10 Ways to Get Inspired, and How to Capture Those Ideas
Let’s face it, creative blocks are horrible. You want to write something, and you have this grand idea in your head but you can’t seem to make it a reality, so you end up fidgeting with your guitar or staring at a nearly blank DAW; I think nearly every creative person has these slumps, and they can leave you frustrated. Well, today we’re going to talk about 10 ways to get over that slump, and how to make your musical ideas into reality.
1: Record a Voice Memo or Video
Inspiration can come at very random times and is often fleeting. Using your phone’s video or voice memo function is a great way to get that idea to a physical medium for you to reference later. Your friends and family may give you an odd look if you start singing into your phone while at a fancy dinner, but capturing that idea is worth it.
2: Use a Simple Instrument
Sometimes while writing, musicians can get bogged down trying to get the sound they want. That can lead to a rabbit hole of tweaking pedals and twisting knobs, and all you end up with is a new tone when what you really wanted was to write something. To avoid this trap, use something very simple like a clean guitar tone, piano, or a square wave on a synth. This can help take your mind off the timbre, allowing you to focus on the actual notes of the song. You may have the best guitar tone in the world, but if the song itself is lacking, then that tone doesn’t mean much.
3: Write Scratch Lyrics to Remember Melodies
Putting words to a melody is a great way to help you remember it later on. This method can be seen at work in the melody children sing to remember the ABC’s, or in certain commercial jingles, both of which can get stuck in your head for days on end (I’m looking at you Kars for Kids). Having that association is great to help your mind retain the idea. These place-holder lyrics can be anything: listing the ingredients of the side salad that came with your fancy dinner, or describing the looks of disdain you’re getting from family members while singing out the ingredients to your side salad — anything to help retain that musical idea.
4: Use an App
There are loads of musical apps out there for your phone or tablet nowadays. I think I have four or five different ones on my phone at any given time. Different apps can help with different aspects of music, and my go-to is a keyboard app where I can try playing out the idea for a melody. There are others for sequencing and sound design as well. These apps are a great portable option to help get the musical idea from your head to a tangible format.
5: Try Something New
Yes, new things can be daunting or even scary, but they have the wonderful benefit of forcing you to change how you look at things. If you try a new tuning on a guitar then try to play a G chord based off standard tuning, odds are you’re not going to end up with a G. But you may end up with a chord that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. This is great for getting inspired and to help generate new musical ideas. For producers, try a new synth plug-in or even an entirely new DAW. The goal is to look at the 12 notes in an octave in a new way.
6: Separate Your Engineering Brain from Your Artistic Brain
This was a problem I had for years, and still have at times: I fail to separate those two sides of my brain. I primarily work in a DAW for composing, and for years when I would sit down to write something, I would spend the first 10 minutes setting up virtual instruments, routing signals, and basically not making music. Then, by the time I was ready to flesh out an idea it was gone. Now I use a template that has it all preset for me. I can sit down and immediately start writing without having to step back and switch gears. Spend time using your engineering side to set up your pedal board or make a template, that way when inspiration hits you, you can dive right in.
7: Emulate Songs You Like
Learning another artist’s song is a great way to improve your skills. It also gives you insight on how the original artist composed. You can grab little ideas like chord changes or a new tone and incorporate them into your own music. Obviously you can’t plagiarize a melody, but you can take a chord inversion you like to help spark new inspiration for you.
8: Start Writing with a New Element
If you always start by writing a chord progression try switching it up, start writing a melody first, then go forward from there. Or try to come up with the verse to a song before writing the actual chorus. The idea behind this is the same as many others: to get a new perspective on the music you’re writing. For me, I usually start with a drumbeat followed by a chord progression, and I’ve made countless songs that way. But some of my favorites have been when I’ve written lyrics and melodies first and placed other elements around them.
9: Set Limitations or Challenges
I’ve always thought limitations can really help creativity. Having set a number of tracks or effects you can use will force you to find new solutions to achieve the results you’re looking for. I’m also a big fan of setting production challenges or games for myself. One of my favorites has been to make a song using only samples of my own voice. It really forces you to be creative with processing, and it has helped me develop some new techniques that I have used a number of times to help take a song to the next level. Challenge yourself to only use a specific scale, only using sounds from a tv show, or requiring every part of a song to use a specific effect in some way. It will certainly spark some creativity and be a fun exercise for you.
10: Take a Break
Sometimes you just need to stop, and that’s perfectly fine. Taking a break to clear your mind is essential when writing music. There is such an emotional attachment to music, and if you’re not in the right mindset you may not end up with the results you’re looking for. Taking a walk outside or tidying up your workspace are wonderful ways to help ease your mind, and both can help step back from the music for a little bit.
These are a all techniques I like to use when making music. Creative blocks and forgetting ideas can certainly be frustrating, but by incorporating some of these tips you can minimize the time you spend aggravated by music, and spend more time having a blast.