How to get out of a rut and rediscover inspiration

We’ve all been there. Halfway through a project, maybe even halfway through a song. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but right now it feels like the well has run dry. Nothing’s grabbing your attention, nothing you try sounds good. You keep coming up with the same tired clichés and you’re over it.

What do you do? Throw in the towel? Give up? Browse some forums again? Read up about defeating writer’s block? Maybe. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Don’t take a break. No, really – don’t do it. You want to make music? How are you going to make music when you’re on a break? Taking a break is shorthand for ‘distract yourself’. It might feel good, but it’s not going to get you back up to speed. Here’s a secret – if you want to produce great work, you have to work.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. I can’t stress how important it is to be well rested. Being creative in the studio is a process of inventing new music. In order to do this effectively, your brain needs to be working at full capacity – able to recall, synthesise, transform and create new thoughts. Similarly, it’s best not to be too stressed either – try to reduce other causes of stress in your life.
  3. Listen to different music. A common cause for writer’s block is that you’ve exhausted most of the musical ideas in your head. This is often a result of only listening to a limited variety of music. To refresh yourself with new musical ideas, seek out new music to listen to. It doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to join a metal band if you were previously a lone dance music composer (or vice versa!), but bringing in even a few cross-genre influences can breathe a lot of life into a project. A large proportion of the most interesting music out there is influenced by a wide variety of sources.
  4. Force yourself to finish that song. Yes. Force yourself. Bring it to the point where it can pass as a completed piece of work. It doesn’t matter how – follow a formula if you have to. It doesn’t matter if you’re not inspired, or not ‘feeling’ it. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. Just go through the motions. The important thing here is to establish a workflow, a pattern of finishing work. Don’t let yourself leave unfinished ideas lingering. Real artists ship. You think creativity breeds productivity? Think again – productivity breed creativity. Once you establish a pattern of actually following through on songs and projects, it becomes easy to feed in your creative ideas. It becomes a conduit (not a barrier) for creativity.
  5. Take on a small project (and complete it). Sometimes writer’s block can be caused by the intimidation of a large project. An album is a huge undertaking. No matter how much you want to make an album, no matter how many good ideas you have, it can be almost impossible to take the first step. It’s daunting. Instead of procrastinating, take on a smaller project. Set yourself a 6-song EP, or even a 3-song demo. Set yourself a month, or a week, or a weekend, or a day. Set your goals, and then follow through on them. Get used to completing smaller projects before you take on big ones.
  6. Get intimate with a neglected piece of gear. These are good times for musicians – instruments are more affordable and accessible than ever before. Chances are, you’ve got an instrument that you haven’t explored as fully as you could – whether it be a physical instrument like a guitar or hardware synth, or a software instrument. Set yourself the task of getting to know that instrument through and through. Compose some music using only that instrument. Find creative solutions for sounds that the instrument isn’t naturally good at. Guitars can make percussive sounds. Monosynths can be overdubbed and layered to form chords. Any sound can be completely transformed through effects processing.
  7. Buy new gear. Or don’t, and say you did. Yes, I said it. New gear is inspiring. The more different to your current gear, the better. A good gear acquisition will actually challenge you to think about making music in a different way. It’s not just different limitations and different possibilities, but a new way of navigating the musical ‘space’ of rhythm and harmony. The more you challenge your existing ideas about how to make music, the easier it is to create new thoughts, new ideas and new music. Trying out new gear is also fun and motivating. Even if you can’t afford new equipment, you can still try to imagine what your music might be like if you had an exciting new instrument. Try to push your current gear to the limits while you try to recreate the sounds you’re imagining.

By following these steps you should be refreshed and invigorated, ready to produce your next hit.

-Kim.

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    • Jackson
    • September 24th, 2010

    Hey, I really enjoy your posts – they help a ton! So I’d just like to say thanks for all the hard work and keep it up, thanks man

  1. Thanks Jackson! Glad to hear you’re finding this blog useful!

    -Kim.

  2. These are some nice thought man. Really. I totally agree and to remind myself everyday I just printed out point 1 and 4 and I’m putting them on my wall.

    thanks!

  3. @Jeroen
    Great to hear these tips resonate with you. If you want to make music, you have to actually *do* it!

    -Kim.

  1. January 6th, 2011
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