[This is a guest post from Ilpo Karkkainen aka Resound from resoundsound.com.]
So you’re stuck working on a track and don’t know what to do next.
Don’t you just love it when that happens?
I wanted to share a few workflow techniques I like to use to solve these situations.
Hopefully they will put a bit of zen into your production.
Let’s get your head straight first:
Stop banging your head to the wall and trying too damned hard.
Try not to worry about it too much, really.
Think of it as nothing but a part of the creative process. It’s a continuous cycle of ups and downs. Standard procedure. You’ll get past it.
Just set yourself up for the right conditions.
Here are a few practical techniques to try that are proven to work for me.
As different as they are, there is one common nominator with all of these techniques:
They all involve coming in from a different angle.
Take away everything that is not essential and everything you are not 100% happy with — this opens up avenues for new ideas.
You might even realize you were concentrating on the wrong thing the whole time. You might actually solve your problem by removing something else from the equation. [ Zencha: This is very much like the idea of minimalism I talk about. Focus on the core of your song. ]
2). Do the opposite of what you were trying to do.
It’s common to get stuck up thinking about a problem in a certain way. Force yourself to do something different. Make small things sound big. Make big things sound small. Use rhythm instead of melody. You get the idea. [ Z: Try using Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards created by Brian Eno. Lateral thinking is great! ]
3). Work on a different part of the structure
If you’re stuck with the middle section, start working on the intro. You might come up with something that you can use to unlock the middle section. Sometimes it’s merely a progression thing – almost like watching a puzzle come together on it’s own.
4). Use a different platform/DAW
This probably sounds a bit far out for many. But trust me – I speak from personal experience. This is a VERY powerful tip.
I was purely working in Logic for 10 years. But ever since I picked up Maschine and then Ableton Live… I find myself getting over different problems much quicker.
When I’m working on one platform and get stuck, I can use one of the others to get around the problem.
Using a different platform forces you to do things in a different way. It also provides you with a different set of possible variations and lucky accidents to happen. [ Z: I can absolutely vouch for this. New tools are often the best way to solve a problem because they force you to approach it at a new angle. ]
5). Make random your best friend
Speaking of lucky accidents… Make use of all possible ways to utilize randomness to provide you with new angles.
If the synth you are using has a random button – use it. Try transposing things up or down randomly. Play with the timing of notes. Cut up beats or vocals in a completely berserk way, then take the good bits and build on those. Or go for the classic grand daddy of all random: the reverse effect.
Loads of possibilities… just open your eyes to them.
6). Ask for help or collaborate with someone
I am very careful about showing my unfinished stuff around these days, but I don’t hesitate to ask for a fresh perspective if the situation calls for it. If things go really bad, you could always ask another person to take over or add something of their own to it. Collaboration is gold.
7). Take a break
I wanted to save the last spot for the most obvious one. Not because it’s obvious, but because it works. Give your brain something else to think about for a bit. The unconscious part of your mind will keep on working on the problem.
Also make sure you feel well physically – eat well, drink enough water and get some fresh air. Your brain is like an engine – only a lot more complex. You have to provide it with what it needs to run or it will fail you. If you’re tired and hungry, it’s very likely you will only make things worse when trying to solve a problem.
[ Z: And don't forget to smile ].
What do you like to do when stuck on a project? Let us know in the comments below.
Ilpo Karkkainen aka Resound is a music producer, DJ and writer from Finland. He runs resoundsound.com – a blog about electronic music production.