How to find your hidden creative talents
Sometimes, when things get tough in the studio, it is easy to feel like your creativity has abandoned you, but in reality – you may just be suffering from writer’s block, or in this case, producer’s block. Rediscovering your creative spark can come easier than you think, just by following a few of the following tips.
Taking a break
Sometimes, the best thing to get your creative juices flowing again is to take a one week break from production. Sleep, get some Vitamin D, talk to people, and quit feeling sorry for yourself. If music isn’t paying your bills, then stop taking it so seriously. Creativity only works in a state of flow and enjoyment. If you struggle to put down ideas, you need to develop your idea muscle. Come up with 5 ideas every day. You can keep your creativity primed through habit, build habit through consistency, and develop the necessary skills to bring your creative ideas to fruition. Work out what inspires you, and then you consume more of what inspires you. Music will be among the list of things that inspires you, so listen to it. Dig deep into your emotional side. What’s currently affecting you? What are you excited about? Turn it into music. You’ll work out how.
Contemplate switching DAWs
But only if you can name 5 good reasons for doing so. Great music is made in every major DAW. If you keep switching then you’ll inhibit progress. With that said, a switch can often lead to new creative frontiers and boost workflow. Make sure you’re switching out of a desire to improve and/or work faster, not out of boredom. Switching DAWs won’t fix that. DJing helps with production in certain ways. You learn about track arrangement, you know which type of tracks go with which, and what works and what doesn’t in a live setting. Sometimes, DJing can help you to rediscover your creative spark as a producer. Live performance/DJing is a natural path for the producer. And by going back to basics, you’ll find what inspired you to begin with. You’ll naturally have to work harder on your weaknesses in order for them to catch up to your strengths. For example, if you’re great at mixing down a track but lack competence when it comes to sound design, then your mixing efforts aren’t going to cover that up. But by playing around with these things, you may find that your spark returns quicker than you think.
Should I switch my style to find a new creative spark?
From a marketing perspective, sticking in one niche allows you to build a stronger connection with your audience, one of expectation and trust. From a production perspective, working in different genres allows you to develop skills you wouldn’t normally need to use. For example, the difficulty of mixing drum and bass compared to a minimal house track. You can still market yourself as a multi-genre producer (look at Mat Zo), but if you’re really worried then why not use a second alias? In the early stages, don’t limit yourself by sticking to one genre. Once you’ve got some releases under your belt, you’ll know what the answer is. Style comes through taste. It’s the tiny little preferences that add up over a whole track, and soon enough you will have your own style. It normally takes a few years to develop your own style. For some it may take less, others it may take more.
Be inspired by other people’s music
A chord progression. A particular bass line. Some music is directly inspired by other songs. It’s not “stealing” to listen more carefully to music and find inspiration. Sometimes musicians even do this explicitly, by direct sampling. For example, Avicii sampled Etta James on ‘Levels’. Every musician is different, and where you find inspiration will be different from other musicians, and even from your past self. Realising that you are a creative person (even if you’re not feeling it at the time) will open your mind to new possibilities. It’s a myth that some people are born creative and some not. Think of a time when you’ve taken action in a way that you weren’t told to, or solved a problem, or successfully communicated a point to another person. Every day of your life, I’ll bet? Well, that’s being creative! By simply pausing and acknowledging the fact that we are creative by default, we gain the confidence to think outside the box.
The amount of choice we have nowadays may—on the surface—seem like a good thing, but we humans actually thrive on limitations. They force us to think creatively to solve problems. There are lots of parameters we can set for ourselves (either separately or together). Here are a few ideas to help get you started. Set deadlines, and often. Having all the time in the world to work on a track is a sure-fire way to second-guess your decisions, go back for “just one more mix”, or to postpone even starting. Forcing yourself to hit deadlines will sharpen your creative and decision-making skills. If you don’t hit a deadline, don’t beat yourself up about it—just set another. You could even introduce stakes (such as buying your mate a beer) if you don’t finish on time. It can be easy for us to keep adding elements, especially if we feel our song is missing something. But by limiting yourself to…say…6 tracks playing simultaneously, it forces you to select only the most important sounds and to make sure they do exactly what they need to do. Continually seek new ways to nurture your creative spirit and provoke new musical ideas, and you’ll never be short of inspiration.