Inspiration is an elusive and special thing. Sometimes it strikes you randomly, coming at you when you least expect it to. Other times you can go weeks without feeling inspired at all. We've all been there; sat in the studio or at our DAW, desperately wanting to make music, but unable to come up with anything we're happy with.
Unfortunately, it isn't possible to force yourself to be inspired whenever you want to be, but there are things you can do to help find inspiration for your next musical project.
So, in this guide we are going to be discussing different ways you can find inspiration as a music producer, so read on if you're looking for ways to get inspired!
What do we mean by Inspiration?
It may seem obvious, but it's worth taking a moment to discuss exactly what we mean. Artists across all mediums have been inspired by a plethora of things. Love is an obvious one, especially for music. How many love songs have ever been written do we think?
But there are other kinds of inspiration aren't there? Artists find inspiration in nature, in people, in the tiny details of places and things to the biggest scopes and broad concepts.
As a musician, then, I like to think of inspiration as a force which not only gives you ideas and concepts about which you want to base your music - because if you write songs, you need something to write about don't you?- but also the motivation and drive to get it done.
So in order to feel inspired, we need to have something that gives us an idea, and also a drive to see that idea through to fruition.
So, without further ado, let's explore ways you can get inspiration as a music producer!
The Obvious One: Other Musicians
Music is an inherently collective endeavour. It is rarely done in isolation. The main goal of making music is to have people hear it, so it's naturally something we make for other people.
The fact is, listening to other artists is one of the best things you can do to find inspiration for your next musical idea. There's so much music out there, and broadening your musical horizons and searching for music actively can be a great way to find inspiration.
Chances are, the more music you listen to, the more fun and creative ideas you'll hear.
I find this super helpful, especially when listening to music you aren't familiar with. I remember when my partner was playing some music in the car which I wasn't familiar with, and because I had that lack of familiarity and separation from it, I was listening to it with a producers' ear.
You notice things on a production level, rather than just as a music fan.
The other cool thing about this is that there are virtually unlimited genres out there. So if you can avoid falling into the trap of only listening to the type of music that you want to make, then this will provide endless inspiration.
Broadening your musical horizons is always a good thing, so listen to as much music as possible, as often as possible, and always keep your ear open for new ideas!
I've always loved film soundtracks. There's something really special about the marrying of music with a moving image. It offers a new medium and new way to convey emotions, and after all, isn't that what music is so good at doing?
There have been some really amazing movie soundtracks in recent years. The score for The Revenant, by Ryuchi Sakamoto, Alva Noto & Bryce Dessner is one that comes to mind.
There is such a powerful and emotive quality to this piece of music, and what's more, the music isn't the type of conventional soundtrack you'd find for a period western film.
Similarly, the music by Volker Bertelmann for the recent anti-war masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front is absolutely stunning. I found it so evocative, and at the same time it seemed to juxtapose the material you're watching. You wouldn't expect the soundtrack to a First World War film to consist of huge beefy analogy synths, but it somehow works.
The main point for finding inspiration in the music from films is that a movie's score often serves to highlight and show the emotion present in the narrative. It's a powerful tool, and often backs up the feelings and emotional themes from the storytelling.
So, you can explore the soundtracks of films to identify different techniques you can use to bring out different emotions in your listeners.
There are also often unique techniques used in film scores, such as in Hans Zimmer's score for Dunkirk, which features a ticking clock throught the soundtrack.
Music for film is a unique playground that doesn't always have to adhere to traditional musical rules; these are a goldmine for inspiration. You can often find interesting and unique sounds in film music, so next time you watch your favourite film, pay close attention to the soundtrack to see if there's anything in there that inspires you!
Get Out in Nature
The natural world has inspired human beings to create art for pretty much our entire existence. And while you'd be forgiven for thinking nature is inspiring only to visual artists such as painters, photographs or filmmakers, there is ample inspiration to be found for music producer as well.
Getting out into nature is, in general, really good for you. So you should do it as often as you can, in order to keep you feeling nourished and happy.
More specifically, take the time to really sit and listen when you're out in nature. There are infinite numbers of sounds, from birdsong to the sound of wind in the trees, or running water and the sound of wildlife.
You can take two approaches to this. One is to take literal inspiration from nature, in the form of samples. Many artists take field recorders and record soundscapes and samples out in nature. These run the gamut from ambience recordings which are minutes long, to individual samples made from hitting pieces of wood together. There's also the ubiquitously lovely sound of rain falling, which you can layer under your music to create evocative and emotional effects.
The other approach is to get a little granular. If you record a soundscape in a wooded area, when you get home, spend some time listening to it. If you isolate small sections, and then listen to them on repeat, you will hear rhythmic patterns beginning to emerge. A perfect example of this is in the track Baby It's U by Machinedrum. In the beginning, you can clearly hear recordings of marine life and the undulating of water.
Check it out in the video above. The entire rhythm of the music is built on this initial sample, and you can use this technique too.
Get a recorded sample of nature sounds, and listen through to see if you can hear any rhythmic patterns emerging. You could try quantising the audio to see if this helps any rhythms come to the fore, but you can also just isolate small sections of the audio to hear how things develop as you loop it over and over again.
From this, you can then either use the literaly audio sample as a rhythmic base, or you can extrapolate the pattern then use some other drum samples to create a beat around it.
Nature is full of inspiring wonders and phenomena, the more you explore, the more inspiration you are likely to find!
Ask the Older Generation
They say fashion goes in 20 year cycles, and perhaps musical trends are similar?
Either way, a great place to find inspiration is to ask your parents, older relatives, friends or coworkers what their favourite albums are.
This will give you a wide variety of music that is outside of your sphere of awareness, and old music is an absolute goldmine for samples. So much modern music has been built on the back of sampling older music, so getting your hands on old records is a great way to search for samples.
Alternatively, you could just listen through to the older music you've been recommended and write down a list of the things you like about it and the things you don't.
Making a Catalog of Attributes is a technique where you listen to a piece of music with a critical ear, and make notes on the style, energy, arrangement and instrumentation in such detail that at the end of your process you have what is essentially a map of that piece of music. But the best thing is about it is that you use general terms, so you could use this catalog of attributes to create a new piece of music which would be totally unrecognisable as having taken any inspiration from elsewhere.
Older music can be great for these reasons, so do some crate digging, ask any older people you know, and see what kind of inspiration you can find in older tunes!
The human brain is a complex thing, and out emotions are even more complex.
But trying to encapsulate emotions through music is a really inspiring endeavour.
Think of different genres of music and how they each bring out different emotions from the listener. There are certain genres that are famously focused around emotions.
For example, Trance and House music genres are inextricably linked to happiness and party culture, whereas Blues and Ballads are generally seen as sadder pieces of music.
However, you can search in your own feelings and situations in your life to see how you can translate these into musical ideas. I remember being in a seminar when studying my degree, and the lecturer asked us how many of us make music to process or deal with our emotions. Almost every hand in the room went up.
Music is an inherently emotional artform, and trying to encapsulate an emotional concept through a musical idea is an interesting and inspiring endeavour.
It's been done so much, in fact, that each of the musical keys has begun to be associated with specific emotions, and you can see a summary of these below.
|MUSICAL KEY||EMOTIVE EXPRESSION|
|C Major||Innocently Happy|
|C Minor||Innocently Sad, Love-Sick|
|C# Minor||Despair, Wailing, Weeping|
|Db Major||Grief, Depressive|
|D Major||Triumphant, Victorious War-Cries|
|D Minor||Serious, Pious, Ruminating|
|D# MINOR||Deep Distress, Existential Angst|
|Eb Major||Cruel, Hard, Yet Full of Devotion|
|E Major||Quarrelsome, Boisterous, Incomplete Pleasure|
|E Minor||Effeminate, Amorous, Restless|
|F Major||Furious, Quick-Tempered, Passing Regret|
|F Minor||Obscure, Plaintive, Funereal|
|F# Major||Conquering Difficulties, Sighs of Relief|
|F# Minor||Gloomy, Passionate Resentment|
|G Major||Serious, Magnificent, Fantasy|
|G Minor||Discontent, Uneasiness|
|Ab Major||Death, Eternity, Judgement|
|Ab Minor||Grumbling, Moaning, Wailing|
|A Major||Joyful, Pastoral, Declaration of Love|
|A MINOR||Tender, Plaintive, Pious|
|Bb Major||Joyful, Quaint, Cheerful|
|Bb Minor||Terrible, the Night, Mocking|
|B Major||Harsh, Strong, Wild, Rage|
|B Minor||Solitary, Melancholic, Patience|
So, as you can see, there are starting points for different emotions already encoded into the musical scales, so trying to encapsulate an emotion through using these is a great exercise which can lead to some really fun musical ideas!
Go and Get Inspired!
So, hopefully these 5 tips gave you some ideas on where you can find inspiration as a music producer.
It's always waiting where you least expect it, so the more exploring and searching you do, the more inspiring things you're likely to find!
Speaking of inspiration, why don't you check out our Ableton Project Templates here at Top Music Arts? We have a huge collection of expertly crafted Ableton Projects, which are recreations of chart topping EDM tracks. Our team of international producers are always churning out new ones of these, so get yourself a couple to really dig into all of the techniques and tricks that go into a fully fleshed out professional track, and maybe you can use them in your next tune!