By: Konner Scott
Order and chaos. Yin and yang. Tradition and novelty. It’s the age-old human story. How do we walk the delicate tightrope between the two? The same question can be applied to the creation of music. When writing, composing, or arranging, a musician may find themselves struggling to determine the appropriate balance.
The tough truth is that everybody has to figure out for themselves how to best mix together familiar territory with novel innovation. I’ve heard some artists say that they almost never listen to music, for fear that it will cloud their creativity and cause them to accidentally just reproduce something that has already done before. I’ve heard other artists say that they listen to new music nonstop, constantly trying to add more influences into their sound so they can mix them together in new and unique ways. Personally, I fall somewhere between the two. I’ve noticed I go through phases- I’ll have a month or so where I listen to music nonstop, and that will often be followed by a month where I’m completely in a creative zone and I hardly listen at all- almost like I’m ‘purging’ all of the new ideas I absorbed the month before.
If you don’t know where to start, learning the classics can be a great way to get going. It’s hard to innovate properly without integrating your culture’s musical traditions into your soul. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, after all. I spent a large part of my youth learning to play pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and other classical geniuses. As I got older, my focus shifted to guitar and I began to replicate parts by Boston, Kansas, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, and an ever-expanding variety of classic and modern rock artists.
All the while, I was doing my best to go into my creative Narnia and return with something new and unique. By the time I was at that point, it wasn’t a conscious process- the conscious legwork had been done while I was learning songs by other artists. I found that if I turned my conscious brain off and let my wandering mind search for what felt like the best guitar part, piano part, vocal melody, or lyric, I would often emerge from my creative trance with something that surprised even myself. It was as if there was a part of me that I didn’t understand creating music that I couldn’t fully grasp.
Through years of refinement, I’ve gotten my creative routine to a place that works well for me. The funny thing, though, is that I’m still constantly changing and tweaking it! That’s the thing about creativity- it’s not static. It’s an ever-changing river of ideas and processes, and needs regular updating to stay fresh. The more I pay attention to what works and what doesn’t (and when things stop working), the more I walk that tightrope between familiarity and novelty, and the better my creative output becomes.
My advice, then? Start trying things! Listen to music. Play music. Create music. Pay attention to the things that help, and the things that don’t. Get frustrated, walk away, then come back and try again. Creativity is messy, and finding the appropriate balance in your creative process takes time and requires failure. Just don’t give up!