently.

The things you’ll take with you and what you’ll leave behind

Creative reinventions are often essential in sustaining the careers of musicians, but while the elements of risk and newness are mandatory in bringing real change and growth, don’t expect everyone around you to cheer on your new musical approach. 

When you put music out into the world, you aren’t just sharing songs, EPs, and albums, but also expectations. Your fans and those you collaborate with might not take kindly to a dramatic musical retooling if the new musical path you take goes against what they’ve come to know and expect from you. The bottom line is that losing fans and potentially damaging musical relationships is often an unavoidable part of doing something completely new in music.

You can’t control how people respond to the sweeping changes you embrace in your work, but you can do your best to treat others with grace and respect. This especially applies to collaborators like bandmates who’ve invested in working with you financially, emotionally, and creatively. How you handle embracing an intrepid new creative approach in your music is one thing, but the way you part ways with bandmates or announce that you want to explore drastically different musical paths together is another. Empathy, respect, openness, patience––these are qualities you should do your best to embody when you decide to rock a boat that you’ve been riding on with other passengers. 

Musical reinvention often means giving up collaborators, fans, and creative approaches that are important to you, but it’s worth the loss if what you end up with is an energy and hope you’ve lost in making music.

Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.


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