On Songwriting: Curiosity and Conscience

When I’m deciding what project to work on next, it’s helpful to keep in mind a metaphorical intersection. The two “streets” are Curiosity and Conscience. The project should live at the corner of those two streets. Why?

Curiosity gives me permission to chase the things that are interesting to me. If they’re interesting to me, they’re likely interesting to someone else.

For example, lately I’ve been curious about the topic of assisted living. I keep having these memories of my grandparents in the nursing home. As a songwriter, I’m trying to figure out what’s universal in those memories. I don’t know why I’m curious about this topic right now. All I know is I think about it a lot.

So what about the Conscience street?

The Conscience street helps me avoid areas that, for me, are off limits. These usually have to do with my career as a songwriter; issues relating to the music industry and monetization. Sometimes I feel pressure to write about certain topics or use certain sounds in my recordings because they’re “in.” Or collaborating with so and so because they’d be good for “my brand.”

But the Conscience street isn’t just about avoiding areas that are off limits for me. It’s also about helping me move toward subjects that don’t always feel easy or logical, but I feel compelled to write about. Take for instance the song about assisted living. It’s probably not going to be a big revenue generator. But it’s at the corner of Curiosity and Conscience. And that’s where I believe I do my best work.

Trust me, I’m not perfect. I’ve worked on projects I wish I hadn’t. I’ve pushed down inspiration I was afraid to chase. You likely will, too. But the point is to remember your own version of Curiosity and Conscience. My guess is that’s where you do your best work and have the most valuable art to give the world.