Unblocking a Writer's Block
Musicians are susceptible to writer's block too, here are some healthy steps to help you break through.
on Mon Oct 13, 2008
Writer's block is something which hits hard in the literary department, but producers and composers are not immune either. I'll start this article off with a quick throw-back to the past to try and analyze this epidemic which can hinder your creative genius. I know a lot of people on the site have gone through the same ordeal, so I thought I would try to lay out my thoughts in a concise manner and maybe help some merging talent overcome this disease.
When I stared off on iDJ as a producer, nearly three years ago - with five years of "the game" under the belt - I was still just an amateur producer trying to leave my mark. I was dropping about a track a week. It was easy, I used loops and tons of samples, just trying to find my way. I stumbled upon FL Studio in 2000 (then Fruity Loops 3) by accident, but I always loved listening to music and trying my hand at producing it was a logical next step. I listened to mostly mainstream rock and mainstream hip-hop. I got tired of hearing music on the radio and purchasing tapes I only half-liked, so I set out to make music the way I wanted to hear it. Life was good, I was pumping out fresh material all the time and never looked back...
Fast forward a few years later. I was getting some great feedback (not necessarily positive always) from iDJ ancients such as Mason, ZXX, Farace, Siberski, Phoakis, Whiz, and Robin, just to name a few. I worked on improving my style, which I never thought was so raw until I joined the site. Ideas were flowing and I was changing the way that I wanted to hear music, on my own!
The more I worked on improving my style and the more I took in critique from iDJ members, friends, and others in the music community, the more I became obsessed with making every track 100% better than the last. The loops went, as did samples, I started trying to really learn about VSTs, and other useful software which was readily available at my fingertips. The more I focused on improving my sound, the more critical I became of my productions.
In the beginning of my production "career" I found myself working on 3-5 loops a day, and producing/realizing about one of twenty projects I was working on. Eventually I came to a point where I found myself more in tune with how things should sound, and I was making loops which I enjoyed hearing more, but I also found myself lacking the adventurous creativity which I experienced before. It was a coming-of-age story for me. I was feeling better about the overall project templates which I was creating, but they just stopped seeming quite as good and catchy to me as the did before.
I found myself in a place where I could recollect producing a full track or more per week, but I was now down to working on music less, and thinking a lot harder about what I was doing. None of the new music I listened to was inspiring me at this point, and I couldn't figure out why. Was it the fact that my life has majorly changed in the last five years? Maybe so. Was it the fact that I wasn't going out and being as active in the dance/electronic music community as before? Maybe so.
It all came down to me feeling like I wasn't doing as good of a job producing up to my full 100%, feeling like my mixdowns were weak, or that my melodies weren't as catchy. Its a hard thing for an artist to go through.
So, jumping the gun a bit, let's get to the meat of it, the real solutions... How did Stella get her groove back, in this case?
If you are feeling like you need inspiration for your productions, just look around! I mean that in all seriousness. Most ideas seem to generate, for me - at least - from life experience... Go to a club, meet a hot chick, or guy, see if a little romance won't lift up your spirits and bring about adventure. Try to think back to when you were feeling creative. What did you do? What were you listening to? What did you eat? How much were you drinking?
You can also break the cycle by branching out your music knowledge and experience. Hate Classical? Sit through a concert at your local church (they seem to have a lot of free classical concerts) or think of a genre which you don't really like, or have little experience with. Maybe its drum & bass for you, maybe its ambient house, maybe its death or viking metal, maybe its rap. Try to enjoy a new style, and even if you absolutely hate it, you may get some fresh ideas. Try to listen to phrasing, instrument choice, melodic structure, beats/breaks, etc...
For me, its always been Classical. There is a big reason why Classical music has been around for centuries, it is the foundation for modern music, electronic or otherwise. I often just close my eyes, turn on some Chopin, Mozart, Handel, Liszt, or Smetana, and just soak in each sound. Listen for patterns which you may want to recreate, listen for rhythm, but mostly, listen for feeling. Any genre of music has its own unique feeling, and see what it invokes in you.
I can go through my (rather large) music library and listen to anything from classical, to early 90's gangster rap, to reggae, to pop rock, to viking metal, to drum & bass, to cheesy pop, to classic rock ballads. It all breeds inspiration.
Many people think that electronica producers don't know sh*t about music, and its easy to produce. Pay no heed to naysayers, electronica producers are some of the most well-versed musicians out there. From classically trained musicians, to bedroom producers, to suburban gangsters, each of us has a piece of inspiration to give back to the world.
In the end, always remember that even if you are totally cracked on music, you can always take a break to soak in life around you, which is beautiful, and it will surely inspire you to something great.
We all have jobs, life problems, and other issues, but never forget that music is what makes the world turn round for us. Listen to as much music as you can, on iDJ, in the park next to your house, at a party, hit a club and watch the crowd move. All of these things are bound to bring some inspiration to your projects and help make the world a brighter place through music!
Key things to take away from this article:
* Don't take criticism personally. It can be hard when you put a lot of emotion, passion and effort into music, as most talented producers do, and try to think objectively about improving your work.
* A key advantage that amateur/emerging producers have over pros is that we are not limited by deadlines and sales figures, you can take as long on a project as you need to make it "perfect."
* Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, who in this case is always you. Make music which you like, don't try to cater to the mainstream. As long as you're pleasing yourself, you are doing something right. If you like it, others will as well.
* Explore. Go out and listen to styles you have never heard before. Discover fellow artists on iDJ and learn from their successes and mistakes.
* Life your life to the fullest and leave music as an enjoyable activity. You shouldn't feel obligated to perform. You make music, not financial statements.
* Errors are ok. You can make mistakes, and more often than not, you may learn a thing or two from "accidental success." Many times you will discover great new techniques and revolutionize your style by making mistakes.
* Don't get stuck in a style. Don't ever think that "I am a trance producer, I can only make trance." Try new tempos, new instruments, and upload your projects for others to hear. You never know when you may discover a hidden talent you never knew you had!
The underlying point of this article is: diversify. Diversify your life, your music, your network and your emotions. If you get stuck in a routine, break it. Try something new and you are sure to discover something about yourself and your music which you never imagined!
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