Author Topic: Finding ways to boost creativity  (Read 2997 times)

270

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Finding ways to boost creativity
« on: January 15, 2017, 03:43:27 am »
Hey guys, thought it would be cool to get a bit of a discussion going about our creative philosophies. To start I thought I'd share some things that really helped me develop a sound that I was proud of. The main motivation for doing this is that this is stuff I wish I had known earlier, so this one's especially for people starting out. It's going to be a bit of a read so maybe grab some chips. Being passionate about my craft, I tend to word things matter-of-factly and apologize in advance if this reads like I'm trying to preach, these are just things that have worked for me.

1. Bigger Screen

If you're the kind that loves layering and detail this is for you. I went from maybe  20-30 tracks per song to 40-50 just by getting a bigger screen. Not saying more layers equals better, because more often than not elegance is the standard to aim for. Nonetheless there was a certain 'busyness' I was trying to achieve in my sound and being able to zoom out the display to see more tracks made it feel more natural to get more intricate. Like eating more with a bigger plate.

2. Taking things outside the box.

This has become a bit of a cliche at this point, but I have a slight issue seeing these ads with Hans Zimmer or deadmau5 saying a kid could make a hit on a laptop or that you could make compelling music on a phone. Huge thanks to them for sharing their creative process with the world, but I just don't like how the company edits the videos to make those statements the selling point. They're saying 'look, this MASSIVELY successful producer said this! You feel good don't you, buy our product!' Maybe I'm just salty because I can't afford either masterclass by two of my favorite music makers of all time, but that's not the point.

Could you make great music by hitting a tin can and recording it in the bathroom on your iPhone speaker? Absolutely. But, getting your hands involved in the process with quality gear can really give your tracks life as well as immense personal satisfaction. When I have more fun, I feel more motivated to make music, and what's more fun that opening up a new toy?

 If you want a good technical argument, workflow really improves. Adjusting parameters in real time with your bare hands is heaven compared to boring yourself to death for hours drawing automation curves, and playing live gives you complete real-time control assuming you know how to play what you want. Automation is an oh-so-necessary evil, but the less you have to do of it, the better your workflow and happier you are. Same thing with drawing midi.

I'm sure you've heard of the gear trap. I've fallen victim to it, buying all this stuff thinking it would improve my sound just because it was rated a 5 on gearslutz, which is a great website btw. Maybe the key to avoiding the trap is to either go through it and after you've sold enough stuff you never use realize that you're suddenly making more music, or just understand that you're going to have to be patient and learn to make music with what you have before expanding. Want your mixes to sound better? Don't buy 5 pro mixing plugins, get better at mixing then make an informed decision on which plugins might enhance your sound based on your good habits. None of this is to say don't 'experiment' with your purchases, that is pretty much how you amass your toolbox to start after all. A tutorial on mixing by Dave Pensado might inspire a plugin buy that at first does nothing for you but over time you begin to understand its functionality in certain situations through trial and error. You might find months down the road you're not using it anymore because an eq move takes care of the issue. Either way, you'll probably waste money at some point. Oh well. Life. Do watch Dave Pensado's videos, they're a sea of knowledge and wisdom. The higher the level of producer you learn from, the better of a litmus test you have to discern sound from not-so-sound advice, especially technical advice. Try not to take any piece of advice as gospel on how to do something or how to approach music. Find what resonates with you the most. 'Rules aren't made to be broken, they're made to be ignored'. Dave Pensado said that. It resonates with me. Does it resonate with you? If not, feel free to argue. This isn't just about tweaking knobs and making lovely melodies. Every. Single. Successful. Musician. Has their own philosophy behind their craft.

3. Not going into the studio with any intention.

Trusting my instincts and laying down something simple in the moment and building it up from there has not only done wonders for workflow (not having to obsess over it sounding 'wrong' because it's its own thing!) but it's made music a more exciting experience. Surrendering my analytical mind and listening to what the song was trying to tell me allowed flow to take over with consistency. We like things to be well-thought out. We like to have control over our lives. I'm realizing that a lot of life skills carry over into producing, and one of those skills is getting the most out of a given situation regardless of the means at your disposal. You learn how to tweak. You learn how to experiment and adjust an idea tastefully. You develop instincts through sheer trial and error, and over time you learn to trust them. Music making starts to become more and more observational and less contrived, and starting a song becomes like planting a seed rather than building a foundation. I do end up going into a session with an idea of where to start, but the point is I no longer waste time in forcing things to sound exactly as they sound in my head.

4. Knowledge.

When I decided to put my all into this craft, I wanted to gain an insight into how successful artists approached music making. I studied everyone from Jimmy Page to Brian Eno, read countless biographies and watched a lot of production masterclasses on youtube. If you study physics, there's no getting around Newton's work, or Einstein's, or Fermi's, or Planck's, or Maxwell's. Without knowledge of what's happened before you, what springboard are you going to use to launch yourself into new territory? You going to reinvent the wheel? Study your influences, respect them, and in time you'll discover that it helps rather than hinders your pursuit of an original sound.

Research also made music less intimidating. Pros use EQ 8. Getting deep into the stories of how great music was and is made gives good sense of direction. I used to think great music was this quest for perfection, knowledge liberates you as an artist in that you learn that it's not the case.

Be open minded. I saw a thumbnail of a video on mastering and at first thought it wasn't worth a watch (when you watch enough tutorials that they all start to sound the same, you think you know enough about that topic), but I watched it anyway. I found out that when mastering it's often useful to have a ceiling a fraction of a decibel below 0db because errors in compression algorithms when turning your song into an mp3 can cause clipping of a signal that's at 0db. Really useful piece of information considering I plan to get a body of work out this year.

5. Understanding that I am just a guy making music until further notice, while understanding that with vision and incremental goal-setting, I can constantly be improving.

We make music because we love it. Sooner or later we have a choice to make: try to make something of it or keep doing it as a hobby. The former requires a belief in yourself that transcends criticism, but in order to improve you need to have the capacity to be self-critical and sometimes brutally honest with yourself. You don't have to kick yourself, just be real. If you wake up one day and think your music sucks, and believe me you will have those moments, it's not the end of the world, just figure out what leads you to believe that. Personal growth is nothing more than adaptation. Honing your sound is identifying specific areas of weakness and over a period of weeks to months improving one of those aspects. It's really that simple.

Update: To expand on the topic of studying your influences, in your search for a unique sound it helps to have an understanding of how your favorite music developed over time and where it evolved from. Getting at the heart of something helps you take it in a new direction in a way that isn't just over-complicating an already well-developed sound

What sort of 'hacks' have you guys found that improve your music making?
« Last Edit: January 17, 2017, 12:28:23 pm by 270 »

Mussar

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2017, 09:08:25 pm »
Thanks for the post! Those are all good ideas. To riff on your idea of a bigger screen, I think all laptop producers should invest in a monitor that they can use so that they aren't always staring down at their laptop. Craning your neck down like that for hours on hours is gonna lead to a lot of pain and potentially injury. You wanna make your production environment as healthy as possible so you can make as much music as possible.

The single biggest creative boost I've gotten has been turning my phone's airplane mode on before going to bed, and turning off the wi-fi on my laptop. It eliminates distractions, and since I forbid myself from turning them back on until I finish my responsibilities for the day, I always put making music at the top of my daily agenda. My mind is only aware of the work I have to do, rather than the millions of things competing for my attention span when i'm "plugged in".

I supplement that by creating something new every single day via a method called Pretotyping (a totally made up word). My Ableton instructor introduced me to the concept - you create the skeleton of an idea in a short amount of time, investing a minimal amount of energy. If a Prototype is a proof of concept, a Pretotype is a proof of a proof of concept, as confusing as that sounds. Applied to music, you could say a Prototype is a demo of a finished song and a Pretotype is a skeleton arrangement.

If you're working on a typical EDM or Pop song, you could say a skeleton of a completed song could be demonstrated in a 4x4 format: A Chorus, a Verse, a Break, and a Bridge; all containing Drums, Harmony, Bass, and Melody. Depending upon your genre this can be modified and tweaked (chorus for Drop, etc) but for getting out a musical idea quick and easy it's perfect. The idea could totally be applied to other DAWs, but it can be particularly effective in Ableton thanks to the Session View.

I've attached an ableton template file that should go in your Ableton->User Library->Templates folder that shows how the Pretotyping works in Ableton. You have a simple drum rack, an Analog for chords, an Operator for bass, and Electric for a lead melody. There's a basic reverb and delay on two return tracks, and you have scenes for each of the sections, as well as one to stop all your clips. I've also included an audio track for reference tracks, so you can use one as a guide if you're feeling lost. You just start filling out the sections, copying and editing as needed, until you've filled in all four sections in all four tracks. You don't need to even think about the arrangement view.

If you're in another DAW, the same principle applies - sketch out a basic skeletal structure for your song, without paying attention to arranging them or working on the fine details. Don't worry about mixing or processing or specific automation - you just want to be able to get the fundamental idea across when you play it back, and you want to be able to just bang it out as fast as possible. Ideally, you can complete the whole thing within 30 minutes.

Do this every single morning, and at the end of the month look over all the pretotypes you've designed. Some aren't gonna be worth continuing, and that's a good thing - you didn't waste any extra time on them, but you still got the experience of working on it. Just look for the things that are worthwhile inside of those projects and save them for later - like for another pretotype where you can just pull a drum loop or a chord progression that you never did anything with and give it a new life, or to help finish another song that you've put a lot more time into. All the ones you have left should be pretty good ideas, and you can just arrange them out, start making things unique, adding more fills and putting in all the bells and whistles - again, with no time wasted.

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2017, 01:16:09 am »
Hey Mussar big thanks for sharing the pretotyping idea! I'm still trying to find a balance between completing work and generating ideas and that sounds like a great thing to try out

alanisnotcool

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2017, 06:35:40 am »
Several less common suggestions:

Make music right after you get out of the shower, because your creativity is heightened.  Create late at night at like 12am-3am(probably not for everyone). Don't masturbate, or release in general. Your sexual energy is one of the most powerful forms of energy that one can tap into to use for intention and creativity. Take a toke of the peace pipe.  Thats all I got for now.

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2017, 12:42:54 pm »
alanisnotcool those are great points. Most of those are designed to help you unwind which is important to get in the right headspace, and masturbation or having a girlfriend may unwind you but it has a way of killing your motivation. Sexual satisfcation makes your subconscious go 'life is good, I can chill now' lol. I've heard of some entrepreneurs giving up sex for a year for this specific reason

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2017, 10:38:23 pm »
Thanks for the post! Those are all good ideas. To riff on your idea of a bigger screen, I think all laptop producers should invest in a monitor that they can use so that they aren't always staring down at their laptop. Craning your neck down like that for hours on hours is gonna lead to a lot of pain and potentially injury. You wanna make your production environment as healthy as possible so you can make as much music as possible.

The single biggest creative boost I've gotten has been turning my phone's airplane mode on before going to bed, and turning off the wi-fi on my laptop. It eliminates distractions, and since I forbid myself from turning them back on until I finish my responsibilities for the day, I always put making music at the top of my daily agenda. My mind is only aware of the work I have to do, rather than the millions of things competing for my attention span when i'm "plugged in".

I supplement that by creating something new every single day via a method called Pretotyping (a totally made up word). My Ableton instructor introduced me to the concept - you create the skeleton of an idea in a short amount of time, investing a minimal amount of energy. If a Prototype is a proof of concept, a Pretotype is a proof of a proof of concept, as confusing as that sounds. Applied to music, you could say a Prototype is a demo of a finished song and a Pretotype is a skeleton arrangement.

If you're working on a typical EDM or Pop song, you could say a skeleton of a completed song could be demonstrated in a 4x4 format: A Chorus, a Verse, a Break, and a Bridge; all containing Drums, Harmony, Bass, and Melody. Depending upon your genre this can be modified and tweaked (chorus for Drop, etc) but for getting out a musical idea quick and easy it's perfect. The idea could totally be applied to other DAWs, but it can be particularly effective in Ableton thanks to the Session View.

I've attached an ableton template file that should go in your Ableton->User Library->Templates folder that shows how the Pretotyping works in Ableton. You have a simple drum rack, an Analog for chords, an Operator for bass, and Electric for a lead melody. There's a basic reverb and delay on two return tracks, and you have scenes for each of the sections, as well as one to stop all your clips. I've also included an audio track for reference tracks, so you can use one as a guide if you're feeling lost. You just start filling out the sections, copying and editing as needed, until you've filled in all four sections in all four tracks. You don't need to even think about the arrangement view.

If you're in another DAW, the same principle applies - sketch out a basic skeletal structure for your song, without paying attention to arranging them or working on the fine details. Don't worry about mixing or processing or specific automation - you just want to be able to get the fundamental idea across when you play it back, and you want to be able to just bang it out as fast as possible. Ideally, you can complete the whole thing within 30 minutes.

Do this every single morning, and at the end of the month look over all the pretotypes you've designed. Some aren't gonna be worth continuing, and that's a good thing - you didn't waste any extra time on them, but you still got the experience of working on it. Just look for the things that are worthwhile inside of those projects and save them for later - like for another pretotype where you can just pull a drum loop or a chord progression that you never did anything with and give it a new life, or to help finish another song that you've put a lot more time into. All the ones you have left should be pretty good ideas, and you can just arrange them out, start making things unique, adding more fills and putting in all the bells and whistles - again, with no time wasted.


Be my friend!
I kind of know what you have to do but don't do it ;lakjd;flkjad;fjkl I'm going to try out the airplane mode plus no internet I get distracted so easily

Rixir

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2017, 10:44:37 pm »
Create late at night at like 12am-3am(probably not for everyone). Don't masturbate, or release in general. Your sexual energy is one of the most powerful forms of energy that one can tap into to use for intention and creativity.

Most of those are designed to help you unwind which is important to get in the right headspace, and masturbation or having a girlfriend may unwind you but it has a way of killing your motivation. Sexual satisfcation makes your subconscious go 'life is good, I can chill now' lol. I've heard of some entrepreneurs giving up sex for a year for this specific reason

That's really interesting, I never thought of sexual energy as a creative aid until now and it makes sense!

Sleep deprivation is a very helpful way of getting in a more creative headspace. Madeon talks a lot about how he utilizes sleep deprivation and he has said that once a year he locks himself in his studio and spends 24 hours straight writing an EP. He says the creative frustration and sleep deprivation puts him in a "weird vulnerable state" (he actually wrote my favorite song of his doing this challenge). Deadmau5 talked about it for a bit in his masterclass and said a lot of his best ideas come at around 3-6am. He talked about it in this YouTube video w/ Steve Duda too: https://youtu.be/u3Gqj1MURco

"There's some real science to this shit" lol but like you said though, that method is not for everyone.

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Re: Finding ways to boost creativity
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2017, 12:11:26 pm »
Rixir I can confirm the sleep deprivation one, the part of your brain that likes to object to things just gets so sick and tired of working so it shuts off. It really, really sucks though.