We live in a world of seemingly endless content. Infinite hours of scrolling on your phone, constantly seeing something new. Whether it's memes or music, news or TikToks.
This online realm of infinite content can often be incredibly overwhelming, to the point where it can make creatives like us music producers feel so much pressure to create something good, that we end up staring aimlessly at our DAW, unable to create anything we feel is good enough. I believe this form of writer's block comes from a unique burnout we seem to be having because we are exposed to so much content online. Gone are the days when the only people you compared your music to were your icons and your close friends. Nowadays we have access to thousands upon thousands of musicians on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, which can easily leave you feeling burnt out and uninspired.
Don't worry if this is you, you're not alone! I guarantee every single music producer, from the humblest bedroom jammer to the top end professional has suffered from some form of writer's block and burnout in their musical career.
It's just part of the process naturally anyway, and the inundation of other people's creations we find ourselves swimming through in the modern digital age just heightens things and makes things far more overwhelming.
Now, this kind of creativity block can come in many different shapes and sizes, maybe whenever you sit down at your DAW in the time you've allocated for music making, you aren't feeling too inspired? Or perhaps you're more relaxed in your schedule, but even still, inspiration never strikes?
Is any of this sounding familiar?
The first point I want you to take away from this is that you shouldn't feel disheartened or deflated. It's one thing to lose inspiration and feel this type of burnout, but it's another thing to let it spiral into a lack of motivation. As long as you keep your head screwed on, you'll be fine.
In this guide, I'm going to explore a few hacks and tips that are guaranteed to help you reignite your inspiration and get over this type of musical and creative burnout.
So let's dive right on in!
"Everybody's gotta be doing something."
It's really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because our DAWs are music making programs, we should be making music in them every time we open it up.
As I alluded to in the beginning of this guide, the super polished content we see on social media can trick our brains into thinking every single piece of music we make, even half baked ideas we sketch out, should be amazing, boundary shattering, and absolutely perfect.
But this just isn't the case, and it's now how real creativity works.
The basic point here is, any time spent in your DAW is adding to your skill and craft.
Please don't think that you have to make a killer idea every time you sit down at your DAW, because you don't. Even if you spend a half hour or so experimenting with the sounds or controls on one of your plugins, this is a good thing!
So, get this into your head;
You don't always need to be making your next label release. Jamming out ideas or messing around is OKAY!
To take this concept further, you can get out of your DAW and just generally check out useful resources. There are a tonne of amazing blogs, YouTube channels and other sites out there which offer guides like this one, tutorials on how to do a specific thing, and even freebies in the form of plugins and sample packs.
All of this kind of work is contributing to your overall skillset as a producer.
So here's the important part; putting these ideas into practice will not only help you learn more as a producer, but it will also help vary your activities, so you aren't sitting down every single time trying to create the next chart topper. You're never going to be able to make 100% certified bangers every single time, and expecting to is a guaranteed route to burnout.
Giving yourself permission to mess around, explore your DAW and generally read and learn more about your craft is a guaranteed way to beat this burnout and creative block, and populate your mind with new and exciting ideas.
Trust me, if you try this, you'll notice the rewards.
The Joy of (Re)Creation
We all make music because we are naturally creative people, and we find joy and fulfillment in the process of creation, right?
Well, that's why I do it anyway.
A key part of being a musician is having influences. Rare indeed is the musician who listens to no music but their own. Every one of us has an icon, or several, someone who inspired us to get into music making in the first place.
So, a great exercise, and the second guaranteed way to beat burnout I'll give you today is the concept of recreating favourite tracks of yours. Or even just small elements of the track, it doesn't even have to be a full recreation.
This is incredibly useful for several reasons.
You may have noticed that here at Top Music Arts we are dedicated to bringing fully fleshed out recreations of EDM tracks. This is because they're an incredibly useful learning resource for the budding music producer. It's an invaluable tool; being able to dig deep into what makes up a professionally produced piece of music.
So, find a track by an artist you like, and try your best to recreate it!
There are a few techniques you can use to help with this;
- First, listen with a critical ear. This means you're listening to it as a music producer, not a mere consumer. You want to be trying to identify what effects are present, whether you can isolate any synth or instrument sounds. How is compression applied? What's the overall energy and structure of the track like?
- Second, the best way to get an idea of how a track is made up is to do a sketch out of its arrangement on paper. Getting things down on paper can be a good way to get yourself off your computer, and allow you to focus you attention on your task at hand. While you're listening to your track of choice, jot down notes on a piece of paper about the general structure.
- Pick one element of the track to start with and go from there. Try your best to mentally isolate one specific piece of the track. It could be the drums, or a particular synth line. Focus all of your attention on this, and begin your recreation here. Having this element to focus on gives you a good starting point to then branch out from.
Now, there are several benefits to doing this exercise.
Most obviously, it's a great way to beat burnout. If you aren't feeling the spark of inspiration to create anything new, trying this exercise is a great way to practice your skills.
If the track you've chosen is in the genre of music you produce, it's enabling you to practice the skills in your own area of music. If it's outside of your usual genre, it's broadening your horizons and giving you new ideas.
This is also a great way to exercise your critical ear. Being able to critically listen to music means you'll be able to do so to your own music. Having this critical listening skill will help you make better production decisions down the line. You'll probably also be using sound design to recreate synths and sounds you hear in the track, as well as getting a general idea of structure and arrangement.
Another huge benefit may seem less obvious, but it's actually a really great opportunity to spark new ideas. You may find that you get part way through your recreation, and then you can begin to add your own layers and ideas to the track. Before long, you've got a piece of music which began as a recreation of a pre-existing track, but is now completely new and unrecognisable. You may even be able to mute the parts you originally recreated, so you're left with totally new music!
Change Your Thinking
People are creatures of habit, and this can become extremely obvious when it comes to our music making. You may find that you're reaching for the same synths, plugins or sample folders each time you open your DAW, and this can lead you down predictable paths which may leave you feeling like you can't create anything new or exciting.
Trying the same techniques over and again is a guaranteed path to burnout.
When you’re making the same genre of music regularly, this mental block can often occur because you’re so used to using the same types of production tricks. These tricks can often become stale, restricting you to one method of production, so when you inevtiably don't produce a fruitful result, you end up stuck for ideas on where to go next.
Breaking out of your style or comfort zone can introduce you to some new ideas and techniques, all of which will inform your creative process going forwards.
So how can we ensure we aren't getting stuck in the same production habits?
There are a number of ways. The first is to ask yourself whether or not you're a producer who favours one style of music over all the others. If so, you might be unknowingly falling into the same habits, and this can lead to a severe lack of drive and motivation. Often when we are just trying the same things over and over again, this leads to burnout.
So, if this is you, try producing some music in a different genre to what you're normally comfortable with. Referring to our previous technique can help with this. Pick a track in a genre you're not used to working in, and spend a bit of time listening to it critically, making notes about what you hear in terms of structure, instrumentation, and production techniques.
This is a fantastic way to broaden your horizons and break the mental barriers you may have inadvertently put in place.
The great thing about this is that there are so many tutorials out there, and many are genre specific. So you can find tutorials that will help you do something you don't already know how to do, and this can hugely help you beat burnout.
There's another great technique for making sure you aren't doing the same thing over and over again, so read on to find out more.
Arbitrary Rules and Restrictions
This is one of the best pieces of music production advice I've ever heard, because it can take so many forms and it's so varied in what results it produces.
The world of DAWs contains so many possibilities. You can have as many gigabytes of sample folders and VSTs as your computer will allow, and endless tracks and options for how you use them.
But sometimes having it all isn't all it's cracked up to be.
So, next time you're feeling burnt out, try creating some arbitrary rules or restrictions.
Thes great thing about this technique is that it can mean whatever you want it to.
There are a few pointers though. Ensure the restrictions are strict. The stricter they are, the harder you'll have to work, and this may get your creative juices flowing in ways you're not used to!
For example, you could challenge yourself to create a track using only one synth. Many synths are capable of creating not only melodic sounds, but also drum sounds too. If you set yourself the task of creating a piece of music using only the sounds from one synthesiser, it forces you to get creative.
Another great way to implement this is by doing a time challenge. If you're familiar with FACT Magazine's Against the Clock series, then you'll know what I mean. This is a series which challenges producers to make a beat within ten minutes. You can see Ahadu's video below.
This kind of time restriction is particularly useful, because it means you can't spend ages and ages focusing on getting your hi hats just right. You have to make quick decisions and move on. It's a really fun and rewarding exercise, and you'd be extremely surprised at what you can come up with in a short time.
Or alternatively, you could set another strict rule; only use the black notes on the keyboard for your melodies and chords. This will create a specific sound in a pentatonic scale, and again, forces you into a constraint.
For many of us, having this kind of self imposed pressure, rules or deadlines can fuel our creativity and be a great motivator.
Exploring Sound Design & Experimentation
We mentioned earlier in this guide how you don't have to be making music every time you open your DAW. There are many things you can be doing which will help you feel productive and that it's been time well spent.
After all, having a feeling of fulfillment and that you've accomplished something is essential for beating burnout.
So, if you aren't making music in your DAW, you can be working on general housekeeping tasks, such as organising your sample folders, or you could just have a mess around with some sound design.
I've recently been messing around with Reaktor Blocks, which is a modular based soft synth from Native Instruments. Using modular techniques, you can learn how to build synth sounds from scratch, using different modules and being able to hear how individual elements of a synthesiser affect the overall sound.
Modular synthesis is only one example of the different type of synths out there though, and you can be doing anything as long as it's bringing you some sense of satisfaction.
Sometimes I open up Ableton and my only goal is to see what kind of sound I can create. Sometimes I use a sampler, while other times I might explore the different controls of a specific synthesiser.
If you get yourself out of the mindset which states you have to create a full track every time you open your DAW, you open yourself up to exciting possibilties. Learn to think of your DAW as a musical playground, where you can do all sorts of excercises; sound design, sample manipulation, or just general experimentation.
Again, there are plenty of YouTube channels who specialise in sound design, and a lot of the time you can see how a specific sound from a specific track has been made. This is even super useful just in terms of finding an in-depth tutorial on how a specific plugin works.
I love experimenting in my DAW, throwing a random selection of devices and plugins onto a track and seeing what results I can get out of them.
It helps me keep things feeling fresh and inspired, rather than dull and boring.
Revisiting Half-baked Projects & Declutter
If you're anything like me, your hard drive is likely full of many unfinished or half baked ideas. Tracks you started working on, only to lose momentum or motivation and then give up.
These are all gold mines for inspiration. And you can turn something which was initially a 'failure' of an idea into a playground for some new inspiring direction.
It's always good pratice to finish music, and I've heard it described as Making bad music.
This isn't to say that you should intentionally make music that's bad, instead it means that you should continue an idea to its finished state even if you don't think it is a great tune.
Finishing music is a skill, just as much as starting it is.
So, going back to your track ideas that you never finished is a good opportunity to put this concept into pratice.
Ask yourself; how could I turn this idea into something I like and is a full track?
Force yourself to finish track ideas, regardless of how you feel about them stylistically. If you don't think it's the type of music you want to be making, that's good, it allows you to narrow your vision and know the type of music you do want to be making.
Another great reason that going back to old unfinished projects can be super useful for beating burnout is because it takes the pressure of starting away. It gives you a platform or a starting point to work from if you aren't feeling the creative flow to come up with a new idea. Often, this can be the biggest hurdle to actually getting a musical idea going in your DAW. Once you get the juices flowing, chances are more ideas will come. Opening up a long since forgotten tune idea can bring you a spark of fresh creativity and some new perspective to apply to the idea.
Further, you get to see how much you've improved in your music making. I often find that each new track I make uses a slightly better technique or process from the previous one. Each new idea is informed by the lessons we've previously learned, so going back to an idea that's a year old, or even older, will give you a whole new perspective and a new set of creative tools to try on that idea. The difference in the quality of your music in a couple of weeks can be large, so over even longer time periods, you have even more knowledge to use to refresh old track ideas!
Finally, this technique has another hidden benefit. They often say that a cluttered environment can create a cluttered mind. This is also true for your digital spaces. A cluttered hard drive full of half finished musical ideas can be a demoralising thing, and can directly contribute to burnout, whether we realise it or not. So taking the time to go through your hard drive and turn these half finished ideas into finished pieces of music is not only making your music production skills better, but it's also allowing you to chip away at the subconscious causes contributing to any feelings of burnout.
So, that was a round up of some guaranteed ways to beat burnout, because it's an all too real phenomenon and it affects us all! Finding ways to keep your music process fresh is always a challenge, so hopefully these ideas and techniques gave you some fresh inspiration and allowed you to focus things a bit more.
Remember, the key thing to take away from this is that you don't always have to be making music to be improving your production skills. Any opportunity to explore your DAW or VSTs' functions, to experiment, or just to flex your musical muscles should be capitalised on. There is always something you can be doing to improve, so bear this in mind next time you feel burnout striking!
As always, thanks for checking in with us here at Top Music Arts. If you're stuck for inspiration, why not try downloading some of our Ableton Live Project Remakes? We have a huge collection which have been expertly crafted by our team of producers, with focus on getting the tracks to sound exactly like their original versions. It's a great way to learn, and see what techniques are used by the pros. Check out our deals now!