If you’re living in the UK, you’ll be absolutely ecstatic that we are in another lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. If you’re elsewhere in the world, circumstances may be different for you, but it’s fair to say that the pandemic has thrown everyone’s world into disarray, and this is likely to have implications in every aspect of your life.
This can become increasingly apparent in your music making process. Perhaps you can’t get access to your usual resources, maybe you go to a studio, or in your University’s facilities, and they aren’t available. Or maybe your mental health has taken a bit of a hit and you aren’t feeling super productive. The important thing to remember though is you’re not alone! Chances are there are thousands upon thousands of producers in the exact same circumstances, experiencing a bit of a lull in productivity or a loss of momentum.
So in this article, we are going to explore a few techniques you can try to ensure you don’t lose momentum, and are able to keep your mojo up for your music making!
We’ve all heard the saying ‘The Devil finds work for idle hands to do…’
Think of me as your personal devil, and I’ll give you some suggestions for things you can do if you’re not able to produce in your usual capacity!
What’s stopping you?
The first thing we need to think about is why you aren’t able to work as you usually do. Sure, the previous points I made about the Coronavirus pandemic are true, but we can experience lulls or periods of waiting in any number of scenarios. Perhaps you’re waiting on releasing an album, and your production is all done and you’re just waiting on the PR or release side of things. In that scenario you may struggle to find ways to feel like you’re still producing, you may think you’re in an ‘in between’ stage. But fear not.
Once you’ve identified the reason you’re unable to work in your usual capacity, you’ll be able to decide which of the following advice is relevant to you. This isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ article, so it will be a collection of tips and tricks you can try, some may apply to you, others won’t, so just pick and choose as you need to.
The value of listening.
We’re all proud of ourselves for being musical creators aren’t we? But how often do you spend time actively listening to music? It’s such a simple thing it can almost slip away from your memory, and for many people music is something to consume whilst doing other things. Even listening to music while you drive or travel around isn’t the same as throwing on a pair of headphones, getting comfortable and listening to some tunes!
As music creators, we have an intimate knowledge of the fundamental processes that go into making music. We’re able to peek behind the curtain. That is, if the curtain is the song and the peeking is done with our ears!
Active listening is a great tool for a music producer, because since we have this knowledge of what goes into music making, we can hear things other people can’t. It’s just a simple fact of life that if you spend enough time dedicating yourself to a craft, you pick up skills that become subconscious. So even without realising it, your mind will be dissecting any music you’re listening to.
This is why it is so important to spend time listening to music and making that the sole purpose of that time. Get comfortable, maybe put on some candles and get the vibe in your room right, have a drink, or something else that aids your production and put on headphones or your speakers and spend some time listening to songs with your eyes closed. You’ll find that your mind will instantly start darting around the music, identifying sounds and techniques that you’re familiar with, and questioning ones you aren’t. It’s a good idea to take this one step further and keep a notebook of things you pick up on as you listen. These ideas and techniques that you note down will just add to your repertoire of skills, and they may even open up new avenues of discovery for you!
Perhaps you find one day that you aren’t really getting anywhere when you’re trying to make some music. How useful would it be if you could reach for your notebook and examine the little things you’ve noted down during one of your active listening sessions? You could try and recreate a sound you heard, which could lead to you making an entire tune almost by accident. (Trust me, this is a real phenomenon and it’s happened to me!)
So, Active Listening is a huge one to bear in mind. Get cosy, and close your eyes and just focus on the music. Try to listen instead of just hear.
Get outside your comfort zone.
While bearing Active Listening in mind, it’s worth talking about the value of listening to music outside of your usual sphere. Whether you produce a single type of music or you have your fingers in a variety of musical pies, there is always going to be a genre of music that you don’t regularly listen to.
So a good exercise that can work in parallel to your Active Listening is making a point of consuming music that is totally outside of your taste spectrum. You may not like what you find in a stylistic sense, but you will always find things you can extrapolate and use for your own productions.
Another point to consider is that if you listen to music and you don’t like the production techniques, that gives you an idea of what you want to avoid doing! So there is always value if you look hard enough for it!
This is a great way to grow as an artists as well. Broadening your musical horizons is rarely a bad thing!
Have you heard of YouTube?
So, I’m about to blow your mind.
What if I told you that there was a place on the internet where you could go and watch millions of videos created by millions of people on every single topic you could possibly think of?
Well, let me introduce you to YouTube.
A great way to spend your ‘in between’ periods, whether you’re lacking inspiration, can’t produce because you can’t access your gear, or for whatever reason, is by checking out music production tutorials on YouTube.
Think of how broad a subject music production is. There are so many areas you can explore or specialise in, and many of those specialists are creating top quality accessible content on YouTube.
If your mixing is your weakest area, find some detailed mixing tutorials. Or maybe you want to know how to recreate a specific sound from a big EDM tune. There are thousands of music production tutorials just waiting for you.
And while you may not be the type of learner who can follow a tutorial step by step, -after all, we all learn in different ways- it's still a great idea to check out videos that are relevant to your style or niche, or just follow your curiosity. After all, you'll still be taking in the information and storing it in your mind for later use!
Even if you think you know exactly how to do something in your DAW of choice, why don't you check out how others do it? Maybe you could learn a thing or two to make your process easier, quicker, more effective.
The possibilities are endless! (And the ads are infuriating!)
Know the importance of breaks.
Tech fatigue is a real thing. In today's world we spend so much of our lives glued to technology it can become overwhelming. On some of my less productive days I've found myself aimlessly scrolling through Netflix, only to turn off my TV and then do the same on Instagram, then YouTube, then Reddit.
It gets exhausting!
Making music is the same. The reality of modern music making is that you need technology in order to do it.
If you're in a bit of a creative rut, consider whether technology fatigue could be contributing to this. Maybe the reason you're not really producing anything you're particularly happy with is because you've spent too much time on your computer, combined with your phone or TV, that you're just experiencing a bit of burn out.
Luckily, the solution is a simple one. Put your gear away for a period of time, whatever is convenient for you, and focus on other things.
Go for a walk outside, after all how often have artists taken inspiration from nature?
Read a book.
Do something with your hands.
Spend some time doing some self care.
Basically anything that isn't tying you to a piece of technology!
This is by no means a guaranteed fix, but decluttering your technological life for a few days or hours can be a really refreshing practice, so try it!
Don’t think too much.
A huge piece of advice I would give you if you feel as though you’re in a bit of a slump is to not spend too much time overthinking and ruminating on that fact.
So what, you’re not making much music right now? As we said above, a break can be a valuable thing. I had a break of several years where I wasn’t making any sort of consistent output of music I was happy with, but then I slowly got back into things when the time and circumstances were right for me.
Think of your relationship with music making as a journey, and know that sometimes if you hit a wall with it, it’s just because you need to rest against that wall before you carry on.
But still think a little bit….
While taking a break from your music and putting it out of your mind are great ways to ease the burden that can come with feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, or not getting anywhere, there is as much value in spending some conscious time thinking about your music, without actually touching your DAW.
I often find the best time to do this is while doing other menial or boring jobs, such as tidying up the house or cleaning the kitchen. I let my mind wander, thinking about tracks i’m currently working on, ideas I want to do in the future, or past projects and how I could change them. Almost like a meditation practice, this allows you to mentally go over your musical catalogue and reflect on your approach to your production.
If you’re stuck in a bit of a dead end, maybe doing this could really help with making sure you don’t lose any momentum and are able to get your productions back up and running as efficiently as you possibly can.
So we will call it a day there, I think there’s enough for you all to digest and enjoy. Momentum in making music is always important, it helps with consistency and keeping your skills sharp, but remember that continuing to produce when you’re not at your best is sometimes not the best way forward. There are other things you can do to further your skills as a music producer!
Thanks as always for checking in with us here at Top Music Arts, and we hope you got something useful from this guide. Be sure to check out the rest of our site for a veritable treasure trove of music production resources, and make sure to stay safe out there!