Be Your Own Shero: How to Push Your Creative Process Like a Boss
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If you caught our podcast episode Dealing with Creative Self-Doubt, you know that the creative process has been on our minds—especially how tough it can be stay creative and positive at the same time. We all experience Imposter Syndrome, right? (Right.) So how do you deal with the intense pressure, get yourself out of that creative rut, and be your own shero?
Stephanie Trivison, our resident podcast theme music writer and *NSYNC debut album apologist, decided to let us dive in to her right-brained world and take a peek into the process of songwriting for music licensing purposes. Below, she tells us a personal story of how she pushed her creative boundaries, what she considers to be the steps of the creative process, and how you can apply those steps to whatever your work may be.
Let’s take back our collective creative confidence, shall we? That thing we all lose while we’re on the journey to greatness. And it is a journey. No one, no matter how naturally talented, just pops out of the creative womb as a success story without also putting in the work. So let’s own that journey and truly revel in the stumbles along the way.
As much as we are all special unicorns who have something unique to offer, we ALL struggle with ideas, originality, execution, validation. The key is to simply keep moving in the direction of your finished product. Creatives who succeed don’t let self-doubt, comparison, or rejection paralyze them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t share in those experiences. To succeed, you have two choices: let it go or let it fuel you. Either way, you’re a TOTAL badass who deserves your place on the map, and we’ve got your back.
No two creatives will have the same style, organization, or speed, but generally speaking, we can break the process down into 5 steps.
These steps can be applied no matter your medium, but to keep details specific, here’s how I took my song “Outlaw” from a basement demo to the official song of the National Pro Fastpitch league.
Shortly after my indie-rock band’s self-imposed 2017 hiatus, I started exploring what I could do in the licensing world. I knew that for as long as I had been writing songs, I had an instinctive understanding melody. Blame it on The Beatles’ Red and Blue album cassettes I wore out as a child or that I grew up obsessively watching a VHS tape of my dad’s cover band playing at The Agora. Melody was in my bones, and I knew if I worked hard and smart, there could be a place for what I do in commercials and on television.
All the hard work in the world is wasted if you’re steering your ship aimlessly. This is where the smart comes in. At the time, I was acutely aware of the ways in which my band had all fallen short of licensable music and I committed to filling those gaps. My awareness of those shortcomings paired with a meticulous study of what works for commercials, tv, and film, gave me both the map and the compass. And to keep this sailor theme afloat, I had a supportive first mate who sparked the idea.
My friend Lora, The She League Podcast’s very first She Shoutout, is an incredibly inventive business woman and a constant ray of optimism. She has a new business idea weekly and she has a great feel for untapped markets. (Get you a friend like Lora.) She is also a big women’s soccer fan who recognized that nearly all music cues for sporting events are male-driven. Male writers. Male vocalists. Where are the women?
*Slowly raises hand*
So I sat down to record, knowing that my aim was to create something epic that could serve this precise purpose.
The writing process has changed for me with time. 10 years ago, I would have been more likely to sit down with an acoustic guitar and a notebook, repeating a portion of the song endlessly until I had memorized it perfectly. Now I record everything nearly as immediately as I think of it.
I sit down to my home studio desk. Opening Logic (my DAW preference), I focus in to what I hear first. Could be the beat, a melody, a chord progression. For “Outlaw,” it was the percussion.
Every epic song has a strong, battle-like beat. I knew it needed to have some swagger, so I gave it a little shuffle as well. Layering parts, one on top of another, until I heard exactly what I wanted, the song came together quickly.
Well… most of it.
Second verse (final)
If you continue to move like you are the ocean
I can’t promise to pull away from your motion
I can’t keep us from falling under
So drown me deep in the waves
To wash up on the shore
Surround me as long as it takes, I want more
Second verse (first draft)
Everyone that I see wants to be someone
Grinding, fate doesn’t know where we all come from
It has no weight
When you’re not afraid
Rising, up from the ashes, burn like a fever
Do or die, ride of your life, I am your leader
“Outlaw” went through FOUR verse lyric revisions before landing on what it is today. Melody and rhythm, I’ve got. Words? I’ve not.
Self-reflection is hard. I was weeks into a project that I couldn’t seem to get right but I knew that somewhere out there was a nugget of awesome. Truth be told, I had to get honest with myself and I needed outside perspective. Songwriters can grow too accustomed to what we’ve written, leading to a dangerous but curable disease called ‘demoitis.’
External feedback can really help to push a project forward. Those first several revisions were just not good enough, plain and simple. My good friend, recording engineer and producer Jim Stewart and publishing partner Scott helped me dig deep for a better story and ultimately, I knew they were right. I couldn’t let my half-baked ideas be my end result. Hook on to your accountability partners. Get honest feedback and then sleep on it. Acting too quickly after a feedback sesh can bring out defensiveness and those pesky feelings of self-doubt. That’s just your ego talking. Separate from it and get perspective.
As I mentioned, I do a lot of my recording at home, but I am not a professional engineer or producer. For that, I call in the big guns. My main partner for this type of work is the aforementioned Jim Stewart, a versatile, skilled musician-turned-producer who I had the great fortune of coming up with in our local scene, a decade ago.
Jim gave “Outlaw” power. We used all of my original demo tracks, except for vocals, and he layered in additional parts and a mix that give this song TEETH. The strength of the song inspired us to keep pushing to get the best finished product and after 4 sessions, the most unconventional gang vocals group ever created, and many e-mails, we felt we nailed it.
Vital to this process is the use of references. In the music world, that just means listening to songs you think are written, performed, mixed, and mastered well. And you can be specific. Maybe you want to groove like The 1975’s “Girls” or you’re into the smooth textures of Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke.” Reference the works you want to emulate and compare them to your own. Does what you created hold up? What final tweaks would get it closer?
Whoa, Steph. You just got all business AF on me and I’m a creative so I should leave the business to someone else… right? Very wrong. Even if business is not your forte, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of a process, in this case licensing, to protect yourself and your work.
Experience is the best teacher, but I wanted a head start. I read many licensing and music business books (1/2/3), relevant articles and videos. In the end, this allowed me to keep up with industry professionals. Once I made connections, I would know the right questions to ask, how their terms would affect my song ownership, what they would need to do to properly collect royalties on my behalf, and how the songwriting splits would work with my producer. My goal was to look like this was not my first rodeo, and this should be your goal too.
So you’re a smarty pants and you studied all of the knowledge in your field. Now you need to put your stuff out there. “Outlaw” was a strong enough song to get attention right away. I pitched it to about 15 licensing boutiques. When I signed my first deal, I already had another on the table. And although I had representation, the deal was non-exclusive, meaning I was still able to pitch the song elsewhere.
In high school, I played fastpitch softball. I loved the sport but my knees didn’t. That’s why I relished the chance to watch the Akron Racer’s professional fastpitch team every summer. Thinking about Lora’s original idea, women-led songs for women’s sports, I knew I had to at least try to get the team to use it. And in a very bold moment I thought “maybe the whole league would use it.”
I was transparent with the folks at the National Pro Fastpitch league. I found a few email addresses on their website and sent my song to those that seemed to make sense.
Two hours later, I had a ‘yes’ in my inbox. “Outlaw” was played throughout the 2018 season on ESPN, nationwide.
Thanks in part to our shared success with the song, and in part to my professionalism as a partner throughout the process, I am currently writing the official song of the 2019 season.
Start with a product you feel proud of. Something that is objectively good. Gather external feedback. Be strategic when looking for opportunities for your work and then tell a compelling story. Appeal to your common ground and always be authentic. And remember that although the creative struggle is real for all of us, all you need to do is step up to the plate and have the courage to swing.