We all know what it feels like to be stuck in a creative rut. You know, when you think you have a great idea to add to your song, but it doesn’t come to life in the way you’d hoped. You end up feeling frustrated and burnt out as a result. Sometimes, no ideas even come to mind in the first place!
There are many reasons why this happens.
Writer’s block can occur when we put too much pressure on ourselves, or when we are overly self-critical. For others, it might be an issue of over-familiarity, or possibly an unwillingness to embrace a change. Then there are some people who might be experiencing a total lack of motivation altogether.
But it can, and does, happen to all artists. It’s just a matter of time.
So, if you’re looking to get back in touch with your artistic flow, or keen to prep for the inevitable, then read on to discover some effective ways in which you can kickstart your musical creativity and get back to your best self.
1. Feed your imagination.
Until only recently, I’d never considered myself an outright music producer or songwriter. Lately, I’ve felt compelled to write music as an essential creative outlet. I like to write music that evokes the full range of human emotions, and I hope to build a connection with listeners in this way.
I like to draw influence from visuals that help me “paint a picture” of the music I’m trying to create. I find that stories and visuals from art, films, and video games often align with my creative vision and this feeds my imagination to form new ideas.
For example, the other day I watched James Cameron’s Avatar, and it inspired me with new ideas both musically and lyrically. The sheer scale of the film is beyond measure. The story has beautiful moments and the splendor of the natural life on the planet of Pandora is simply mesmerizing.
If you’re feeling stuck in a creative rut, I invite you to immerse yourself in a new book or movie that you’ve been meaning to dive into. Notice how it makes you feel, and think about how you can use your music to conjure similar emotions that are intense and long-lasting.
2. Get creative with your instrumental arrangements.
The technology we have access to nowadays is incredible. A laptop with a DAW is all you need to explore your musical creativity without any real limitations. Music producers no longer require access to a world-class recording studio to make great music.
This means that you already have access to a huge range of virtual instruments and presets at your disposal that can offer your music a new lease of life. For example, the stock synthesizer presets within Logic Pro are simply amazing, and an inspiring addition to anyone’s musical palette.
There is a wealth of diverse, versatile, and authentic-sounding virtual instruments available that you can use within your music. Many VSTs are so realistic that it is almost impossible to tell whether it is performed by a real human. Furthermore, many digital amp simulators nowadays are so impressive that producers are opting to use them over real amps. Crazy, right?
My point is that sometimes, in order to kickstart your musical creativity out of the blue, it’s worth spending time playing around and exploring sounds and sound designs just to see what happens. Whether you choose to add these new sounds into the arrangement you’re currently working on, or perhaps it’ll spark new ideas, generating new and unexpected timbres to substitute for the conventional instruments in your song can be exciting and eye-opening.
I’ve also found that adjusting the tempo of a song can create an entirely new feel for the song that might serve your ideas better. Through either increasing or decreasing the tempo, you can inherently transform the energy of a song.
3. Unplug and enjoy a bit of the outdoors.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of technology. It provides significant advantages, as well as some drawbacks. Social media is fun and it’s a powerful promotional tool, but it can actually reduce our creativity. This is why it’s important to take some time out to unplug and spend time in the real world.
Studies show that social media can be as addictive as using drugs, and many studies have correlated a significant link between high social media use and low self-esteem. It can become an online popularity contest with views, likes, and shares that draws negative comparisons and unhealthy desires.
So in order to get those creative juices flowing and get past the traps of your social feedback loop, get outside, unplug, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. The brain releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine when we get outdoors, which are proven to increase happiness and emotional balance, and boost productivity.
4. Discover new musical genres and artists.
There is so much music out there you’d probably enjoy, if you only knew it existed. There are undeniable gems in every genre, and it’s worth broadening your musical horizons to try and seek out those new musical forms that may excite and elevate your creativity.
Drawing from new and unfamiliar styles of music can breathe new life into existing ideas. Whether it’s chord progressions, melodic phrasing, rhythms, or instrumentation, taking inspiration from new music can help you to unleash your full potential.
We are all sometimes guilty of being set in our ways, and we all have our favorite artists. But it’s worthwhile putting your prejudices aside and taking an open-minded view. I can guarantee that you’ll be able to form new, exciting ideas that you can incorporate within your music.
I like to write heavy music with loud distorted guitars and huge drum sounds, but I’ve drawn influence from genres that are not typically associated with rock and metal music. Pop music and dance music have helped to form a large part of my sound, as well as atmospheric film scores.
4. Try playing a new instrument altogether.
Being a drummer, I’ve always had a keen ear for rhythm and I’ve generally found myself focusing on the drum beats within any given song more than the other elements. That’s normal I guess, and useful, yet it’s somewhat limiting to only be specialized in one particular area. Picking up the guitar recently has got me thinking about melody and rhythm in an entirely new way, and opened up a new world of ideas.
As humans, it’s easy for us to be set in our ways, or to feel dissuaded from trying out something new. But there are no limitations, and I would recommend any musician feeling stuck to try their hand at a new instrument or possibly even vocals. To get out of a musical rut, it’s crucial to change your mindset to see how music can be made with a fresh perspective.
This suggestion is another way of looking at the above point regarding arranging for new instruments and sounds. Working with new tools allows one a new framework and perspective, which can help break your recurring creative cycles and stalemates. Experimenting with new musical instruments can change how we navigate songwriting entirely, and tap into a new type of creativity to open up more sound combinations.
5. Relax, and take a break.
It’s frustrating to feel like you’re not operating at your best. Even more so if you’re working toward deadlines or when you’re maneuvering particularly high expectations. This often leads to self-defeating thoughts, which can really rob you of your enjoyment of the creative process.
The bottom line is that music is a wonderful form of self-expression but it’s not a competition whatsoever. Writing music is therapeutic, and I believe that the best ideas are formed naturally and organically. This isn’t necessarily something that can be forced.
Forget perfection too, just make the music as good as it can be for you. You can always rework and refine ideas over time, but just remember that your tastes and ideas will continually be changing (throughout your career and life). If you feel overwhelmed or stressed then it’s time to take a break.
There’s no pressure—it’s art. There is no real right or wrong here, you can’t slap a set of rules on musical creativity. Get outdoors or do some exercise, take a long bath, or watch a movie. Taking some time off will do wonders for clearing your head.
I find that when I return to a song idea after a break, I often have a renewed sense of purpose and I can listen more objectively, and I’m more inclined to make more radical changes for the benefit of the song.
Bonus tip: mindfulness.
If you’re still feeling stuck with writer’s block, or feel you need something deeper to tackle your struggles, I would definitely recommend taking a look at some of the benefits that mindfulness practice has to offer.
It can help you to feel connected to the present moment, and more at ease with doubtful or self-critical thoughts that hinder our musical creativity.
Best of luck to you and your creative endeavors!
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Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer and music educator, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper - one of the web's most popular free online drumming resources.
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