Music Production Tips - Overcome Writers Block
How to get inspired as a Music Producer: Overcoming and dealing with writer's block and other obstacles by Charlotte Lee.
Everyone’s heard of writer’s block. Many of our music production course students ask us, how do you overcome writers block and make great music? The games your own mind can play with you the moment you sit down to create. It’s something that can happen to all of us, any artists in the world, no matter how experienced you are. And as you may know, as a music producer, you are no exception. However, there are a few tricks you can try to get over this and some excellent processes and habits to get into to avoid it striking you on a regular basis.
It can be really tough, especially when you are starting out and you only have a few hours each evening, squashed in around the job that pays your bills! Even as an experienced professional, gigs and other commitments can limit your creative time but this leads me to my first tip, which is something we should address before we begin…
REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE MAKING MUSIC
We all make music because we love it and if you don’t then you should probably stop! Sometimes it can be hard to focus on that while you’re struggling to work all the hours, create music and get noticed. It can feel like others are moving faster than you or you’re not as good as everyone else yet.
The only thing you need to focus on is you, there is only one you and no one else can do you like you can. Looking up to and being inspired by other artists is very different to comparing yourself to them. They were once in your shoes, so as easy as it is to say and hard as it is to do...Forget everyone else!
Some great advice I was once given is to write something down and stick to on your computer screen or somewhere that you can see it every time you write. Just a sentence or a few words that motivate you, that can remind you what you are doing, why, what it means etc, here’s an example:
You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.
DON’T FORCE IT
If you add pressure to creation, it will limit you. Think of it like the plug-ins and outboard gear we use when mixing and mastering. Try not to redline your internal processor or put a preset on your creativity!
So as much as it isn’t possible for everyone to sit down when the creative thought comes to them and just start writing, it’s important to learn how to make the most of those moments. There are a few tricks I've found useful for overcoming this particular issue.
Record your thoughts on your phone voice notes, or carry a dictaphone (old school!) around with you. Record your thoughts throughout the day, wherever you are, record a random sound that inspires you, hum some notes into it if a tune pops into your head. You don’t have to sit on your DAW, at a keyboard or in a studio. We have technology at our fingertips, so take it with you. This way, when you get home that evening, or when you next sit down to write or produce, you can pull these up and listen back to them and you won’t have that daunting feeling of starting from a completely blank canvas. I watched Armin Van Buuren’s Masterclass and one of his top tips for melodies is that hummable tunes often make big hits! So you never know, you may even come up with the next number 1 on the train platform tomorrow morning!
Never scrap songs and ideas that you don’t finish. When you are in the flow of writing and producing, often you try multiple different ideas, instruments, sounds before the final idea sticks. In the process, you may be scrapping ideas and just deleting them from the project. However, instead of doing this, there will always be an option in your DAW to export the clip as MIDI or any kind of audio file. Save these in folders, label it well and then the next time you sit down and you’re stuck for ideas, you may be able to use it. Even if it’s a whole track or project, don’t scrap any idea, save it and perhaps recycle it another day. It could work for you the next time you open it with fresh ears, something new might come to you and you will have not wasted any time. You’ll start to realise there is no such thing as wasted time, you really can make the most of every moment and therefore relieve yourself of the pressure and the urge to force out ideas.
As a bonus, in practicing this method you will also slowly start to build up your own sample library, which you will only thank yourself for in the future!
START BY RELAXING!
Sometimes before you begin, you just need to take a moment to chill the hell out! You can’t always walk right out of a busy day, busy commute or just any other contrasting situation and right into a creative one.
Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation aren’t for everyone but would be obvious go-tos to unwind but I have found personally, what works for me is just listening to some music.
Try creating a playlist of music that relaxes you but also perhaps inspires you! For me, it’s modern classical piano pieces like ‘I Giorni’ by Ludovico Einaudi, saxophonist Amy Dickson, or movie and theatre soundtracks...I would highly recommend Imogen Heap’s stunning work ‘The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - In Four Contemporary Suites’.
You could also check out my ‘LOTTIE LOVES: RELAX’ playlist on Spotify. It’s a selection of music from multiple genres to help relax and inspire.
Play your musical instrument. This may already be your starting point when writing but sometimes one of the most relaxing things we can do and for most of us, it’s the reason we fell in love with music to begin with, is to play! Play something you know off by heart, if your instrument is your voice - sing! Just sing or play whatever makes you happy, something that again relaxes and inspires you. If you can’t play an instrument, play around with a synth in your DAW. The very least it will do for you is chill you out but again, it may also spark some creativity. Double win!
Perhaps you have a whole day booked in the studio or you're working away at home and you’ve reached lunchtime. You have tried and failed at all your known techniques and the panic is setting in.
Change your surroundings. You can’t underestimate the power of this. Leave the space you’re in and go for a walk, even a drive. I believe in nothing more than the power of a brisk walk, for me it would be in a park or a field but for some people walking along a busy high street could work just as well. Take in the sights and sounds, or maybe listen to a podcast or an audio book. Nature, space and other humans can be the most inspiring things we can witness.
Move to another room. As I said before, we have technology at our fingertips and it may be that you just need to unplug, take the minimum you need into another space and work there for a while.
I often disconnect from my space that I have set up at home and take my laptop to the living room. Sometimes the change of scenery and the more relaxed seating gives me just what I need to come up with some great ideas.
COLLABORATE, REMIX AND MAP YOUR WAY
Two minds are better than one as they say! Bouncing off others (Not comparing!!) can be so beneficial to your creative process and your personal and professional growth. We’re all unique and merging the minds of two artists is a beautiful thing!
Collab, mate? If you have friends, who like you make music, work together! You can either get together in person in the studio, or as we learnt from the last year, we can just as easily collaborate online. This is massive for creatives because this removes distance, you can collaborate with someone in Japan, whilst sitting in your bedroom in London.
If you don’t know people already, most other DJ’s, producers and artists don’t bite... Reach out to people, what do you have to lose? And what’s to say you won’t end up being the next Daft Punk, Disclosure or Eli & Fur!
Remix and Rework other peoples tracks. Again use your mates tracks, or there are competitions all over the internet where you can download the stems for free, remix and submit. LabelRadar is a good one. Just be careful to always abide with the T&C’s, you can normally only use the stems and samples for the purpose of the competition.
Or you could download an acapella but again be very careful and only use things commercially that you know you have permission to use.
I find when you are working with pre-existing material, even just an acapella, it can really help to propel you into a direction that perhaps you may not have gone on your own. I usually remix this way but there are so many methods. I just chose acapella as it works best for me and sometimes, I can then scrap the vocal entirely and just make it a stand alone instrumental idea.
If you have never remixed before, check out this excellent blog by Buster Bennett - Learn How To Remix Tracks.
You may be struggling with your arrangement. If you are, pull out some of your favourite tracks that you know work and make a note of their arrangements. And by arrangement I mean the journey of the track; how it starts, builds, the chorus, the bridge, the list goes on depending on your genre. I like to lay it out in my DAW and add markers when notable things happen or change. It’s not an offence to use other peoples arrangements to help you with yours. It’s not copying and it’s certainly no cheating. In the 90’s, 00’s and still to this day nearly every pop song has the same, if not very similar arrangement. I think it’s human nature to like to know what’s coming and what to expect. So go with tracks you love and that you know work and build yours in a similar way but don’t be afraid to change it up too as you don’t want to be too predictable!
LEARN AND ABSORB
Another method I have found to be extremely useful when I’m struggling with writer's block, is to learn! I find watching a Youtube tutorial, listening to a podcast or Ted Talk makes me want to go away and try what I’ve just learnt right away. And in doing that I end up with the start of a track or at least a bunch of ideas for my very own sample library.
Reading and music theory is something else that works for me. This really isn’t for everyone but when I do some music theory study, I can sometimes discover a scale that makes me want to run away and write something. Or I might learn a new technique in a book like ‘Mixing with Impact: Learning to Make Musical Choices’ by Wessel Oltheten and want to try it out. Again you're using the time well by learning at the same time as drawing inspiration.
Taking a course and improving your skills. By taking courses and keeping your knowledge up to date and fresh, you will always be generating new ideas and ways of looking at things. You never stop learning, so embrace it, learn to love it and let it help you grow into the best artist you can be.
There is also nothing more encouraging than to get one-to-one mentorship from someone else who can be your accountability buddy and help you achieve your best. Just like a personal trainer, but for music.
If you would like more information on our music production courses in either in our studios or online click here. We have studios in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Oxford. If you can't get to the studio you can still take lessons online, one-to-one with your chosen mentor!