Getting Into a Mental Space To Be Creative

If you want to make the most the time you devote to writing or producing, you can’t constrain yourself to only working effectively when you feel inspired

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In my usual (i.e pre-2016) work as a system engineer, I never used to have to think much about getting into the right mental space in order to work productively.  Ofcourse making software is fundamentally a very different discipline to producing music, but I always found with software I could start working pretty much immediately… there was a clear, tangible problem that needed to be solved, and to get to the solution you just had to start working on it.

With music production it’s often very different… to be effective (and sometimes just to get started well), it’s important to be in a creative headspace.  This is moreso the case with certain stages of the production process… e.g. being in a creative headspace is much more important if I’m trying to come up with new parts or tracks, than it is if I’m doing something more routine like mixing.

Also, the success of the start of a day producing can be heavily influenced by the success (of lack thereof) of the previous day.  Specifically… if I’ve ended the previous day frustrated that no good ideas were coming, or trying unsuccessfully to fix a problem in the mix, it could make it more difficult to motivate yourself, and to get off to a positive start.

So, it’s critical to try and get yourself into a mental space that’s conducive to being creative… and a really good routine I’ve found to do this is…

  1. Start the morning in a place separate to the studio – It can be difficult/intense to spend 8+ hours a day in a single room… I particularly found this in early 2016, having come from a busy and spacious office environment and constantly changing locations (for meetings etc…), to being stuck in one small room and in front of a PC all day.  I would always start the day in a completely separate physical space (usually a coffee shop close to home).
  2. Listen to some music you like – This is something I usually do while having said coffee.  It always helps to spur creativity by absorbing inspiring examples from the same creative discipline.
  3. Read some material which gets you thinking in depth about producing – For me, this is the most important technique… if I can read something inspiring about production (or in fact anything music related), it immerses your thoughts in that space, and has a hugely positive effect on getting you into a creative place.  It’s also a great antidote to the kind of frustrations or lack of inspiration mentioned above… often giving you fresh ideas, or approaches on how to attack a problem.  Specifically, the material I commonly use is…
  • Inspiring music news sites and blogs (CDM is a favourite for me)
  • Seeing how other producers approach their work (e.g video channels like Fact TV and Electronic Beats)
  • Magazines like Sound on Sound… esp practical columns like Session Notes, Inside Track, and Mix Rescue

Inspiration tends to come and go unpredictably… and if you want to make the most the time you devote to writing or producing, you can’t constrain yourself to only working effectively when you feel inspired.  Being able to put yourself into a more creative headspace moves you towards having more control over periods of inspiration, and allows you to best utilize your time.

Getting Comfortable With Your Environment

I’m back in Sydney for the lead up to Christmas, and using the last months of 2016 to try and turn some ideas into finalized tracks.  Today was my first day working in my ‘other studio’ (i.e. the spare room of my families’ house)… and although I’ve bought all my key pieces of gear with me (PC, audio interface, mic, Volca synths, etc…), I’m back to using my old monitors, and ofcourse in a different room to what I’m used to.  These two things are fairly fundamental differences on their own, but what surprised me working today, was how much smaller differences can disrupt your inspiration and workflow when you’re used to working in a routine process and environment.  Looking back, when I left Tokyo last week, I’d been working in the same physical place, and developed a routine over 6 consecutive months.  It surprised me today how much I missed small routines that make up the working day producing… going to the convenience store to get a coffee, going for a quick break at a cafe etc.  The options for a lot of these breaks and routines outside the studio are very restricted when working in the outer suburbs of Sydney as compared to the centre of Tokyo… for example (as I found tonight) finishing work at 9PM and expecting to go around the corner for a quick beer is not an option.

I was surprised also, how used to and comfortable with my monitors and room sound I had become in Tokyo.  I’m back now with my old monitors which have a significantly different frequency response, and a room which is unfortunately square-shaped and has some really serious null points in the bass frequencies.  I had developed a lot of confidence for trusting my ear, especially when applying EQ… but found today that I had to make changes very cautiously.

But, a change of environment is not all bad.  I’m a big fan of using natural percussive ‘found sounds’ as part of my tracks, and after one day of being surrounded by new, random objects which could become a percussive sound source, I’ve already got several objects I want to sample, and ideas for how to build tracks around them.