Musician’s block can come at the worst of times, even if you’re really in the mood to compose a new track, the flow just isn’t there! This can be very frustrating, and there’s no quick solution. But, there are ways to ensure you defeat creative block and come back to your workstation with a fresh mindset and new ideas when the time is right.
Here are seven ways you can overcome musician’s block…
1. Stop trying and take a break
This is the first step in clearing your mind and coming out of that mental cage you’ve created. Do nothing for at least 20 minutes, make a cup of tea and relax. Your music isn’t going anywhere. It will be here today, tomorrow; the day after… Do something passive like watch TV/video, or simply nothing at all. Take as long as you want, sometimes you’ve just expelled all of your creative energy and need some time to recharge.
If you find your mind is starting to generate ideas again, write them down for later, in whatever way works best for you. The most important thing is that you’re taking your mind off the music and focusing on something else completely for a while.
2. Listen to music
This one should be obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. If you’re trying to make a track with a certain sound, then listen to as much of that kind of music music as possible; and do so critically; don’t just let it wash over you, dedicate your mind to the music. If for example, you’re trying to achieve the sound of an emotional soundtrack, but you’re lacking the dynamics or authenticity – search out as many film soundtracks as you can and listen to them, really get a feel for how they sound and what makes them so impactful. Enjoy listening to the music – this is the single-most important aspect of this strategy and it should not be ignored.
3. Do Some tweaking with what you have
Having musicians block gives you time to touch up on your current project or another project, maybe adjust the mix or try some effects out, organise your tracks, cut out some imperfections. This stuff is much more procedural and doesn’t require the same kind of creative mindset as composition. This kind of therapeutic and repetitive work can help bring new ideas to the surface for later.
Other repetitive, mundane tasks can be surprisingly useful at clearing your mind too, cleaning your workstation and tidying up for example. These tasks can be entrancing and help greatly take your mind off the music for a while, which is exactly what your need when your brain is in overdrive trying to break through a dead-end. That wall is there so you can take a step back.
4. Study to refresh your memory and learn new concepts
It could be, that part of the problem is down to having used up all of the tools in your mental palette. If you find yourself stuck in a rut with the same old ideas, it might be a good idea to brush up on your music theory and production techniques. You’ve hit a skill ‘ceiling’ and need to break through.
Study the circle of fifths, different scales – even if you think you know all of this knowledge, the reality is sometimes our minds need “rejogging” and this can help kick them back into gear. If you still don’t know all the fundamentals of music theory, studying the theoretical material properly can be the most effective way to overcome musicians block and help create more professional sounding compositions.
5. Analyse iconic musicians and producers
Reading articles written by inspirational composers and producers can help wipe the old ways from your mind and boost your creative potential.
Watching interviews can be great, especially if the musicians being interviewed are genuinely passionate about the music they create. For example, I’m a huge fan of Chris Thile and The Punch Brothers, and in this interview you can really see how enthusiastic he is about the music produced by him and his band.
It can remind you to take your music seriously, and treat it like any other well-honed profession. This is really useful for gaining back any lost self-esteem, as quite often thinking negatively, or under-valuing your knowledge and skills, can really affect your ability to let your creative process flow naturally. Seeing that passion and dedication in others can remind you of times you’ve felt the same way, and may light the spark that will inspire you to keep producing!
6. Give yourself a deadline
Humans thrive under pressure. Why is it so many people can’t get work done until the last minute? Because that’s when the pressure kicks in. Giving yourself a deadline means you’ll have to think of something. You can even use micro-deadlines to make sure you meet your full deadline. For example, give yourself 10 minutes to build a groove and 30 minutes to build a melody. Make sure you get each thing done before the deadline. The more of these micro-deadlines you build the more structure you’ll give to the creative process. This probably won’t work as effectively subsequent times, however it’s useful discipline even when it’s creativity enhancing effects wear off.
7. Change your surroundings
If you feel a sense of dread and despair when you look away from the screen and at your current environment, there’s probably a good reason. Move somewhere else for a while.
If you’re a bedroom producer, you likely spend a large amount of time in that room doing your thing, all the while with the same monotonous surroundings. Sometimes it can make your head spin in circles just thinking about it, if you’ve been in there long enough.
Even if you don’t have the means to produce music elsewhere, getting out of that room for a while and taking frequent breaks is highly recommended – with the portability of technology nowadays you’ll at least be able to jot down ideas while you’re away.
So that’s it, a simple 7 ways to overcome musicians block. There are many reasons for musicians block, and you should be as introspective as possible when you’re experiencing a creative drought, so you can learn better on how to solve the problem next time. You’ll also learn something about yourself too. Negative mindsets, excessive ego, low self-esteem and depression are just some things that can really hinder your ability to be creative. It’s often the case that our mindset is what’s causing the hindrance, unbeknownst to ourselves.
The main key to overcoming creative block, in many cases, is to just do plenty of other things. The variance of life will provide you with plenty of inspiration.
Now after a few days you can rest assured having followed even some of this advice, you’ll be feeling more creative the next time you approach your DAW, and ready to compose.
After some time being a producer you will find which ways work best for you, feel free to share any of your own tips in the comments…