Why Your Creativity Is Stuck On Shuffle And You’re Not Hearing A Single Song

image: carolyn.will

When’s the last time you really listened to a song?

I don’t mean the last time you just hummed the melody, or tapped your foot to the rhythm, but the last time you listened to every word, heard every click and creak and whoosh of sound, felt every nuance of emotion and meaning?

When did you last utterly lose yourself in a track, then when it ended wondered where the last three or four minutes of your life went, but felt there’s no other way in the world you’d rather have spent it?

About a year ago I upped the pace of my personal “shed project”. This involved – and continues to involve – letting go of many of the things in my life that are unnecessary, and in some way hold me back, sometimes without me realising. But that’s another topic.

As part of this project, I burned most of my 550+ CD collection on to my laptop, backed it up on a portable hard drive, sold and donated all the CDs and wiped my iPod.

Then I began adding new songs and albums to the iPod only as I remembered them, as I had a desperate urge to listen to them.

Now, maybe six months on from burning the last CD, I only have around 500 songs on my iPod, from 21 artists. My CD collection amounted to some 5700 tracks from 240 artists.

Enough numbers, here’s the point.

I now only add music when I have a great urge and passion to listen to it.

I don’t have thousands of tracks sitting there taking up space because I loved them eight years ago, or just because I think it’s a cool album to have in one’s collection.

When I listen to a track, I give it as much attention as possible, and love nothing more than listening loud on my stereo, or with my Grado headphones that somehow draw out new sounds and dimensions from music you thought you knew better than the lines on your own face.

Here’s another thing. I rarely use the shuffle option to play songs randomly when I really want to fully listen to and appreciate the music.

It’s a useful feature to have to surprise yourself once in a while and rediscover a piece of music.

But playing your whole music collection on shuffle means you never get focused on one artist, let alone one album, or one song. You’re constantly skimming the surface, and never engaging with any of the music in any depth.

When I get into new music, I do tend to get a little obsessed. I have been known to play single new tracks (and indeed old favourites) on repeat for 50, 100, 200+ times in a week or two. I want to go deep with the track, to completely dive into it and lose myself in it, to know and enjoy every detail the artist poured into it.

You can’t do that by constantly shuffling. You have to pick one and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

So how does this story of my music consumption have anything to do with helping you be more creative?

Let me explain.

When it comes to choosing, and embarking upon new creative projects, often we seem to default to the shuffle option.

It’s like it’s got stuck on and we can’t remember how to change it.

We skim and skip from project to project, even medium to medium, and even as we begin the latest one, our mind is already half on the next possible project we could choose.

It means we never feel like we create much of anything.

We never commit to a single piece of work, never fully engage with it. We never give it the chance to be the incredible piece of artwork it could be.

We never get to experience and enjoy every stage of our own unique creative process.

It’s not that we’d always rather skip to the equivalent of the next random catchy tune, the next project that seems very appealing and pretty and easy to digest on the surface.

It’s just that we’ve got into a default habit and have forgotten there’s any other way.

Here’s the wake up.

You can turn the shuffle off.

You can listen to just one artist.

You can listen to just one album.

You can listen to just one track.

You can pick one medium, one project, and give it your entire focus, all the creative energy and attention and talent you have.

The other projects are still going to be there waiting afterwards.

But for now, immerse yourself in just this one. Do it justice, give it chance. Give yourself a chance to be the amazing artist you know you can be.

Turn off the shuffle. Pick one track. Play it on repeat for as long as you need to.

Because we need you to be focused. We need your music.


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