Overcoming Demotivation In Solo Projects

When I switched over to doing solo work (rather than in a band), I found that I had a lot of trouble staying motivated. Often the only times I would actually write music was when I had scheduled a performance which created pressure for me to start writing more music.

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And yes, I would get a few hours of writing done. But once the gig was over, my productivity just farted out of my life.

I think a major contribution to why I did this, was because every time I thought about writing music, I would have a very unpleasant and demoralizing emotional feeling in my mind/stomach.

I won't spend a lot of time describing what this was like, but in the end it came down to this: I do not have an emotional drive to want to write music anymore. My motivation had been stolen from me.

After having a lucky spurt of motivation, I realized that a lot of my lack of motivation was really all in my head. I'm sure you've heard the whole "mind over matter" thing before, but I'm not going to suggest that you just "power through".

Trying to power through complex mind issues can be incredibly draining, and usually doesn't last very long at all.

I believe that solving this issue comes through understanding that these thoughts aren't true. This will allow you to feel that working on music is a worthwhile task.

Although you may already believe that working on music is a worthwhile task intellectually, your brain might try and trick you otherwise.

What Thoughts Try To Justify This Feeling?

After you feel something demotivating like I did, you might have a wide range of thoughts to try and explain that feeling. Of course, your mind will try and trick you into thinking that you had the thought first, and the feeling came second, but that is untrue.

What really happened is that your subconscious mind realized something that your conscious mind didn't, and then reacted accordingly, hence the uneasy feeling.

The feeling of course, is an acute loss of motivation. You might try to use some of the following explanations to explain why you feel unmotivated:

  • My music isn't very good.
  • I don't think that I can write anything useful or creative in this mindset or moment (I'll do it on a day where I "feel creative").
  • I can't write good music at all, so why bother trying.
  • What I've already written in the past is better than what I can come up with today.
  • I must not like working on music anymore because I feel unmotivated, maybe I'm supposed to do something else with my life.
  • I don't know where to start because I have so many unfinished songs on the go. It all seems so overwhelming!
  • I'm too busy with work/money/relationships/any-other-excuse to write music. I'll write it when my life has settled down a bit more. Then I'll have the time to devote my complete attention to music.
  • You simply have a general feeling of inadequacy.

All of these reasons are really adequate explanations as to why your subconscious mind might cause you to feel unmotivated. Some of them might even be true!

If you've got too many things on the go, then it might be time that you take some action to rectify the situation! Don't think about finishing all of your unfinished songs (or finishing an EP/LP), but pick ONE song that you feel is worth your time. Then put all of your efforts from here on in into that song.

Do it until the song is completely finished. You may even choose to completely finish the recording of that song too, to get it clear out of your head.

Don't allow yourself to work on any other music projects until it's complete.

If you feel you are too busy to work on music, and give yourself the incredibly lame excuse that you'll "do it later", you can go ahead and invalidate that right now. There's really no time like the present, and when that day comes when you "have your life in order" (it won't happen by the way), you'll simply come up with another excuse not to do it!

Don't believe me? Take a look at some of the decisions you've made in the past, and I'm sure you will agree that I've made a wise prediction.

But what about the less solvable thoughts? The ones like "I can't write good music at all, so why bother trying?". That is quite a self-doubting thought, and really won't get you anywhere in life. But how do you deal with that? Where's the hope or solution in a thought like that, considering opinions on music are so subjective (even when it's on your own music)?

The hope of course, lies in realizing that your thought is…

…just a thought! It's nothing more than your opinion, from your extremely biased and fallible mind.

I'm sure you can admit that you've been guilty of dozens or hundreds of false criticisms against yourself before, right?

Just remember that any of these self-doubting thoughts are just an opinion from your extremely unreliable mind. That should give you the boost of hope that you really need, knowing that all of your self criticisms are coming from someone with hardly any credibility at all!

It may seem counter-intuitive, but I assure you that it's plenty empowering.

Besides, I can't just say to you, "Hey! Your music is great! Don't worry about it!". It's likely that I personally don't know you yet, so there's no way I would be able to give that as a solution.

If you are worried that other people won't like your music, I think the solution lies in realizing this: the majority of people probably will hate your music, but there will always be a niche that you can fit into.

If you think of a massively popular artist like Michael Jackson, we might tend to agree that he has a lot of great music. But I guarantee you that there are at least a few billion people on this planet who just don't care about what he's done, many people even actively dislike his music.

Yet his album "Thriller" is still the best-selling album of all time.

You really just need to come to terms with the fact that no matter how good your music is, some people will like it, and some people will hate it. It's as simple as that.

Another idea is to just decide to care when you like your music (and you won't like it all the time, but hopefully you do the majority of the time), and decide to not care when you don't like your music. It might take a few seconds for that sentence to make complete sense, so read it over a few times if you feel you don't fully understand.

If you don't like the sound of your music the majority of the time though, it may be time to switch up the style of music you are writing, or the process in which you write it, to garner better results.

The Feeling Comes First

It's important to really remember that the feeling in this situation came first. It really did! As I described above, the order of events was:

  1. Had a demotivating feeling
  2. Tried to explain it with my unreliable opinion

At this point, It seems very silly to even consider the notion that you should give these feelings any power at all! It seems to me that you would be better off just saying "I know that I'm feeling unmotivated, but I'm sure if I just get started, things will start to move smoothly, especially if I work on it every day".

And things will start to move much smoother than you anticipated. That's because even though you had an "unmotivating feeling" when you thought about writing music, it doesn't mean that you will have that feeling once you physically start writing the music.

That's...

The Difference Between A "Thought Feeling", And An "Action Feeling"

Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine yourself as an astronaut. Imagine that you've been launched into space, and you are now floating in zero gravity.

Stop for just 15 seconds before you read any further, and imagine what it would feel like to be there. To have no weight, and to just…float.

Now, since you've done that, I have some news that probably won't shock you.

The way you imagined that experience, is probably not even close to what it would actually feel like to be in space. Yes, you were able to imagine some of the components to it, but your thoughts really can't capture even half of the experience unless you've actually been there.

In the same way, just because you have a negative feeling when you think about writing music, that does not in any way reflect what it will actually feel like to write the music.

I guarantee that once you sit down and start playing an instrument, or producing music on your computer, you will not feel nearly as demotivated; as long as you start physically doing something!

I realize my analogy was weak, because most of you have written music, while almost all of you have never been to space, but I hope it got the picture across.

Just because you imagine something being terrible or amazing in your mind, doesn't mean it actually will be.

Just because you feel demotivated about writing music, doesn't mean you are committing yourself to an hour of unhappiness should you decide to write music today. It's just not true! You'll probably have at least a half decent time!

That's the difference between a "thought feeling", and an "action feeling".

Why Does This Happen In Solo Projects?

When you are working alone, there are often no schedules. Just like an freelancer who works from home , you probably have hardly anyone to keep you accountable to a schedule (like a boss). It's actually worse because you most likely aren't even being paid for your time as a musician.

You also don't have the added support of other members to write music with you. You know that 100% of this music was written by you, and you have to take 100% responsibility for it!

When you're in a solo project, you don' t have the luxury of allowing another band member to fill in a gap of creativity that you didn't have at the time, it's all on you!

It can be a lot of pressure, but with those responsibilities also comes great reward: knowing you did it all yourself (plus scheduling and financial benefits).

You don't have anyone to question or debate your creativity, all the ideas that you like, stay in the music! There's a lot of benefits to working by yourself.

I would recommend at some point in the creation process to hire a producer or engineer to help you bring your vision to fruition (even if you don't have a "vision", you can still utilize others to create amazing music).

I'm sure there are plenty of more reasons that this might happen as a solo artist, but I'm choosing not to discuss this part of the topic any further in this article.

Overcoming Demotivating Thought Patterns

It can be difficult to overcome this thought pattern, but the first step (mentioned at the beginning) is to invalidate those self-doubting thoughts, either by fixing them (ie. overwhelmed by too much music = only work on one song), or by admitting that they might not be true (ie. "my music isn't any good.")

Second, admit to yourself that you won't be able to do this all in one day, and simply allow yourself to work on music as often as you can, without excuse.

If you consciously decide that you don't want to work on music today, that's totally okay! But don't allow yourself to be enslaved by such excuses as "I'm too busy" or "I'm not very good". If you're having trouble with these excuses, refer to step one.

I would recommend getting a pen and paper, and writing down any of these excuses that you feel your mind is creating for you. Then, one-by-one, invalidate them (step 1).

If you find that this works, but you become unmotivated in the future, you may need to read this article again, and refresh yourself on some of the concepts that helped you through the first time.

In the end, you aren't going to get anything done by thinking about a process. Reading this article 10 times over won't write you an album, the only thing that will actually create progress is wanting to do something, and then doing it.

The purpose of this article was to rid you of demotivation (something that actually keeps you from being motivated), but if you don't feel motivated in the first place, then you need to find some compelling reasons to write music.

Finding this initial motivation goes far beyond the purposes of this article; I may choose to cover it in the future.

Once you've done the first 2 steps, the next step you need to take is close your internet browser, and start writing music immediately, with no excuses.

As for me, I've got some music to write :)

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.