Updated November 19th, 2019
This post is for music producers and singer songwriters who want to improve their music production workflow and need a little help:
- getting started;
- keeping momentum; and
- finishing tracks.
If you rarely struggle with a blank page and have no problem knowing when a song is done and ready to go, skip this one.
1- Knowing where to start
Sometimes we’re not inspired and don’t know how to get going.
Sometimes we’re so inspired and have so much to say and do that we don’t know where to start.
Here are a few techniques you can try to find inspiration or channel your creativity in a positive way.
There are lots of ways you can brainstorm songwriting ideas.
My favorites involve….
Pen and paper: free word associations.
If you need help to get started with this, pick a random word or sentence out of a book or website or newspaper. Or choose a photo or video.
Playing around: improvise on an instrument.
The obvious choice is to improvise on an instrument you’re comfortable with but, if you have access to an instrument you’re less familiar with, don’t hesitate to give that a try as well.
The trick here is to pick ONE technique BEFORE you start a creative session and COMMIT to it.
Pick one, set a timer to 30 minutes and get crackin’!
It’s ok if nothing comes out at first or if everything that does come out sounds like crap. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later. Just get going.
Working within a Box
Again, there are lots of ways you can do this.
I’ve picked my favorites and the ones I think are easiest to get your started (provided you know a little bit about music theory).
Choose a 4 chord sequence or key to write in.
There’s no need to overthink this. Remember, at this stage, we don’t care if anything’s any good or not.
What matters is that you sit down for 30 minutes and create SOMETHING. Anything!
With that in mind, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, pick one of the following 4 keys:
- G major
- C major
- D major
- A major
Once you’ve picked a key, decide on a chord progression.
If you absolutely insist on choosing a minor key, simply go for the relative minor of those listed above.
- E minor
- A minor
- B minor
- F# minor
Again, don’t overthink this. Pick a chord progression that’s comfortable on your instrument and get started!
The goal here is really to smoothen your music production workflow. Limit the roadblocks and get some music out.
If you need a little inspiration, here’s a list of the 5 most popular and common chord progressions on the guitar and a similar list of popular chord progressions for the piano.
And if you’re feeling particularly jaaaazzzy today, here’s a good post that walks you through 3 famous jazz chord progressions 🙂
Work with a template or reference track
I like to work with templates. In my experience, templates take a lot of the pressure off because they provide a frame that I can work in and around.
Instead of having an entire wall to paint with no instruction for color, shapes or motif, I can focus on painting a smaller canvas with the colors and brushes I’ve been given, with a general sense of whether the work will be figurative or not.
I have 5 Logic Pro templates that I use regularly. For each template, I picked on song I liked and mapped out:
- the song structure (e.g. intro – verse – chorus – verse -chorus – chorus)
- the instrumentation (e.g. guitar lead, guitar rhythm, bass, drums, synth)
- the tempo (e.g. 112 BPM)
- the time signature (e.g. 4/4)
Basically, I map out the architecture of a song and start working the foundations with my own material.
Sometimes, if I’m really not feeling inspired, I’ll practice reproducing the rhythm or chord sequence or melody of a reference track but that’s really just for practice.
That rhythm or melody will never make the final cut BUT may trigger inspiration and lots of new ideas.
Keeping the Creative Momentum Going
One of the worst things that can happen as an artist is to lose momentum right in the middle of an exciting creative project.
Here’s how you can make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
1- Get Rid of Technical Barriers in Your Music Production Workflow
Technical barriers are fairly easy to overcome, make sure you address those first.
Do everything you can to simplify and streamline your songwriting environment.
Work with a (fast) external hard drive.
If you’re producing your own music, make sure your computer doesn’t slow you down.
Less strain on your computer’s hard drive = faster response time = less enforced interruptions.
Limit the number of plugins you use
This will also help with speed.
Less plugins = faster loading time = less lag time to execute a creative idea.
Remember your DAW and all those virtual instruments are just tools to express your creative ideas. They shouldn’t be slowing you down / cramping your style 😉
Have everything ready when you need it
….is another low-hanging fruit when it comes to keeping momentum going in the music studio.
If you can keep your home studio setup nice and simple and ready to use, it will be much easier for you to sit down and get to work whenever you have a little bit of time (more on why that’s important a few paragraphs down…)
2- Get Rid of Mental Barriers that Clog Your Music Production Workflow
Getting rid of mental barriers that stop us in our tracks is hard but not impossible.
Do everything you can to stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You’re not perfect. So what?!
Music is not serious. It’s not meant to hurt you. It’s exists to be loved and enjoyed. To give our lives that extra little bit of color.
With that in mind….