Paralyzed by Choice

Imposing artificial limits to spark creativity


As mentioned in my last post, I’m currently in the middle of coming up with ideas for a couple of new tracks.  If I’m trying create a melodic or percussive pattern, there are an infinite number of combinations of properties of sound which could make up that pattern… i.e. varying rhythm, length, envelope, pitch, density, etc… and this is without considering the sound’s timbre.  To that point, when producing electronic music ‘in the box’, ‘where to start’ can be hard to decide.  I think the number of instrument plug-ins I own is very conservative compared to friends who are producing, and other artists I read about in magazines.  Yet, if I want to start making a lead or bass sound, I’ve got over 10 virtual synths to choose from, and that doesn’t include my lone hardware synth, nor the ones that came with Reaper.  It’s easy to be so overwhelmed with choice, you don’t even know where to start.

This problem is not new to electronic music.. it’s something that musicians and artists have faced ever since there have been musicians and artists.  For lyric and song writers, one remedy for this situation is the the ‘cut up technique‘… apparently used by numerous famous musicians including David Bowie and Kurt Cobain.  When a song writer can’t find a starting point, they take a newspaper or similar, cut out a bunch of random words, mix them up, and write a song using only those words.  Imposing an artificial limitation, and then forcing yourself to work within that limitation is a proven way to ignite inspiration.

Over the last 6 months, I’ve found that equivalent techniques of imposing some kind of artificial limit on your choices can really help to get things moving when you’re  stuck for ideas. For example in the  aforementioned case of trying to come up with a bass or lead line,  I’ll pick just one instrument, and resolve myself to making the part using just that instrument.

Similarly, if I’m looking for a percussive sound… say a hihat sample… I’ve got at least 6 or 7 sample packs which contain decent hi hat sounds… to audition all of them could potentially mean cycling through close to 1000 samples. What I’ll often do is restrict myself to one sample pack, and decide that ‘I have to find a decent sound within just this  pack’.

In current music production it’s very easy to get paralyzed by an over abundance of choice.  Sometimes artificially limiting this choice can be a good antidote.

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