Some of us encounter writer’s block as a temporary phenomenon that comes from mental exhaustion, imbalance in life and other things along those lines. Those can be cured easily by taking a vacation, resting, fixing the things that cause the imbalances, but…
Some of us simply got into a routine that used to be very effective but doesn’t serve us anymore, maybe we want our music to sound more interesting, more polished, maybe we just want to feel more fun in the production process.
A long time ago, when I worked on a beat with a rapper, I accidentally said I was thinking about stopping my music production and doing something else in the music industry. His friend heard me, I saw that he was interested in knowing why I thought that way. I told him that I was tired of the process, that I had less energy than I used to. He wasn’t a musician, just smart and attentive to his own heart, but he listened and thought for several seconds, then he said:
“You know what you need? You need to surprise yourself.”
I thought to myself: “What an amazingly simple revelation!” It makes sense. But the question now is “How can I surprise myself?”
Here are some ways to do so:
- If you do only instrumentals, try to use more vocals, if singing doesn’t fit because you want to keep it without lyrics, try to use vocal chops, or synthesizing using a vocal sound as the source.
- If you usually quantize all your drums, try quantizing only some of the drums, or partially quantizing your drums but leaving the groove and feel intact. This option is called iterative quantize or soft quantize on Cubase.
- If you always stay on the same tempo for the whole song, try playing with the tempo and see what emotional impact you can achieve with it. There are many songs that use elastic tempo, all the way from old classical music, it will give you a new tool to capture your audience and create new experiences for them.
Examples of unquantized rhythm and synthesizing by replacing sound source:
Of course those are basic ideas, but you can go advanced in a second if you’re willing to try:
- Writing counterpoint / countermelodies to the simple melodies you usually use.
- Tracing a hit song and using its structure and sections in order to give your songs a fresh new development. You can actually take this deeper and learn what other music genres do to achieve their energy burst at the peak section. For example if you are writing EDM you can research the peak section of Rock, Irish music, Psychedelic Trance and so on.
- Choose a live instrument that has various expressions which are hard to achieve through midi and samples and record their expressions to inject life into boring loops.
Obviously the ideas of how to surprise yourself are endless, but they have one thing in common: change.
They all involve changing something about where you are standing right now, it could be your knowledge, skills, sound library, tools… anything. The whole point of surprising yourself is to get a result that will make you go: “wow, haven’t done that before, I really like it.”
Just remember, bigger challenges pay bigger rewards, be adventurous, be open minded and share music you enjoy creating.