Tuesday, August 5, 2008

5 Ways to Combat Writer's Block

If you've been writing music for any significant period of time, chances are you've encountered writer's block: that temporary inability to come up with anything musically or lyrically interesting. This can be frustrating enough if you're a hobbiest, but if you happen to make your living from music, it can be a disaster. So it's good to have some strategies in place for when it happens to you. Here are a couple to get you started:

1.) Restrict Yourself
Back when my studio set-up consisted of nothing but a single sampler, I dreamt of the days when I would be able to afford more gear. Surely that would solve all my creative blocks! What I found out was just the opposite. Sometimes, having too many options is actually counter-productive. If your studio has grown to include several hardware or software synths, you may find yourself just auditioning bass sounds all afternoon instead of committing to one and moving on. So impose some restrictions on yourself. Try making an entire song with nothing but a single synth. Make the drums and everything from scratch. Not only will you improve your sound programming abilities, but you'll likely end up with a track that sounds utterly unlike anything else you've done.

2.) Explore the Unfamiliar
Try making a track in a genre you are unfamiliar with. Track down songs that are popular within that genre and deconstruct them to find out what makes them tick. Once you have a rough idea of what makes the genre sound like it does, have a go at making your own original track in that style. Remember, no one ever needs to hear the song, this is just an exercise to get your creativity flowing. And even if you end up not being fond of the song in that particular genre, you can always adapt it back to your usual style after the fact. Or who knows? Perhaps the track could be your first steps into a brand new side project!

3.) iShuffle
If you've got an iPod or similar media player that offers a 'shuffle' function, you can use it as a way to stimulate your creativity. Fire it up and hit shuffle and listen to the first song it plays. Take some element of that song and apply it to whatever you are working on. It can be something as simple as copying the feel of a percussion line, to mimicking the structure of the entire song, to using the same types of sounds, etc.

4.) Raising the Dead
You keep every idea you sketch into your sequencer, right? RIGHT? If you don't, now is a good time to start. Keep EVERY idea you come up with, no matter how lame it may seem to you right now. What might seem kind of lackluster now, may turn out to be the perfect chorus or bridge for a song you are stuck on in the future. So if you find yourself feeling uninspired, go back and listen to some of those abandoned ideas and see if there is something you can work into an interesting song, or even just part of the current track you are working on. Context is everything, so what sounds 'bleh' on its own, may sound brilliant played against an existing riff in the song you are struggling with now.

5.) Be Productive
My motto in the studio is 'always be working on something'. You don't always have to be working on your next number one hit. If you get stuck on a track, try doing something different to clear your head, but try to make it something that might help you further down the road. Program some new sounds into your favorite synth. Sort your sample library so sounds are easier to find when you're looking for them. Make some new presets for your favorite plug-in effect. It's possible that none of these things will benefit you immediately, but they'll surely save you work further down the line, and you may just find that taking a short break from writing music recharges your creative batteries.


Anonymous said...

Blixa from EN uses an interesting technique.

He went back and listened to all of his favorite tracks and wrote down on index cards one characteristic that he thought made that song great.

Then when this have creating block, they shuffle, draw one of the cards and do whatever it says.

Tom said...

Cool... sounds not too unlike Brian Eno's deck of 'Oblique Strategies' cards...