Although this blog frequently touches on the technical aspects of music production, that’s not the whole story. And while a quality mixdown can help you polish up a new tune, there’s still no substitute for good old fashioned musical inspiration. But what happens when you get stuck for ideas? How do you jump-start your track back into action? Well, here are a few tips that can help you get things moving when it’s all ground to a halt…
Most of these tips are psychological in nature. But that’s OK, because creating music and art is a psychological process anyway. There’s no formula, and all it needs is one good idea. So if you’re stuck, you need to change your way of thinking for a bit. One handy method is to try working in a new place. Take your laptop round to a friend’s house or studio for an afternoon, and use their setup if possible. Maybe get them involved in the tune, too. The change in equipment will force you to work a different way – different speakers, using a different keyboard or synth, different room acoustics. Even simple things like the posters on the wall and an unfamiliar view out of the window will help you get your brain out of the rut you’ve found yourself in.
Take A Bounce Of Your Master Output
This is not something you can do if you’re still stuck at the ‘blank screen’ stage of course. But if you’ve got a few ideas sketched out that you’re struggling to take further, a handy trick is to bounce down whatever you’ve got. Hash them out into a rough structure, render a WAV file, and load up a new project. Drop your single audio file into it, and now start jamming over the top. It’s often best to do this in audio, too – hit the pads on your MPC, mash out some keyboard lines, record yourself hitting pots and pans with a microphone. The fact that you can’t go and edit your audio file or arrangement means you’ve got no option but to just crack on with it and write some music. One of the biggest time-sucks in production is semi-productive tinkering; tweaking a snare drum feels like useful work when you’ve got no better ideas. This way, you can’t do that – just keep going until you’ve got (say) six to ten audio channels of ideas. Then drag them back into your original arrangement and start laying them out. Some of them will be completely useless, some of them might only be good for the occasional FX or fill. But there will usually be one idea in there that takes the track in a new direction and helps you get going again!
The Sample ‘Bait & Switch’
Sampling a huge chunk of someone else’s tune in your work is bad. Don’t do it, unless you like courtrooms. But for simple inspiration purposes? It’s always worth a go. Take a sample of a track you really like and start building around it; copy parts of it, work with it, borrow some ideas from it. Then remove it from your arrangement, and you’ll be left with the ‘shadow’ of the sample – you’ve harmonised it and funked it up with some drums, and all you need to do is fill in a couple of the gaps. It won’t make a whole tune, but it’s a great way of getting started, especially for novice producers!
Use Samples From A Different Genre
This is cheeky one, but if you want inspiration and originality to boot, then look to other genres for help. For a start, you should be listening to different genres than the one you want to be writing in anyway – this will always help for sources of good ideas. But try rocking a couple of different sample packs too – because they can be twisted in all sorts of ways and bring plenty of new ideas. For instance, drum and bass percussion tends to have lots of shuffle and drive to it. But if you pitch it down a whole load? Well, then it starts to lose some of that well-engineered sheen, becomes lo-fi and gritty, and it’s perfect for use in deep house and Detroit Techno. Similarly, if you’re writing DnB, minimal house and techno loops are perfect for pitching up to make neuro-funk style percussion. Or dancehall basses and drum loops mesh brilliantly with the new ‘halfstep’ sound that you hear on labels like Exit. The more unlikely the combination sounds, the more you should try it!
As we mentioned earlier, there’s a large dose of psychology involved – if you’re stuck, you kind of need to trick your brain into thinking creatively again. A break sometimes helps, but remember the old phrase; “inspiration needs to find you working”! So try some of these tricks, keep working hard, and good things will come to you in the end….