The Higher Purpose of Music

The other day there was a question asked in a group for musicians.

What’s the higher purpose of your music?

Someone like Elizabeth Gilbert, whose book Big Magic I adore, would take issues with that statement.  She encourages creatives to do it simply for the fun of it.  Don’t overburden yourself with missions and purposes.

I get where she’s coming from but I also believe the above question is worth asking.  Or let me rephrase it slightly.

What’s the real reason you make music?

At the heart of every human endeavor is a desire for experience.  We do everything because we believe it leads to certain experiences.  We pay the bills because we seek the experience of confidence that comes from knowing we paid what we owe within the agreed-upon time.  We wash the dishes because we seek the experience of having clean ones ready to plate your next meal.

What’s the experience you seek with musicmaking?

I do it because it is fun, first and foremost.  It’s fun because it’s challenging.  We play games because they present interesting challenges that engage us.  But games are not without frustrations or setbacks, in fact good games are full of them.  I play Clash of Clans with my kids, and I lose all the time, sometimes in a humiliating manner.  I don’t enjoy losing but it’s the challenge that keeps me going back.

To me, music is the most worthy use of my time because it’s challenging.  I recognize that I have some gifts but still music remains perhaps the most difficult things I do.  The experience of accomplishment awaits when I finish writing and recording a song, but that’s a very small portion of the experience I seek.  I enjoy working on creating something that demands everything I got.

And part of that enjoyment does also involve making something that I think is worthwhile.  I can’t picture getting as into building model ships, because I don’t have appreciation of that craft.  I got hooked on rock n roll as a teenager and I still listen to some of the same songs.  I particularly enjoy music that is both vulnerable and heroic.  These songs are like good friends to me, ones who know what I’m going through, and encourage me to carry on.

So I enjoy making music with the aim of creating that experience for myself and others.  And because I am clear on that real reason why I make music, I can, and I do, write songs that do precisely what I set out to do, at least to myself.  It’s still challenging, but the joy of creating drives me to keep going back.  My life feels empty and incomplete without it.

The playlist below has my songs that represent my higher purpose.  Ever since I realized what that higher purpose was, I’ve been able to consistently create music that reflect it.  In fact I was doing that before I realized the reason why.  But with the discovery of my higher purpose my songwriting became more consistent.  I simply work on songs until they meet my requirements.  I can’t even relate to the idea of filler songs.  I realize that no artist sets out to write fillers but when I look at the discrepancy between songs that fill some albums, I can’t help but suspect that the artist fully knew the album has songs that are of lower quality than other standout tracks.  I can honestly say that if I consider a song “finished” and ready to be shared with someone, that means I think highly enough of it to do so.  There is a reason why I make music to begin with, and if the song doesn’t satisfy that reason, then that song is not ready/worthy.

Doing a little soul searching to discover the true motivation that lies beneath your creative endeavor helps you focus your craft.  Many artists meander and write filler songs because they don’t know the real reason why they make music.  It’s not about pigeon holing, nor is it purely driven by the need to come up with branding for your marketing.  It’s about knowing who you are as a creator.  And that knowledge gives you the power you need to become a better creator.