“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” – Edward de Bono
You wake up on a Saturday morning with the whole day ahead of you. No commitments, no overbearing tasks or work projects – just pure freedom.
So, like any artist would, you decide to commit the day to the fun and enjoyable process of making music.
Eager and excited, you jump out of bed, have something to eat, brew a coffee, and sit down at your desk itching to work on something new.
One hour passes. You’ve got nothing.
Another hour passes. You’ve got something, but it sucks.
The universal thought that all artists share crosses your mind, “maybe today’s just not the day.”
Creativity is hard. Anyone who says making music is easy is either a complete beginner who’s in the “honeymoon” phase of the creative discipline or a lucky outlier. Making music will always be difficult, and I won’t try to convince you otherwise.
But what I will do—hence this article—is share a number of “hacks” that you can use to weaken the blow of the creative “resistance,” as Steven Pressfield would call it, or even overcome it completely.
Note: Some of these “hacks” are not new or original, in fact, you may find them generic, but they’re worth repeating given how effective they are.
1. Good is better than great
“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you go, and fix it along the way…” – Paul Arden
One of the root causes of creative block is setting too high a standard for oneself. All artists should strive to make great music, but at the end of the day, making good music is better than no music.
Perfection is the enemy of creativity, and if you’ve set out to make a masterpiece it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up surrounded by disappointment.
2. Forget the big picture
Have you ever had the feeling where you sit down to write a new song, and you become paralysed by the sheer amount of work involved? This often happens because we’re thinking of the big picture, or the end goal, too soon.
The big picture is important, I’m not denying that. It’s a good idea to have a vision for your song. However, that vision also needs to be actionable. Instead of focusing on the big picture, focus on the individual tasks involved in making a song.
In practice, this could be entering your DAW with the goal of writing a decent melody instead of arranging a full song.
3. Combine two or more ideas
One of the best ways to be more creative and come up with unique material is to combine two or more ideas.
An idea could be something as broad as a genre. You could combine trance and dubstep, for example. Or it could be something more specific like a style of melody with a certain lead sound.
A fun way to practice this is by taking two of your favorite songs and merging their ideas together. This is similar to the song palette technique.
4. Get out of the box
Modern day audio technology is great – you can make decent music with nothing more than a laptop, DAW, and headphones.
But it can also be an inhibition at times. We fall into the same old routine, and we lose the enjoyment or sense of “play” that’s so imperative to creativity.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, then get out of the box. Get off your computer completely and play an instrument, or whistle a new melody in your head.
“Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s only way to work, really. Everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.” – Antony Starr
Collaborating with others is a great way to get over creative block. When you’re working with someone else – whether it be a producer, musician, or vocalist – you have the ability to bounce ideas off of each other.
The other thing that collaboration helps with is accountability. Most of you can’t finish tracks because you don’t have a substantial enough reason to finish them. That’s the brutal truth. When you’re collaborating with someone else, if you don’t put in the work and finish what you’re working on, you’re not the only one who’s going to be disappointed.
6. Think less, do more
Being creative is less thinking than it is doing.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a place for brainstorming and thinking critically about what you’re working on. In the early stages of a track, however, it’s detrimental to analyse what you’re doing and constantly critique your work.
“Good artists copy; great artists steal.”
Everyone steals. Some people do it consciously, and others subconsciously.
If you’re struggling to generate ideas, then start by stealing something from another track. I’m not an advocate for completely ripping off another track, but taking the basic structure or a simple drum pattern from another track is fine if being used as a starting point.
8. Understand how and when you work best
A common trait among electronic music producers is that they work late into the night. I’m willing to bet you fall into this category.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with working late at night, but for some people, it’s less than ideal. You might think you’re struggling with motivation or creative block when really you’re just tired.
Try waking up early one morning and getting a production session in. If you find you work much better than you would in the evening, then consider making it routine.
Creative problems are inevitable. You’re always going to encounter them, but hopefully with the above hacks, you can overcome them or at least put up with them.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to overcoming creative problems, improving your workflow and progressing as an artist, then check out The Producer’s Guide to Workflow & Creativity.
What creative hack would you add to this list? Leave a comment below.