Motivation, Artist's Block & The Problem Of Infinite Variation

So how does everyone keep themselves motivated, get around artist’s block and get past the realization of infinite variation? Be interested to hear the take of both producers and lyricists. I’ve had this problem for a long time… It’s reached a stage where I might start to produce a new track maybe once a month or so. I remember back in the day I used to be in awe at just being able to produce something at home on my Amiga using the 4-tracker MED, when I first started. I had plans to do a solo album many years ago but I don’t know if my artist’s block is actually a permanent feature of my personality now… lol ;)

Gotta get back in the game somehow, the way it used to be when I was younger with that hunger. At one time I’d start producing like 2 or 3 tracks a day. Not so much anymore. The answer to the question is ultimately an individual thing because different people get a buzz in different ways but I’d be interested to hear if you experienced any lulls like this and how you eventually got back to a good creative place?

We had a similar debate two years ago…
Perhaps there are some inspiring messages along that archive…

Thanks vV, i’m going to eat my dinner now and then read through that thread! I had a quick glimpse of it and it looks interesting

Everyone’s journey is a bit different with this issue. I think what is common to all who want to keep the creative practice healthy is the fact that it takes hard work. Similarly, it takes hard work to do anything good.

For me, the last couple of years have required some significant changes to avoid stagnation and premature giving-up. When young I too would just sit on FT2 for weeks spitting out endless permutations of ‘expression’ which I now look back on as a mix of catharsis and craft-honing. Most of it isn’t what I’d now call good. If I want to be cynical about it, I could say it was a lot of emotional vomit that was a means to and end, rather than something that ought to be shared with the world as being timeless, touching, vital or evolutionary. But it helped me grow. So in my view in growing older I’ve grown out of the need to do that and have found that there are many other artists who have ‘done’ the cathartic approach so well that I’ve nothing to really add to it.

But this means I do not produce with the same frequency as I once did and it took some time to adjust an understand that as a normal healthy thing. It’s OK not to write a hundred songs a year. It’s about being patient and putting much harder work into the gem ideas that do come along, perhaps with the expectation of having a handful of songs a year and doing them very, very well. Creativity is like a well, if you bleed it dry then there’s no use in being disappointed in yourself because nothing is happening, and the only way it can be topped up is to get out there and live life for a while.

Collaboration is definitely recommended for giving a new context for your creativity to thrive in. The act of serving another person helps to create a unique energy that drives things forward on a common ground. I’ve enjoyed many collabs over the years, and the latest one is working with a unique imaginative singer. Her imagination paints great ideas, so it’s thrilling for me to make those ideas happen as a producer and create a sonic-home for her expression to be realised. It gives me a chance to create something with meaning and purpose.

In fact, the current collaboration is about the only thing keeping me productive at the moment. If I didn’t have that and only had my solo project to work on I think I’d be doing some soul searching for a while rather than making a mountain of half hearted ideas. Whatever I commit to, I have to do it with hard work. Serious hard work to make it good. My eventual solution will be personal to me, but as an exercise it’s worthwhile posing the following questions to oneself:

What is it you want to say?
What is worth sharing with the world?
Does the world need another homage to and existing production style offered publicly?
Does the world need another love song?
Another breakup or broken heart song?
Another party anthem or rev up energy booster?
Another show-off of technical or performance xyz?
Another litany of self loathing?
Another rally of rage, concealing conformity?
Another pious or under-researched cry or lecture about some fashionable ‘injustice’?
Another bleak survey of the state of things?
Another divorced from reality sermon about an unpragmatic requirement of enlightenment?
Another empty boast about how you are better than you really are?
Another lazy submission to chaos with attendant posed superiority complex?
If so, how can any of these be done in a way that is unique, timely, compelling and irresistible?
To what purpose does this music serve beyond the self?
Why say anything at all?
Why not nothing?

Mark, interesting points there. I can agree about collaboration being an important consideration. I used to perform in a group some time ago and there was always that element of competition, pushing each other to be as good as you could be, you didn’t want to let the other members down with a flawed performance.

But that was years ago, everyone went their separate ways. Thinking about it has gotten me to realize that I should probably get involved in some online collaborations. It’d be a good thing for me because it would force me to stick fairly rigidly to a deadline by having a defined goal and purpose, instead of a lack of clarity and direction. I suppose it’s a case of pinpointing the source of the block. Audio tai chi type of thing.

The thought of doing collaborations again, or being part of another group, has crossed my mind before but perhaps I didn’t quite connect the dots and realize the actual intrinsic value of the collaboration process and how that, in itself, serves as a powerful “kick up the backside” device.

I was just watching one of the documentaries about ABBA, and I thought it was interesting to hear Benny Andersson describing the creative process as similar to waiting in front of a cave for a dragon to come out. And of course, if you’re not there - that is in the studio, or in front of the piano - when it happens, you miss it. So you have to put in the hours, but when something good happens, it invariably seems to come out of nowhere. In the same documentary, Björn Ulvaeus also describes how it always seemed that they would have to mess around for 2-3 weeks (6 hours a day) with guitar/piano, to sort of get the pedestrian stuff out of their system before the conditions for something new and interesting could happen. So there are no shortcuts, but also this idea of artists “generating” music/content could not be more wrong, when you get something good it seems like it comes from outside, but you have to prepare yourself for it to happen and recognize the good idea when it appears.

It’s kind of like that Scott Adams quote: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”. I believe there’s a lot of truth to this… If you approach art in a very controlling manner, you sort of close yourself to the possibility of anything unexpected and new happening, whereas relinquishing control not being afraid to make mistakes is more likely to yield “happy accidents” and the kernel of something to build upon. That’s why I find the Renoise interface so inspiring, dropping in samples and messing around with events and the sample offset parameter, always seems to bring about something interesting very fast; something I would never have thought of had I tried to plan it before hand. And something that could only have come out of the tracker workflow.

I have found that if I’m having difficulty getting motivated to “dig in”, visiting forums like this one (or Gearslutz , Future Producers, etc.), blogs like Bedroom Producers Blog and Create Digital Music, or the EDMProduction subReddit (or the Renoise subReddit) get me fired up to start working on something.

Opposite for me, I wander around forums like this and kvr when I’m not being productive, I might be better off just disconnecting my modem sometimes

My motivation is mainly about learning more about music and harmony. Whenever a new out-of-key chord or a new function of an old chord is found, I can make a new song by using it. Sometimes it’s enough with just a well-formed chord voicing. The main driving factor is the need to expand my harmonic repertoir and musical knowledge, which tends to favour jazz styles. If you’re a perfectionist, I think the attitude of ‘wanting to learn more’ can bring some balance and kindness to how you relate to your creativity.

Also, I like to use my piano as a way to spend time and relax, and usually something new comes up. The piano is a very fast tool and a creativity booster to me. It often happens that I get stuck in the same one or two vibes, wearing them out, but that’s just a challenge for trying to come up with something completely different instead.

While phrasing this, I realize it would be a good idea to treat other contexts the same way. Learning more about production, minimalism, arranging et c.

I hear you man, although sometimes I think the “wanting to learn more” thing can actually have a negative impact on me because I’m aware that there is so much to learn that it’s probably impossible to learn everything and retain that knowledge. It’s like the old saying veteran boxers use against young boxers “I’ve forgotten more about boxing than this guy has ever known”.

But again, that is probably a vice, a hangup of mine which I should try to get rid of because it’s definitely very counterproductive!

That’s cool man, in fact that quote made me go and start watching that ABBA documentary you were talking about. I found the right one with a little research and watched the first 25 minutes or so, it was interesting stuff. I was never a big ABBA fan as a youngster but I’ve grown to appreciate their music more over the years, its very well-produced, arranged, composed etc…

That Scott Adams quote is also quite encouraging, I think that’s part of my problem. It’s like I used to strive for perfection and if I didn’t find it very, very quickly then I’d just give up on things. It’s like when I record vocals I will usually record the whole verse in one take and very often just one time, although from now on I’ll change that up and “cheat” the way nearly all other recording artists do because I just don’t have the breath control anymore… :o

By the way I started another thread in the Collab forum. I just posted an old acapella (which wasn’t recorded that well back in 2007) + the original unfinished reference tracks if anyone is feeling the track enough to bust a remix let’s collab…