Resistance Is Futile: Guide To Letting Creative Flow Happen
For a process as delicate and complex as songwriting, roadblocks can crop up easily. Here, we explore the issue of songwriting resistance, and what you as an artist can do to facilitate creative flow.
Guest post by Charlotte Yates of Soundfly’s Flypaper
One issue that always slams on a songwriter’s brakes is resistance. And it comes in many forms.
It can be direct, like experiencing the receipt of legitimate feedback on your songs as a smack in the face. Or it can be indirect. For example, when at a seminar, the keynote speaker’s perspective is such a blow to your own worldview on songwriting, you feel personally attacked.
Both situations can elicit alarmingly strong emotional responses, and quickly. The specific or general information you’ve encountered on your songs, or the way you write, can almost feel like a threat.
It works like this.
Your songs are part of you, right? Therefore, if your songs and how you create them need modification, you need modification, right? Quite an assault, and the mind’s response is to protect you; so your defensiveness will settle into resistance. The problem is that resistance isn’t helpful to your development as a songwriter.
There’s a balance between having integrity as an artist, and being unresponsive or change resistant.
- Resistance is static: The very of opposite of being in full creative flow, alive to new thoughts, ideas and connections.
- Resistance stops you listening: It makes you deaf to the things that work well in your music as well as the things that don’t. This stunts your growth and limits interaction with audiences, collaborators and industry professionals. It puts you into lockdown.
Generally, resistance arises most strongly for fledging songwriters or those stuck in a disheartening rut. But the good news is you can turn it around. If there’s a gap between the material you write now, and the results you want, chances are working on your songs and your process will shrink that.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “Process vs. Workflow: What’s the Difference, and Does It Matter for Musicians?”
Performance gaps mostly exist because people are simply not aware. Raising your self-awareness may be confronting, but it’s a first step in working towards a growth or coachable mindset.
Secondly, you can examine that discomfort.
We’d all love the warm bath of “I have zero notes from Pharrell Williams” (see below). But songwriting can be a crap shoot when you start. One of the reasons people don’t persist, is that dreams are free, but reality checks can be shocking, so why bother?
One simple reason: Valid feedback, learning loops, critique, and interaction will make your songs better. Period.
Top performers actively seek this out and so should you. But, do your research — find someone you respect enough to heed their advice and that you can trust; at least enough to let your guard down and go from being resistant to curious.
And for that, Soundfly can really help. With our team of expert mentors in songwriting, production, engineering, beat making, and music marketing, we pair musicians looking to improve their craft with someone who can get them closer to their goals in a 1-on-1 session every day. If you’re in need of some close attention and feedback on your work, get in touch!
Someone else out there, Dan Wilson, who has a ream of songwriting, producing, performing credits and a swag of Grammys talked about his resistance in his infamous Vine series, “Words and Music in 6 Seconds:”
“Oh, now we’re talking. No, I’ve never taken a songwriting class and I was very resistant to songwriting advice for a long time. But I did write songs with my brother Matt, who’s a brilliant songwriter, and that was a huge learning experience. And I did shoot the breeze and compare notes with a lot of other songwriters on the road with Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic, and got a lot of tips and ideas from practitioners. I didn’t ever take any formal classes of any kind. To be fair and a little bit of a jerk, I don’t think I met a songwriting teacher who’s as good a songwriter as I was for a long time. But when I got into a learning relationship with [producer] Rick Rubin, I got a lot of crazy great wisdom from him.”
I hate to think what Rubin’s “hourly rate” might be, but that’s an epic-level feedback loop. Wilson could shift his mindset from resistant to responsive, which let him onboard Rubin’s suggestions and subsequently change something in his own practice. He could act.
The outcomes weren’t guaranteed (they never are), but if you don’t actually do something different in your songwriting, any coaching or teaching or mentor session you receive becomes just a nice chat. This is where exploring what you really want becomes essential. Dan was already a successful songwriter, but he still wanted to, or was at least curious about, “entering a learning relationship.”
- Quantifying what you want from your songwriting, be it small steps or giant leaps, is instrumental to dissolving resistance.
- Articulating your large or small goals in front of a respected coach or producer, mentor or co-writer means you rub against “personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.” The minute you take specific action towards those songwriting goals, the needle shifts.
It’s potentially terrifying because you start to find out what your capabilities really are. Fear underlies much resistance. True, you may not be as good as you want to be but how will you ever you know? That much you owe yourself.
I’ve worked with one woman whose goal was to write one complete song in 2020. I’ve worked with several folks who wrote, recorded, and released an album of their original songs. I’ve worked with someone who transitioned from professional musical theatrical singer to professional singer-songwriter with her own original repertoire.
But I’ve also met people who give long lists of excuses for not trying a single new technique ever, who defy any shred of evidence and whose ideas lie mouldering on their hard drives. Despite obvious levels of talent and musical accomplishment, they talk incessantly of wanting to live a “creative life” but are less than convincing when it comes to taking even the smallest action. And as for mindset — not even up for discussion because it’s everybody else’s fault, always!
In an article on ambition and talent, songwriter and educator Ed Bell said this:
“In order to improve as a songwriter, your ambition – the thing you can imagine, the thing you want to create – is always going to be some distance from where you and your talent are right now.”
Drop your guard, be curious and find out what songs you can really write.
Charlotte Yates is an independent New Zealand singer-songwriter with a growing catalogue of seven solo releases and thirteen collaborative projects. She composes music for TV, theatre, and short film, and provides a songwriting coaching service, Songdoctor. Charlotte is a Soundfly Mentor, click here to work with her on your Songwriting, Lyrics and Melody craft.