Thursday, April 23, 2009

5 Ways of Jump Starting Your Creativity

Have you ever found yourself sitting in your studio with tons of great tools at your disposal, but absolutely no ideas? If you answered 'no', then you're a dirty liar. Sooner or later we all have bouts of writer's block. It's incredibly frustrating, and if you happen to be up against a formal deadline, it can be even more stressful. So how do you drag yourself out of these creative doldrums? Sometimes you just have to experiment until you find what works for you personally, but here are a few ideas you might find helpful.

1.) Change Your Environment
I absolutely hate moving. Yeah, it's bad enough to have to box up everything you own and haul it in and out, but for me it also means dismantling my studio and rewiring it somewhere else. The one really positive thing that always seems to follow this, however, is that I feel creatively recharged and eager to get to work again. Your surroundings and work environment can have a tremendous impact on how you work, so if you're feeling stuck, try taking your laptop somewhere where you normally don't make music and see if that gives you a bit of a boost. It doesn't have to be anything drastic. If you normally work downstairs in your house, try working upstairs. Nice weather? Go to a park with some headphones and see if working outside inspires you.

2. Flip it and Reverse it

If you're having trouble getting started on a new song, try taking something you already completed and reversing it, either the audio or the MIDI. It may not lead anywhere, but you may just hear an unusual melody, rhythm or progression when you listen to music this way that gives you a direction to go in.

3. Art Cross-pollination

Try creating a soundtrack for a scene in a movie you like. Better yet, get more obscure and create a 'soundtrack' for a famous painting, photograph, sculpture, or city. Concentrate on representing visuals through music. Try to communicate a specific emotion solely through use of melody or rhythm.

4. Remix One of Your Old Songs

Take a song you've already completed, and do a remix for it as if you were remixing another artist. Let yourself disconnect from your usual 'rules' and self-consciousness and go nuts. Try to put the song into an entirely different musical context from the original. Once you've completed it, try taking out the vocals and any remaining melodic elements from the original and use this remix as the start of a brand new track. Or, in a similar vein, try taking a musical loop from a song you like and building a new song around that sample. Then, remove the sample and see if what you've got might be a good start on a new track.

5. Do Anything But Music

Although it might sound odd, sometimes the best remedy for running into dead ends in the studio is to get out of the studio. Go for a walk. Clean out the garage. Exercise. Your mileage may vary, but I personally find that some of my best ideas come to me when I am away from the studio. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we sit down to write a new song, so take some of the pressure off by getting away from that intimidating blank sequencer screen and see what happens.

So there are some ideas to get you started. Do you have a personal method of breaking writer's block that you prefer? Tell us about it!


Meta Sektion said...

Good post, Tom! I've found that it was always hard to try and jump-start creativity, so took an alternative path. For me, there's no way I can just flick a switch and start generating ideas - they arrive when they're ready. I've found it more fruitful to get disciplined about capturing them when they DO come into my mind, so I try and keep a pen and paper close by at all times, to scribble lyrics, orchestration plans, themes, concepts etc. The other thing I've done is be really sloppy about projects in Cubase/ComputerMuzys (my choices of host software), leaving literally tonnes of half-finished ideas on my DAW's hard-drive. When I'm challenged for new inspiration, but have some studio time, I take one of those old, unfinished projects and start trying to make it sound finished, often finding things take a completely different direction to the original draft. It's a bit like Tom's post a while back about having a project template in your host software, just taking a less organised approach. It's been my secret to turning around remixes in short time-frames - I take an unfinished, forgotten backing track and just graft the remix vocals onto it, and then go into problem-solving mode, reconciling the arrangement with the existing vocal melody. Once it becomes more like filling in an audio jigsaw puzzle, I find it a lot easier to get some real momentum happening.

TeranceofAthens said...

Great ideas as usual.

As for me, I get most of my best ideas when I'm driving. The other thing that works for me is to just start fooling around with some plug-in or a new technique, many from this blog in fact. I'll start screwing around with it and soon I'll hear something that's working.

Anonymous said...

sometimes... I drive... for no reason at all

THC1138 said...

Another one I like to do is to put on some music I really like, leave it at a good level and go to another room with the door open. Many frequencies will get damped and you'll end up hearing melodies and things that aren't there and it can lead to great things to springboard off of.