Article: Unblocking A Writer’s Block [2010 Remix]

Foreword: I wrote this article a couple of years ago, for my peers on InternetDJ, and for myself – to read over later. Over time, I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on it, and a few blogs have re-posted it for their readers. So, I thought I’d go through it, clean it up and revise it a bit, and add a few new tricks. Enjoy!

Writer’s block is something which hits hard in the literary department, but producers and composers are not immune, either. There are cracks in the brick wall of creative dullness, however, and they must be exploited. 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’ve met a lot of people 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 emerging talent overcome this disease…

When I started off on iDJ as a producer, nearly [five] years ago – with almost 10 years of music production experience under the belt – I was still just an amateur producer trying to leave my mark and get heard. I was finishing about one original track per week. It was an easy, and effortless, process. At the time, I used loops and tons of samples, just trying to find my way around a sequencer. I stumbled upon FL Studio in 2000 (then Fruity Loops 3) – which was a life changer, for me – but I had always loved listening to – and manipulating – music and, thus, trying my hand at producing was a logical next step. When I was younger, I listened to mostly mainstream rock and mainstream hip-hop, and it wasn’t until I was about 16-17 years old that I discovered electronica (uplifting trance and eurodance – to be specific). Inspired by the rhythms of trance and tired of hearing music on the radio – and purchasing tapes which I only half-liked – 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 melodies came to me constantly, just asking to be written down.

Fast forward a few years later, to around 2007. I was getting some great feedback (not necessarily positive always) from iDJ peers such as Mason, ZXX, Farace, Phoakis, Siberski, axisONE, Whiz, Alex Biagi and Rob Fisher, just to name a few. I worked diligently on improving my style, which I never thought was so raw until I started being active in the iDJ community and paid attention to what people were telling me. 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, creating my own patches, and learning 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 on which I was working. 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. 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 they did before.

I found myself in a place where I could recollect producing a full track or more per week, but I was now working on new 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 – not producing up to my full 100%, feeling like my mixdowns were weak, or thinking that my melodies weren’t as catchy as before. It’s a hard thing for any artist to go through.

So, jumping the gun a bit, let’s get to the meat of it, the real solutions… How did Sonaris get his groove back, in this case?

If you are feeling like you’re in need of inspiration for your productions, just look around, literally! Most ideas seem to generate, for me – at least – from life experience… Go to a club, meet a hot chick, or guy, and 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 last. 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 with which you have little experience. Maybe it’s drum & bass for you, maybe it’s ambient house, maybe it’s death or viking metal, maybe it’s rap. Whatever it is, 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, it’s 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 Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, 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 gangsta rap, to reggae, to pop rock, to viking metal, to drum & bass, to mainstream pop, to classic rock ballads. It all breeds inspiration, in one way or another.

Many people think that electronica producers don’t know anything about music, that it takes no skill to create and that it’s easy to produce. Pay no heed to haters! 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. You don’t need to be in a rock band to rock!

In the end, always remember that even if you are totally cracked on music, you can always take a break to appreciate life around you 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 many of us. Listen to as much music as you can, on iDJ, in the park next to your house, at a party or 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.” Edit: Now that I produce music professionally, and I do have sales goals and “deadlines,” I actually still just do it for the enjoyment. I treat making music as my favorite hobby (which it is), and I have a great time each time I do it.

* Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, who – in this case – happens to be… you. Make music which you like, don’t try to cater to the mainstream too much. 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, Soundcloud, Hypem, Pandora, MySpace – or wherever else the Google ocean takes you – and learn from their successes and mistakes.

* Fall in love. Quite possibly the single greatest source of – and for – inspiration for some of the most brilliant and creative minds.

* Live your life to the fullest and leave music as an enjoyable activity. You shouldn’t feel obligated to perform. You’re creating music, not financial statements.

* Errors are okay. You can make mistakes and, more often than not, you may learn a thing or two from “accidental successes.” 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!

* I also like to just start working on short samples, experimental stuff. I clear my mind of expectations and start writing a melody. Sometimes it turns into a track, sometimes it just gives me more ideas.

* Exercise! This one may seem a bit odd, but if you aren’t feeling healthy, confident and strong, you’re much less likely to be in the kind of mood which promotes creativity.

The underlying point of this article is: diversify. Diversify your life, your music, your network of friends and business partners – 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!

Updated closing thoughts: At this point, I’ve had some successes – and failures – as a more-or-less professional music producer but, each time I sit down (sometimes with a beer) in front of my DAW, it’s like a new adventure is about to begin. Many times I am excited about projects, and if I am not excited about something, it’s probably not going to happen. If you’ve made it to a professional level of creating music, you may find that – at times – the pro music business is a cruel process, but keep at it and success will come. More on this in a later article…

Thoughts from peers:

“Take two random genres which you like and mash them up.” – Wade Jewell

“Producers need practice like any other professional. If you think you can sit for 2-3 months without brushing up on your techniques and learning new programs, you’re only fooling yourself. I think this article focused brilliantly on the fact that you need to diversity in only be influenced by one popular sound will only limit your talents until that sound becomes completely out of touch.” – Phoakis

“I’m working more and more on the quality instead of the melodies and the catchyness…
funny how we all share these issues…” – RoBiN

As always… feel free to leave your own ideas, comments and feedback. The best way to learn is, from one another!

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