Intentional Inspiration: How to Stay Motivated as a Musician

  • Written By 
  • Jordan Holt

Being creative is a rather up and down process. Some days we are on top of the world excited to pursue new sounds, tones, and songs. Other days just feel bland with very little spark and motivation.

So, how do we stay inspired as musicians? What does it look like to be motivated and grow in our gifts that God has entrusted to us?

While serving in the church for the past 15 years and making a living in the music industry, I have watched many people fight the battle of pursuing inspiration. The best that I know push through the emotions and do very intentional things to stay on top.

In this post, I will share with you some of the wisdom I have gained in this pursuit.

If we are all being completely honest, a lot of worship music generally has the same sound. As long as I have been playing in the church, the majority of guitar parts have had the same effects settings, tonality, and simplicity.

For instance, most guitar tracks I hear from records have a compressed, slightly-pushed Vox style amp, dotted 8th tape delay (Timeline settings at noonish), and a moderate modulated hall reverb (like the RV-5’s modulated setting or Big Sky cloud).

So, why do we have these habits? 

There are probably a number of reasons for this, but I think a big one comes down to lack of hunger.  

The most inspiring producers and musicians I know aren’t the ones who blend in and listen to the same music they listened to 5 years ago. They are hungry and always looking for fresh songs to be inspired by. They take risks and stand out from the rest because they explore new territory.

The few bands that worship musicians typically reference are inspiring because they did something unique and new. I would put money on the fact that if we talked to them face to face, they would be flattered that we are inspired by them, but also encourage us to all pursue our own roads and find a diet that doesn’t just consist of the fruit that they produced.

Every person on earth is created in the image of the Creator. There are so many beautiful things to discover that millions of people are creating all over the world. With today’s technologies and access to the internet we live in a day where finding what they are creating is just a click away.

How do I stay inspired? 

On a practical level, I make it a habit to listen through New Music Friday US, UK, and Australia on Spotify each week. I will quickly go through the playlists clicking to the middle of each song and skimming to see if something catches me. These playlists all have such a wide range of music that anyone could find inspiring.

This brings up a good point – listen to other genres. Find something to like in every genre.

The more diverse your palette is the more unique your sound will be (and in my opinion, the more you will reflect what Heaven has to offer). If you only listen to one genre, or only a few artists, your sound and technique will be pretty narrow.

In terms of food, a palette is something that is developed. When I was a kid, I despised brussels sprouts. Now, they are one of my favorite foods when prepared well.

A wide appetite is the sign of a mature adult. Similarly, I believe a wide appetite for music and art is the sign of a mature musician. It takes time, effort, and intentionality to seek out new flavors of music to grow yourself.

Regarding your instrument, you have to challenge yourself and do what makes you uncomfortable in order to grow.

As a kid, I watched an interview with Tom Morello that I will never forget.. I saw him turn on random sounds, abstractly use the controls on his guitar, and make his guitar sound nothing like a traditional guitar. He only had a few pedals but could create more sounds than most can do with 20 pedals.

He would find ways to look at things differently and force himself to make something musical out of what most wouldn’t initially see as musical. Now that’s inspiration.

Last year, I took my volume pedal off my board. I did this because they wouldn’t stop failing on me, but also I noticed that swelling in down sections was a bit of a crutch.

It didn’t take much creativity to just swell a few notes whenever the song got quiet. At first it was a bit uncomfortable, but after a month it was completely natural to use my guitar’s volume and use other atypical effects to create ambient textures and melodies.

In the end, I think we can default to what we find comfortable. We all do it. If something works and generally makes us happy, we stick with it. But growth requires more than that. Anyone who’s walked with God longer than a couple years knows that God loves to use the uncomfortable to spiritually mature us. I’m thankful that He does.

How do you stay inspired? Let us know in the comments below!

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