[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
What’s on your mind? On the surface, it’s a question that seems to have nothing to do with making music, but your thoughts are actually what should be shaping your music the most. We talk a lot about how important authenticity is in music, and it starts with an artist’s thoughts, hopes, observations, and past experiences. This is what forms your unique identity as a creator, and it’s not something you can force, fake, or fabricate.
But, unfortunately, so many musicians do try to bypass their authenticity by creating music that isn’t rooted in their true identities. Some artists fake it in the pursuit of trying to copy the personalities and experiences of conventionally successful artists. Others are afraid to do the work of facing their true creative selves and end up writing music that never reaches its true potential. But no matter the reason, anything that puts distance between us and our authenticity in music is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Listeners are smart and savvy observers. If your music is inauthentic, they’ll know.
For many developing artists, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between writing authentically and writing the sort of songs they think the world wants to hear. If this sounds like you, nailing down your true musical identity by turning to the things you think about the most every day is a great exercise that will help you create music with passion and authenticity.
Why Mindsets Matter
There’s the music that we think the world wants us to make, and then there’s the music we explore and create that comes from deep down inside of our true selves. There are times when the end result of what we write matches our previous expectations, but not always. The mindset we have going into the writing process is extremely important. When we let outside expectations and boundaries dictate what our music should be enter the creative process, we’ve already lost half the battle when it comes to creating authentically and honestly.
When you begin to view your unique personality as a priceless asset in music, you’ll realize that the things you think about on a day to day basis are actually quite important. Instead of writing about making coffee and taking your dog on a walk, I’m talking about deeper thoughts that can be used to track down the things that inspire you most in your life. Maybe it’s the deep love or anguish you experience when you think about a specific relationship. Or perhaps it’s the way you feel about world events, your non-musical job, or how you grew up. It changes for every artist, but thoughts and feelings like these have been the source of inspiration for countless great songs. Ignore them, and you’ll miss out on priceless sources of inspiration for your music.
It’s so important to lean into who you are and what you care about as an artist because ignoring where you’re at in life right now and trying to create from a mindset that really isn’t yours is basically like covering someone else’s music. Listeners are interested in what you have to say and what’s unique about you through your music, not in how well you can replicate someone else’s interpretation of music.
Transforming what you think about into meaningful music doesn’t just apply to lyrics, though that’s a big part of the equation. Identity plays a massive role in the way you develop melodies, chord progressions, and rhythms in music. The ability to translate your thoughts into emotion is crucial as a music-maker, but you won’t be able to do it if you’re distracted by trying to sound a certain way or feel things that aren’t accurate to your true identity as an artist. There’s nothing more powerful in music than an artist bringing their genuine emotion and energy to the writing process and creating something meaningful out of thin air. This is where great music is born, but it’s often tricky to get here.
Paying attention to your life and the world around you is the first step towards creating authentically. It takes hard and constant work, but digging deep into your thoughts, observations, and experiences will give you the sort of powerful inspiration that leads to free, unforced authenticity in music creation. Whether you’re a teenager making music in your bedroom or a famous pop artist, doing this sort of work never stops if you want to consistently make engaging music that’s true to your unique identity. It involves checking in with yourself before you write to make sure that your heart is in the right place and being able to take an unflinching look at your life. Remember, we don’t make music to please algorithms and rack up streaming counts. We make music to connect with, entertain, comfort, and relate to other human beings. To really succeed in doing these things, we have to put our own humanity at the forefront of our creative processes.