Taking time to practice, perform, learn, and experiment musically will make you a stronger artist, but taking a break from music can be helpful as well.
At various points in my career, I’ve temporarily stepped away from making music. The reasons have varied — travel, family, other projects and commitments — but more often than not, the result is the same. When I come back, things feel more vibrant, creative, and alive.
Musicians of many styles and genres have found time away helpful when it comes to their careers and creativity. Here are some thoughts from a wide variety of indie artists who have all benefited from taking a break.
Never stop listening and learning
Producer, engineer, and musician Michael Winger took a nine-year hiatus from mixing records to serve as Executive Director of the Recording Academy’s San Francisco chapter. In that position, he listened to a far broader range of music than he ever had before — and it gave him a fresh perspective.
“After coming back to mixing … I think I have a much more discerning ear for what is important in a mix,” he says. “I also got to spend a lot of time with Grammy-winning engineers and producers who are a lot better than I am at mixing.”
Winger recalls one fortunate moment where he got stuck in a traffic jam with legendary audio engineer Ed Cherney; Winger found Cherney’s stories (and his occasional phone calls with the Rolling Stones) informative and inspiring, especially once he returned to the mixing board himself.
Sometimes, taking a break from making music can give you the opportunity to learn to do it better.
Switch up your musical endeavors
Taking a break doesn’t have to mean pausing music work entirely; it could just mean temporarily shifting your focus.
“When songwriting, producing, and remix work is down, I jump into other creative paths like sampling, sound design, sound effects, and voice over production,” says composer and producer Justin Lassen. “I come back with new skills and new audio experiences. I can incorporate all of that into composing scores when I get back into it.”
“So, for weeks, I can be on a major sound design project and then I get a job composing a soundtrack, where all that sampling enhances my ideas and abilities.”
Switch up your extra-musical endeavors
Taking a break from music can mean redirecting your creative energies to other forms of expression.
“Sometimes, I switch mediums for a bit,” says musician Stefanie Brendler. “I do some visual art while I’m resting my musical mind, for instance.”
Keeping your creative muscles active, while channeling them in a different direction, can make your work that much more powerful once you return to music.
Let things simmer
Sometimes musical ideas come to fruition quickly; other times, they need hours, months, or even years to evolve and mature.
“Taking time out allows me to incubate,” says songwriter and spoken word artist Anne Leighton. “If I’m recording, it allows me to listen and think about what needs to be done with the piece.”
Leighton also points out that creating music often takes more time than planned or expected. “Breaks are just reality that we can use wisely. When I’m not physically working on something, the project is still stewing in my mind. Little solutions will pop in there — ways to repeat spontaneous elements from a first recording session, for example, or a savvy lyric tweak.”
Time away can get you out of a rut
For guitarist Alex Prol, taking a pause can help break bad habits and stale practices.
“You can fall into a trap of sounding repetitive over time and get stuck in a rut. Taking some time apart from music may make your fingers a bit rusty, but also may give you new ideas and drive.”
“Having been a producer pretty much exclusively for the past few years, I think it’s all about getting emotionally detached from one’s creative process,” says producer Emilio D. Miler. “Like, when you listen to a demo or reel you sent out five years ago and go ‘wow, no wonder they didn’t call me. This is terrible!’”
“A common misconception, is that the reason one can see or hear the flaws in past work is because one got better. While sometimes that’s true, more often it means one got ‘real.’ And ideally, as a consequence, we do become better.”
Get some perspective
For indie artist Phil Robinson, it can be very helpful to “step away from ‘the trees’ once in a while and regain a clear view of ‘the forest.’ It’s also helpful to re-adjust some macro-level ideas when you’re a little bit removed from the daily trenches.”
Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Grant Maloy Smith agrees that experience outside of music gives you perspective to make your music that much more meaningful.
“The great artists found that doing something different informed their art in a way that nothing else could,” he says. “After all, what are you writing about if not the rest of the world outside of the art business that you’re in?”
Have you found a hiatus from music helpful? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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