How to overcome writer's block, get you unstuck with your beat and replenish your creativity
You most certainly know those moments when you feel the irresistible urge to create, but at the same time, you feel absolutely creatively depleted and out of ideas. A writer's block is simply something that almost every single artist on this planet experienced at least once in his life, and in some cases, those blocks took even years to break. But with the right mindset, it doesn't have to be that hard to beat it.
I tend to imagine one's creativity and inspiration like those little health/hunger/happiness/need-to-pee bars in The Sims, each being depleted by certain actions and likewise, each also being regenerated by different actions. Despite it's a bit more complicated for actual humans with each one of us being unique, I believe there are some common principles we can take advantage of to get through our creative blocks effectively, without losing too much time we could spend on making dope beats instead.
To be honest, I am not exactly the type of person who would come from work every day with a bright, sparkling idea for a new tune, it's more like the opposite. I have no idea what exactly I want to create, I just know I have to do it and when I don't do it, after a short period of time I become unhappy. Waiting for a miraculous stroke of inspiration is obviously not an option, so I have developed a few techniques that can help me with starting new beats or finishing the unfinished ones so I don't waste my time waiting, making my efforts way more productive. Now I'd love to share those techniques with you so they may help you on your journey, too.
Get done what needs to be done first
Now this is a bit of very personal advice and if you're a busy person, it's sometimes almost impossible to do, but to me, it's extremely helpful when I clear my TODO list completely (meaning I do all my duties) before I even open my DAW. It's simply because with clearing my TODO list I am also clearing my mind, freeing it from all the possible stress coming from deadlines, giving me the much-desired peace of mind needed for me to get 120% in the zone. When there are duties, obligations or deadlines in front of me I have to think about, I feel constantly a bit stressed and under pressure, which negatively impacts the quality of the music I produce, as I tend to hurry to finish the beat just to have it done. Sometimes I can't even get myself to open a DAW because of how much "blocked" this can get me. So yep, if you're suffering from writer's block, clearing your TODO list first might give you a nice kick.
Clean your room
Alright, this one is kinda classic advice (and kinda extension of the previous one), but I noticed that for me, it just works. Although I have, ehm, higher threshold for the amount of mess around me I can tolerate, cleaning up my room has proven to be an another nice way of also cleaning my mind and smoothly slipping into "all done, free to play" mindset after I get back home from work, which is so helpful for actually getting into the zone. Also, this reminds me of Andrew Huang (one of the most prolific producers I know), whose studio is absolutely clean and minimalistic with white walls and no unneeded stuff in it at all, and that is (by his own words) because there is literally nothing that could distract his mind from the music he wants to make. An interesting point I would say!
Listen to different music
Very obvious advice, but a very powerful one. Even Picasso knew that drawing inspiration from other artists is one of the best things to do - you may remember that famous quote that is commonly being attributed to him: "Good artists copy; great artists steal." After all, our minds are just filters, learning stuff, soaking knowledge and ideas, filtering out the good and more or less knowingly combining it into something new. I have made a few tunes where I let myself clearly get inspired by the sound of other artists (however, without blatantly stealing from them of course), and one time I felt so inspired after listening to a sad future garage beat, that I just went and made my own one (and despite I have never done it before, that beat feels actually really dope)! Also, listening to what other people in the same subgenre are doing analytically can teach you a FUCKING LOT. And by analytically, I mean that you sit down, pick up a pen and paper (or open your Evernote) and actually write down all you can hear in the tune, marking down the BPM, length, structure, transitional elements and whole lot more of other useful stuff - and then you learn from it. Anyway, I'm thinking about covering this topic more in-depth in another article, so it's time for another advice.
Play a game, watch a movie or TV series
I don't know how about you, but to me being an adult does not equal getting rid of your imagination, acting and thinking serious all day. Reality can be quite boring sometimes, so I keep my inner child close and I really love getting lost in a great story, or even better, in a great universe. There was a time in my life where I started to despise playing videogames, seeing it as a waste of time I could otherwise meaningfully invest into my musical ambitions. But after reaching my first burnout, I realized it's a really great way of letting some steam off AND sometimes even a nice way of getting inspired (plus you can sample the shit out of them)! And the same goes for movies and TV shows - it's a cheap way of taking your mind to some completely different place for a short while, a place that won't just make you forget about the shit you think about all day, but a place that can possibly inspire you and spark new ideas in your mind.
Get out there and find some real new inspiration (or at least, get out there)
Unless you're a super adventurous type, you will sooner or later fall into a routine in your life. And however routine itself is perfectly OK (it's simply unavoidable sometimes), for your creativity it can be destructive. After all - doing the same things again and again, talking to the very same people, seeing the same scenery every day is not exactly a thing to inspire you, is it? (Unless you are very lucky and your surroundings are inspiring as hell.) And that's why experiencing new things (let it be inside or outside your comfort zone) can be very refreshing for your creativity. You don't exactly have to take a trip around the world to break your writer's block, but even a such a simple thing as a beautiful sunset seen from a hill behind the town can give you sometimes so much inspiration it's simply worth trying out. And even something so easy to do as taking a walk around the block or walking the dog can at least help you to clear your head, even if it won't inspire you that much probably.
Like, exercise, at least sometimes! Although this is not my favorite way of resting my head as I am quite lazy and tend to use all my time to create, getting your body some movement will benefit you more than you may think. It will efficiently prevent eventual health problems caused by long periods of sitting (which can become a serious problem especially for office rats like me who spend all their work time in a chair), not to mention you will be fit and in a good shape, but most importantly to our topic, it will help you relax your mind.
Let it be for a while
There are probably more ways one could understand that title, but this advice is related to the situation when you're working on a beat and you just can't get it finished. I have wasted a lot of hours on a various project only to find myself shifting things back and forth without any real progress with the beat itself (sometimes I was actually making it even worse). Now despite how much I hate leaving things unfinished, in such cases, it can paradoxically be the best thing you can do. Once we spend a certain amount of time on a tune, hearing it for hours on the loop, our minds get so much locked to what we already have in our DAW that it can get very difficult to break out of that mindset and add something new and creative. Leaving it for a couple of days (or even a weeks or months if you don't haste) will reset your mindset regarding that particular tune and when you get to it back again, you'll be able to come up with fresh ideas again and hear things you got too used to before to hear them anymore.
Jam with your friends, collaborate
Sometimes the best things are those you don't plan much. Inviting a friend or two over for a beer and a little jam can prove to be a gamechanger. In our country, we have a saying "more heads know more" and I think it applies well to this very situation. A riff one person comes up with can spark an idea in the mind of another and before you realize it, you have a raw version of a new tune almost finished. Of course, not everybody has this kind of musician/producer friends, but hey, there's also the internet with Reddit, Facebook groups and way more, so there is always a way of finding like-minded peers and collaborate at least online.
Another advice to get you unstuck is to borrow a few other pairs of ears (and brains). As mentioned in the previous advice, once you get locked too much to the bit you already wrote, it's hard to come up with something new to add. Other people opinions can help tremendously in such moments, often suggesting things you wouldn't even think about, or mentioning things you got so much used to during the process that you're overlooking their obvious shortcomings (eg shitty snare sound). Then it's only up to you which suggestions you'll abandon and which ones you'll take to the heart and try to implement.
Push it as hard as you can - but at the same time, don't push it THAT much
Sounds funny, right? But don't worry, I'll explain. Despite I feel like not many people favor this option, but to me, it's one of the absolute gems when I simply don't feel inspired enough to start a new beat (and that is, frankly, quite often). In such cases, I just push myself through it, open the DAW and start with a small goal for the evening, like making just a nice beat, designing some interesting sound or finding a good sample (that's above-mentioned "not pushing that much"). Usually, I get to reach that first little goal, so I have at least something to be happy about, and then, if I still have time, I try to take it even a bit further. This is often the hardest part for me, to not close my DAW when I reach like three hours in this second stage without any significant results, but it proved to be a lot of times that if I don't quit there, usually a breakthrough comes shortly after and before I go to bed, I have some solid idea in my hands I can build upon in the upcoming days. A lot of people say that they only make beats when they really feel like it, but to me has proven that when I try to resist and push it by force, it can yield some really great results. (To be honest, if I produced only when I really feel like it, I would probably make no more than four beats a year).
EDIT: Just a day after I wrote this post, I ran into a Youtube channel called "You Suck At Producing" (well worth following btw) and I noticed the guy actually made a video about writer's block that advises exactly this very same thing. The world sure is a small place!
Or let yourself just play
To add to the previous point, sometimes it's nice to not set any goals and just play around a bit. Watching a few tutorials here and there, trying out some new VSTs and experimenting without a bigger picture in mind can sometimes lead you to interesting places, and even if it won't spark inspiration for a whole new tune, you can always save the useful bits to use them later. For example, one of my favorite things to do in "play mode" is trying to recreate a random melodic sample I find on Splice with VSTs, so I can then alter the melody to my likings if I happen to be successful with the sound design.
Diversify your endeavors and use your skills to the max
If you know how to use your time well, the writer's block doesn't have to be THAT bad after all. Actually, you can use it to take some rest from producing music while still working on some other music-related stuff. You can use that DAW-free time for practicing your ukulele play, you can use it to record your own sample pack (and possibly make some bucks from it afterward), you can use it to set up a website, shoot some teaser videos for your upcoming tunes, record a short tutorial on a given topic, write a blog post like this... I could go on forever but I guess you get it. My point basically is that even if you don't feel like making music at all, you can still invest 100% of that time that you'd otherwise spend on some relaxing, but not music related things, into your music, just in a different way - marketing it and creating interesting content around it. You would still have to spend some of your time doing this after all (as in this digital, streaming age, getting a word out there is equally important to actually making good music), and I think this is a nice, clever way, how to find some time for it - you're basically multitasking as you are pushing your music further but taking a break from it at the same time.
First time on my blog?
Welcome! My name is Pao and I'm the person behind this whole website. Besides making music myself whenever I can, I also write this blog and curate Spotify playlists. Feel free to explore it here a bit - I believe you will find some interesting stuff around ^^