The irony of this blog post is not lost on me. I’m creating content that’s telling you to stop creating content. But let me explain.
What I mean is, your music is not content. It’s art. When you create music as art, you’re making something wonderful. When you create music as content, you’re selling out.
Content vs. Art: the Difference
The difference between content and art comes down to the motivation behind creating. It’s your why behind the thing you made. Content starts with others. You create content when you begin with what others want, or what you think they want. Art starts with you. You create art based on what you think is best for the art.
Music is art and we should treat it as such.
What Happens When Art and Content Collide?
There are some situations where it can be unclear if music is truly being treated as art or if it’s seen more as content. For example, when a film composer gets hired to create music for a film, is that art or content? Well first, just because someone gets paid to create something doesn’t automatically make it content. It’s okay and good to earn money from your art.
Second, I would argue that a film is a piece of art (assuming the filmmaker viewed and created the film as art). So the composer is making art (music) to compliment another piece of art (film).
Here’s another example: when people use my music (art) in their TV show or commercial (content), is that okay? First, a TV show could be considered art (like a film). And if that’s true, I’m making art that’s getting synced with another piece of art. Secondly, I have to go back to why I made the music being used in a show or commercial.
In my case, I write and produce my original songs as authentically as I know how to. During the creative process, I’m not thinking, “I’m going to write about THIS topic because music supervisors want these kinds of lyrics” or “I’m going to produce a song THIS way because that’s the genre that works best in sync licensing.”
I’m just making music that resonates with me. I do my best to create music as art. I don’t want others’ expectations, or what I perceive their expectations to be, to affect how I make music.
So, artistically, I’m perfectly okay licensing my music to TV shows and commercials. I already made the music as art, and I’m okay getting paid by allowing someone to use my art with their content. Pairing my art with content does not make the art content. It’s still art.
Again, it’s all about the why behind the creation of the music.
How To Create Music as Art
If you want to make sure you’re creating music as art — that it’s authentic — here are some questions to ask yourself. I recommend your song pass three different tests so you can be sure you’re digging deep enough into your authenticity and creativity: the Feel Test, the Wait Test, and the Human Test.
How does this song make you feel?
I have a rule for myself: as I’m writing and/or producing a song, it has to cause an emotional reaction in me. If it doesn’t, it needs more work. It could be that the song makes me smile, get choked up, or dance in my seat. I have to physically respond to the song and the production, or keep working on it.
It has to pass the Feel Test.
Will this be a good song a year from now?
Another rule I have for myself is this: if a song I wrote still makes me feel something a year later, then I’ll record and release it. That means I’ve created art worth sharing. You don’t have to wait a year, but it is a good idea to sit on your finished songs for a bit. Then revisit them and make sure they still cause you to feel something. It has to pass the Wait Test.
Does this song tap into the human experience?
Great art taps into the human experience. Being a human can sometimes be difficult to put into words, which is why music combined with lyrics and stories can do the trick. If a song resonates with you, it will surely resonate with others. But to make sure, try playing the song for a friend in-person and see how they react. If they don’t have much of any reaction, the song needs more work because it hasn’t tapped into the human experience enough.
It has to pass the Human Test.
What Will You Say On Your Deathbed?
As art creators, whether or not we make a living from our art, there’s one question we all will ask ourselves on our deathbed…
“Did I make a contribution to the world that I’m proud of?”
And I say, why save this question for the end of your life? Ask yourself this question today, as you’re making music. And ask it before you release your music. “Is this song the type of contribution I want to make to the world? Am I proud of it?”
Music is a powerful force. It helps people cope with tragedy, celebrate moments, and feel seen and heard. We musicians do a disservice to music and to the listener by treating music as content.
That’s what I mean when I say don’t create content, create music.
This article was inspired by this Instagram post, which is also the featured image.