Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making Music: Five Unusual Sources of Inspiration

Here is an unusual list of ideas and suggestions for anyone struggling to find musical inspiration. There are loads of good and popular ideas out there (Google is your friend) but these are some of the more unusual ones that nobody ever suggested to me. They might apply to you, even if the inspiration you seek is not musical at all (artistic perhaps?), but I won't guarantee it!

1. Listen to music you've made

In a time when you're creatively depressed or uninspired, you might be immediately drawn to listen to your influences. But sometimes, although enjoyable, that can leave you drained and even more depressed. I sometimes find it useful to listen to music I created a few years ago. 

Instead of seeing your goals as "awfully far away" or "impossible to reach," you might find yourself saying "wow, this feels like just yesterday and it's terrible" or "how on earth did I do that?" and totally reinventing yourself.

Another thing to point out about this is that often, where you start out is where you develop from, and by listening to stuff you did ages ago you can often hear more clearly any annoying traits that have carried on into your newer material. When you listen to your newer material or start something new, it'll bug you with big flashy warning lights and ultimately help you grow.

2. Get outside!

Seriously, nature is amazing. Take a walk/jog/run, preferably somewhere you love like a beach, forest, field or whatever you have access to. My personal favourite is a forest. I'd probably rather cycle, swim or do yoga than walk/run but for some reason I find it more musically inspiring than any other physical exercise I've tried. It probably depends on the music you're writing, but for me I think in this case the inspiration is something to do with the rhythm, but don't be deterred - some of my craziest melodic ideas came from walks in the forest - even classical compositions. The tricky part for me with that sort of thing is acting on them, coming from an electronic/dance mindset, but that's a whole different story.

3. Silence

For this one I give credit to an interview I read on Desmond Williams a few years ago (I can't believe I found it again!). His philosophy is a bit extreme, but I think he has a point. Sometimes we bombard ourselves with music we love, getting overwhelmed and directionless.

And again back to the first point - sometimes I go a few days not listening to anything, except occasionally some old stuff of mine. It can either help me kick an annoying musical habit, or help me hone in on what I do well and develop a personal style or sound.

4. Keep trying

I've often heard it recommended that you take a break, but I've only really found it helpful when I had no computer for five months... Five IMMENSELY PAINFUL months of DYING to make music and having no outlet. My advice would be to keep trying. Besides, not everyone has time for a break.

If you keep trying to come up with something and find it stressful (e.g. because of a deadline), then yes, take a break (like number 2, not like five months!), but if you can relax and plough on for hour upon hour, fruitlessly without stressing, DO IT. Eventually you will hit something cool. Save it and ride the wave. If you feel you're losing the plot again, be ruthless and delete everything that isn't just as cool. If your deadline isn't looming, keep the special bit to listen to for a few days until you come up with something up to your standards.

5. Try out demos

If you're working with software, try out some demos! I have an example where I recently was on the verge of buying a softsynth I'd been lusting after. As my final deciding test, I created a song using just it (with various unwanted gaps of silence inserted by the demo version, but it was liveable). Then I replaced every instance of it with something in my existing arsenal. Suddenly I was totally convinced out of buying it! I found I could do everything I wanted with what I already had.

It's a useful, simple lesson to keep in mind. The same can be applied elsewhere - I might be able to get the same snare sound out of my snare as one I've been lusting after; the same level of intricacy in my song as that of some pioneer who swears that his gear is better than mine; the same grades as the guy sitting next to me, e.t.c. If you apply yourself, you can make far more out of the gear in front of you than everyone else simply because you believed it possible, when they all bought the same alluring thing you'd been lusting after. The best bit for me is that all my plugins are freeware.

That's it for now - hope you find it useful. Pop by next Sunday, as this blog will be a weekly thing. In the meantime, your comments and inspiration tips are welcome!

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