Sitting in the studio for hours, scrolling through samples in the search for creativity – every producer finds himself in such a situation from time to time. We want to have a high output, get better by making a lot of tunes and maybe even have to work for clients, but creativity is not something you can force to happen. Until it is … A skill that all successful producers seem to have is to overcome those situations, called “writer’s block”, with innovative and simple techniques.
- Make use of technology!
We are producing electronic music, so it is only natural to let the machines do some talking. We can get inspired by the way plug-ins and hardware randomize or order notes and other stuff. Let’s take a look at some examples:
The ML-185 Sequencer (available for free on Max For Life) is great for randomizing MIDI notes. There are entire genres based on sequencers like this one, but it can help in whichever genre you’re working in, since the patterns it creates are a good starting point. There will be a certain sequence of notes or rhythm in the octave changes that inspires you – work with it! Change some of the other notes, leaves some away, record the MIDI and see where you can go! Scale helps to stay in key from the very beginning, but it can also be uplifting to work without scale and not think about the key for a while! Sequencing means fun!
This MIDI Chain is a simple tool to create arpeggiated and complex melodies out of single sustaining notes. Hold a simple chord or even random notes and the arpeggiator will turn them into various melodies, depending on your settings. Scale again helps to stay in Key, while Random is a great tool for adding a human touch to your melodies. Set up like this it will randomly change notes either an octave up or down.
Record the MIDI on a new track while you’re having fun with changing the settings – there will be something cool and inspiring for sure!
- Set up vibes before you start with the big stuff!
This one is simple! It is all about what you start with when working on a track. It can be extremely helpful to first set up some atmosphere and vibe with several layers like background pads, noise floors, some weak rhythmic plucks, vocal chops, and so on. The possibilities are endless and it’s relatively easy (especially when you are into designing your own sounds – it also works well with using presets though!), compared to the big challenge of finding this one perfect lead melody. The more layers of “vibe” you have, the more you know which feeling your track will have and it will be easier to find the exact right melody for it. Surprisingly, it is mostly a very simple melody and not as complex as you might think at first!
Presets and MIDI Files are your friends!
Don’t get me wrong on this: I am 100% pushing you to try sound designing your own stuff and writing your own melodies. But using presets or midi files can be really helpful if you don’t know where to go in the studio today. Best way to work with them is making them work with a simple beat structure and then slowly playing around with the patch or notes until you think they have your unique character sound. This workflow itself will be so inspiring that you will have probably added a bassline and some pads without even noticing it.
- Start with simple patterns!
For this tip you need to know: The wheel has already been invented. And even though musicians all over the world manage to give it a new and creative spin again and again, they most likely use structures that have been used before. This can be your advantage too!
The rhythm used in the first picture is as simple as it can get and known from countless songs of any genre – based on the famous Tresillo rhythm – the foundation of Dance Hall, Reggaeton and more.
I then started to add several notes and tried out different pitches until I came up with a melodic motive that sounded interesting to me. The good thing about this method is, that you have something that works well from the very beginning and you’re always free to go back to it, when you feel like you went too far. Yet you can almost endlessly adjust the rhythm and pitch to create your own, unique melody.
- Don’t force yourself!
Even though I’ve talked about the skill of successful producers to kind of force creativity, they might even have a bigger skill: They know when to pause! It’s one of the biggest lessons you have to learn: Not every session in the studio is going to bring a new track. Or a good track. Sometimes you have to accept that today you are better off with just sorting your samples. Or play around for fun in a completely different genre. Or make some new presets for your library.
Sometimes, it’s even better to do nothing, go outside and come back with a fresh and inspired mind tomorrow!