How To Work Through Creative Blocks

by Soul Surplus Staff April 23, 2018 2 Comments

How To Work Through Creative Blocks

Last week we dropped a podcast episode discussing workflow and tips for increasing productivity with your production. Wes and Smythe took time to discuss everything from having gear routed and powered on, efficient templates and daily goals. If you missed it check it out!

With today’s blog post I wanted to focus on another thing that kills productivity and workflow—creative blocks! Often times as producers and musicians we hit creative blocks where we feel uninspired. This roadblock can come in many forms, whether it’s a spot in a song’s creation where one can’t hear what to develop next during a work day; or maybe it’s months or even years at a time where someone can’t push past being creatively “stuck.” Whatever place on the dark spectrum of blankness you may have been or even find yourself now, I can relate and I look to give several pointers that I’ve learned along the way, from other successful musicians and producers, to fight the creative “funk,” that creeps in more often than we all would like!

Collaborate, Win With Friends!

A first suggestion, that may be so easily assumed, to fight against the “creative/production block” is the need for collaboration and feedback. It is pretty normal for us producers and composers to “get in our own heads” and halt the creative process by being our own biggest critic. Obviously the nature of a lot of our own work calls for independent development and creation, but anyone who collaborates often, and reaps the benefits of hearing other’s opinions, know how valuable it is. You could think you made the hottest beat (or the worst one), while letting the opinion of others’ ears—who are credible and trustworthy—may let you know just how good (or bad) it really is. Even moreover upon this idea of collaboration I’ve many times let my production partners hear the very basic rough skeleton of an idea that I thought was horrible; they were able to tell me that the idea was worth pursuing and even able to contribute elements that pushed me forward past the place that I stopped on the record. Effective collaboration like this works to fight “creative blocks” only when egos and pride are put to the side. This isn’t the time to be greedy about publishing points or be insecure about your own abilities; the best music composers want the best idea to come to the forefront, even if it means that they get out of the way for it to happen. And hey, it’s ultimately just way more fun to win and make good music with friends than by yourself!

Take a Break...

Secondly, in order for many of us producers to push past times of being uninspired we simply just need to learn when to take breaks and when to leave a song or composition alone! Usually coming back to something with a clear head and different perspective can create a more honest listening environment. What many of us call “demo ear” can really play a part in being a leading culprit in the foundation of writer’s block and being uninspired. If you are too familiar with a song you may move into a place of complacency or be in autopilot while listening ultimately not lending any fresh perspective on where new creativity can take place. This is why stepping away from a song and workspace (and when I say stepping away, I mean physically) can be crucial in sparking creativity. Leave your home studio or wherever you work and live life in between work cycles. Go see a movie, take a drive and have a nice dinner, play some ball or hit the gym…or best of all, GO TO SLEEP! ( I can’t tell you how many times my partners and I are up late in the studio delusional, not sure of what we are creating when really it’s just time to stop the session and go to bed!) You would be surprised at where a song can go after even just a short break and you will be even more surprised at what our brains are capable of when given a break (technically the brain can subconsciously be working out the creative block and/or receiving sparks of inspiration from other environments and experiences while you consciously are focused on entertainment or relaxation/rest—but hey, I’m no scientist looking for a psychological debate!). For many of us the “next day challenge” is key for determining a great song. If you wake up and it’s good tomorrow to a number of people, it may be a keeper. But really let your brain, ears and eyes rest from a project—they deserve it, and it may ultimately make a better final product.

(Pic via Ableton)

Get to Work!

Many find that they collaborate well and have no problem with stepping away from work to take breaks and get rest—in fact some of us find ourselves resting too much. The battle we face as producers (whether you are self-employed creatives/freelancers and entrepreneurs or day job hustlers creating after hours trying to make music production our main gig) is that we sometimes struggle with laziness by using “creativity breaks” as excuses to not work or deliver on a project. I recently had the honor of attending a VIP talk before her performance here in Philly with the amazing soul artist, Emily King. During the Q&A portion of her talk she told an attendee that many times her fight against writer’s block and being uninspired is to just get to work anyway. She honestly admitted that she struggles with laziness and that she always needs to ‘lock in and create in order for inspiration to come!’ Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for agreeing with the OG’s like Dr Dre who say, “…deadlines kill creativity.” However, what I’m speaking of is when this idea is abused and you aren’t working because you say you don’t ‘FEEL’ inspired. The nature of our work is that it can be draining because it constantly pulls on a very high level of sensory processing and brain activity. Anyone who doesn’t think it is “work” doesn’t really know the process. For many of us who make it our livelihood, whether or not we” feel inspired” just doesn’t cut it in the workforce. Inspiration takes discipline, consistency and work ethic. With this consistency in work comes exploration and discovery! Many times ultimate creativity and inspiring ideas have to be discovered, so just sit down and work, inspiration will come to the diligent!


- John McNeill

Soul Surplus Staff
Soul Surplus Staff


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