Music Block :: the Producers Dilemma

The affects of writer's block on musicians.

Posted by MShemel on Fri May 23, 2008

Music News
We all hear of writer’s block, yet rarely hear of music block. As a producer who depends on music as a form of expression, music block can be one of the most excruciating experiences. The fact that you have always been able to make music makes such situations almost unbearable. I have experienced it at varying levels since I started making music. Almost every producer knows it, and it is usually temporary, and sometimes requires a break from music production altogether. The worst feeling is staring in front of the computer screen or your synthesizer and not being able to create a single cohesive melody or beat structure. It makes a person just want to break everything in the studio, especially after long periods of time.

So where do these “blocks” come from? After the longest period in my life without a new song, I had to dig deep and figure out what was wrong. I found that it is actually quite difficult to assess as there is really no standard for identifying what makes a person make music. But I have learned that some things are pretty common among most producers. The problem is identifying the degrees of factors.

Stress is a perfect example. Stress can create music block, but it can also reverse it. Depending on which part of your life stress affects, stress can be a positive or a negative factor. For me, it turns out that general stress may actually help me. Some artists are inspired when they are sad, some when they are happy, but when stress occurs as a result of time management, it is a completely different picture. If you cannot find time to make your music, you will find that trying to squeeze it in between two activities yields nothing for most people. Stress also reduces patience for many, which is another contributing factor to the inability to make music. We all know patience is important. The only activity which seems immune to stress is sleep. Most producers will forego a little sleep if that is the only thing else that they have to do. I have never met a single producer that told me they wanted to sleep on an amazing idea they had in the studio, especially if it was fresh in their minds. On the flip side, when you lose enough sleep, everything in your life becomes impaired, including the ability to correctly plan a song.

For those producers who actually listen to people’s suggestions, there may a period that occurs when you have set goals for yourself that are too high, which has a slightly discouraging effect. Whenever you finish a song, the only way to know that is ready is to know that you like it. Do not set standards by other people’s opinions. Wait for them, and then see if they are applicable. I myself suffer from this problem. I continually set higher standards for my music, most of which are reachable, but through several pieces, not a single piece. So while it may be something I would have thought a month earlier was the best creation I ever made, I find myself messing around with it because I cannot find this balance that I believe should exist so that it meets both my expectations and my listener’s expectations. This is the wrong approach to take. It’s always good to experiment with songs that exemplify the help you get from other people that rate and review your songs. But, trying to fix everything from the beginning is not the correct approach. The result is usually a song that sounds like three completely different songs. The best way to do it is to change your approach to making the song itself. There are many ways to make a song, you can layer it from beginning to end or you can make sections in individually and try to connect them. If you know that you have a problem creating a solid baseline melody, the idea should be to work on a song that only has bass line melody in it. Once you have finished, you may realize that you can add a few leads in it. Before you know it you actually have a song that shows the marked improvement on something you didn’t have and didn’t realize it.

When I think of a lot of my original songs, especially the one I post for reviewers, I realize my music was lacking so many things. I almost never had a solid bass line in anything I made. My kicks were not audible and were weak. So I started working on those sorts of things. A great way I have realized through certain members and reviewers of different sites, is that a great way to improve is to limit yourself intentionally, like a challenge. The goal is to make a song, but limiting yourself to a certain amount of sounds or pattern types. By doing this you can fine tune your skills and prepare yourself for future works. My compression was always off and songs were fuzzy. While I was able to improve them, I found the best way to break out of music block was to forget about everything and stop thinking of everything. By simply making a song without thinking about what is right or wrong, you may effectively set yourself free to do exactly that in the next song.

Another type of problem that may arise comes from adding plugins. The plugin may be the most dangerous thing for a music producer who is experimenting with it. I often hear music that doesn’t utilize all the tools a producer has because it features all the sounds of a new plug in. For example, after getting Nexus and Vanguard for FL, I totally forgot about Sytrus, my absolute favorite plug in. When you get a new plugin, the goal is not to change what you have been doing drastically, but rather slowly try to incorporate your new plug in so you can ultimately achieve balance in the song.

Finally, your environment and the people you surround yourself with. I always find that when someone is there that can truly make you feel good, your music will shine. You will be full of ideas because someone is there to make you feel good about them. Understand that this is all artificial, and only means that happiness represents the source of your inspiration.

So really, music block, with the exception of time management issues, is largely a psychological effect. The ability to control your mind and your thoughts is the driving factor in success in music production. If you find yourself blocked, be sure to get that control as soon as possible.

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