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If you’re in self-isolation right now, or trying to figure out, well, “what now?” with live performances and recording sessions all but stalled for the moment, you’re not alone.
Many musicians are wondering the same thing, and many have taken to going back to the somewhat ancient art of songwriting, in the hopes that one day they’ll be able to share this new material with an audience.
But it’s not that easy for us artists to be alone with our thoughts, our doubts, and our demons — we can often be our own harshest critic. Whether or not you’re already prone to self-doubt, this is likely to be a tough time for you with all the pressure to churn out high-quality work without the help of your band, or your co-writers, lyricists, and producers available.
Let’s talk about how to build your confidence in your songwriting abilities, and why it’s even something to consider in the first place.
1. Confidence is inherent in creativity.
You might not like to acknowledge it, but confidence is absolutely an integral part of maintaining a creative mindset. It’s embedded in the process of making new connections between ideas, solving problems, and novel thinking. Confidence is needed to hunt and gather ideas, to sift and consider which you think are interesting or useful, beautiful, or challenging, and to decide which ones to develop.
The word “confidence” comes from the Latin fidere, which literally means “to trust.” Having self-confidence means trusting yourself, your abilities, and choices. It’s part of defining who you are as an artist; an artist aware of what you have to offer; an artist secure in the inner knowledge that you’re capable and that your work has worth.
There’s a world of difference between having confidence and the over-display of it. What I’m talking about is knowing you can readily access your own songwriting zone, come up with ideas, and explore and develop them, consistently.
2. Confidence helps you navigate the music industry.
Whether any particular song or artist finds “success” is completely unpredictable. There’s no clear relationship between effort and reward in the industry. It doesn’t always matter how good you are, or how hard you work, how well you network or what team you have on board.
All the unknown variables of luck, taste cycles, and major global events like COVID-19 can influence market uptake.
So it’s hardly surprising that the industry can be daunting for most artists. Even if you’ve had significant success in the past, one’s confidence is often eroded at the start of the next project (i.e: can I repeat this?). There is no equality or level playing field. There is asymmetric risk — a few hits and an ocean of misses.
And here is where improving or attending to your confidence is critical.
Confidence isn’t about comparison with others’ abilities or attributes, successes or failures. It means you have to measure your outcomes against yourself, rather than the rest of the loud and noisy world, and that your perception of success is intrinsic to whatever level you’re at.
3. Here are some tools to help battle your lack of confidence.
We know that confidence can be primed, and positively. Whether you’ve recently been knocked down or rejected, or you want to try something more challenging but feel trepidatious, you can improve your confidence with just a few baby steps.
The following is a set of tools at your disposal to battle your lack of confidence. There is no “one size fits all” solution, but one or several of these may resonate with you in any given situation.
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You won’t always know the right thing to do or create but action invariably beats inaction.
Decide what works best for you and prepare things as such. Decide to make your process as enjoyable as possible. Decide what ideas or values are important for you and what they mean to you. Decide what choices you have now, set meaningful goals and be task ready.
Decide something, anything, and even if it turns out to be wrong later on, you can always go back and fix it.
Attend to your skill base and become more competent in some area of your songwriting, be it lyric-writing, home-producing, guitar playing, etc. Finish the online course you bought, practice a little bit more, ask someone for help or feedback — acquiring new skills and knowledge will increase your confidence right away.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Not all of it is worth engaging with; filtering out the important things (values/ideas that mean something to you) from what might seem urgent but probably isn’t (Facebook notifications, more Netflix) will mean regaining control of your time and your self-confidence.
Small wins add up in the long run. Can you write one song a day or two songs a week? Can you make a playlist of inspirational songwriters that primes your pump? Can you connect with your collaborators online and make a plan to finish a track by the end of the month?
When you plot your progress, it builds confidence. Reward yourself to cement that.
You can choose your approach and perspective. Simply replace the permanent (“the virus will ruin my career”), the pervasive (“I never finish songs”), and the personal (“they don’t like my singing voice”), with the temporary (“the virus will go away soon”), the specific (“I can crack this chorus rhyme”), and external (“I wonder if another singer can turn this bridge around?”).
You see what I mean?
You can change your thinking by moving it from a pessimistic bucket to an optimistic one. Positive self-talk is a proven confidence booster; and if that’s too tough, just fake it ‘til you make it.
Always try to mix and mingle with like-minded folks — those who expect and encourage your confidence. Currently that probably means online connections, watch parties, and live streaming. But don’t forget to meet up face-to-face every now and then if you can navigate social distancing safely.
We’re social animals in a social business; and right now, it’s all hands on deck.
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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.