Music and writing share many similarities.
For one, they both leverage time to create a dynamic sense of movement. A page is nothing without the reader, and music is nothing without the listener.
In many ways, they’re conversations.
More than that, though, both crafts carry an intangible sense of mystery for outside observers. The magic feels almost numinous—transporting readers and listeners for a brief moment into a new world.
Most of us have been lost in the pages of a good book or wrapped up in our emotions at the crescendo of our favorite song.
That power is real.
But behind that power is the process. What it takes to create something unique, engaging and creative.
Mastering Multiple Disciplines
As both a writer and a music producer, I can tell you it’s not easy.
Sure, both crafts seem accessible at first glance, but in reality, it takes years, if not an entire lifetime, to master. Even then, you’ll constantly be finding new ways to improve.
This is because these creative efforts are multidisciplinary.
In writing, it takes more than a command of the English language to deliver amazing work.
Research, first drafts, edits, storytelling, understanding an audience, grammatical proficiency, the list goes on. Each takes time to understand and time to practice.
When it’s all on the page and ready for readers, those elements fall into the background. For the writer, each detail works towards benefiting the greater goal but is almost invisible to the casual observer.
Much like writing, music-making takes a jack of all trades.
What does it take to transform a simple idea into a fully produced track? Well, I’ll tell you.
It takes songwriting, composition, arrangement, sound design, sound selection, mixing and much more. Each one of these areas requires years of education and practice to make sense.
It takes, on average, 4.5 writers to create a hit single — and that’s leaving out producers, mix engineers, mastering engineers and session musicians.
When you listen to music, all that doesn’t really matter, though. Like writing, the final product is almost detached from all the work. Only those who share a passion for the craft can understand the sheer amount of effort.
For everyone else, it's just an enjoyable piece of art.
A Lonely Passion
Sure, rock stars get a lot of attention. But that’s all glamor.
In reality, and much like writing, everything happens in long and often lonely creative sprints.
Writers can spend hours crafting the perfect headline. Songwriters can agonize over the right hook. Regardless, it all happens inside your head and often all by yourself.
Ask any successful writer or producer, and they’ll share the same story.
It takes long hours staring at a screen, hoping to find the right words, or sounds, to create a decent piece of work. Every detail feels important.
In the end, though, if you can learn to love the process, you can learn to create good work.
A Lifelong Craft
“Achievement is talent plus preparation.” That’s what Malcolm Gladwell says, and I tend to believe him.
In his book Outliers, he describes the ten-thousand-hour rule.
In essence, it takes that many hours to achieve proficiency in a given craft. While this is an oversimplification of this idea, it’s important to understand as it relates to creating music and writing.
No one starts out as a master.
It can take years of producing lackluster work to finally achieve something that feels good. Now good is subjective and changes often.
Reaching that level is as much a personal battle as one rooted in skill and talent.
But that’s the complex reality of any creative outlet.
To be a good writer or music-maker is a lifetime commitment. You have to see the grand arc of your craft in the long term. If you’re searching for instant gratification, look somewhere else.
Learn the Rules, Break the Rules
Lastly, both writing and music composition come from long-standing foundations rooted in tradition and rules.
You can’t just start breaking those rules without a firm understanding of how they work.
Once you fully grasp the concept, you can experiment.
Take poetry. The rules that bound poets existed for years as erudite guidelines for creativity. To evolve the craft, one needed to understand these concepts to turn them on their head.
Confessional poets like Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath revolutionized poetic style with intimate depictions of personal strife. To relay that feeling, though, took a historical understanding of the relationship between the poet and the reader. One built on traditional dynamics.
They broke the rules.
Rules also bind musicians. Music theory defines how notes interact with each other in a medium supported by mathematics.
Jazz, and many other non-western musical forms, break those rules in often dissonant ways. The result is something new. Something that has never been seen or heard before.
But rule-breaking creates freshness in sound and writing. Even in studios filled with the latest and greatest technology, the final predictor of if something works is if it sounds good.
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