One of the questions I used to get the most from my students was how to come up with new ideas when making music. Unlike with jazz or rock, the options for creating electronic sounds are limitless, and so the range of electronic music genres and sub-genres is vast. Because of this, it becomes particularly easy to get lost in the innumerable possibilities and directions your music could take.
For many, just the pressure of trying to come up with new ideas can generate a writer’s block. And asking someone like me for tips on where to start could also lead to more questions, since I’ve developed my own ways of approaching the process over the years. With that said, I’ve personally found it essential to bear these 3 things in mind:
- Music is a shared experience. The more you live your music, the clearer your ideas get.
- Your experience of the music may not be the same as the listener’s. Let go of your desire for people to “get it,” and accept that they might see or feel something you don’t.
- Creativity starts with embracing the endless recycling of sounds and ideas. Don’t think you’ll reinvent the wheel, if you know what I mean. Expectations kill creativity.
While you might have an intellectual understanding of the whole process of making music, there’s another dimension, that of intuition and feelings. So this involves two things:
- Jamming. Play with gear, softwares.
- Recycling. Inspiration from other songs, samples, presets, artists.
Everyone’s different, but if you think of bands for example, they jam together for a while until they uncover an idea they like. Then they will nail it down or record it to make it into a song. But before they can get there, they need to just let loose, go wild, and explore. In jazz, it’s well known that the masters would play for hours on end in little clubs, pushing themselves beyond the point of exhaustion until they reached a level of pure creativity, discovering new paths that they never would have found in a short session.
Basically, your brain needs a little push. You can’t just sit there and think you’ll have something fresh and innovative by opening your DAW and tweaking for 30 minutes. It demands patience, and giving yourself the permission to get a bit wild and break your own rules.
Many people find that jamming isn’t really their thing, and they’ll get great ideas if they already have material to work from. This is why sampling has become so popular in the last 30 years. Musicians take something they love, and then change the context to give it a whole new life. Using other people’s music can a bit of a legal nightmare though, so thankfully, as you know, there are tons of options out there — but maybe the best way is to learn to make your own sounds.
Fact: Doing arrangements in your DAW isn’t really “playing your music.” Have you developed the skill of playing it?
This is why learning to jam can be really useful. But how do you do it?
Try this simple exercise:
- Open any soft synth in your DAW, and pick a preset or make yourself one.
- Write a few few notes, but keep it simple. Play it in a loop.
- Play with the parameters and record everything. Also, record the midi in case you’ll be changing that.
- Listen to what you recorded, isolate the best parts, and then jam over it some more.
That’s it. You’re jamming. You have no idea how many people don’t realize how easy it is until they try it. And how fun. Just do it and PLAY your music.
On a final note, remember that inspiration also comes from listening to music, and lots of it — whether it’s music in the genre you want to make or something completely different, since you can translate ideas into your own world. One thing people sometimes forget is how listening to music with friends or in another context (walking, driving, commuting) can be especially useful, since it provides perspective on how the sound feels when doing daily activities. Ideas will then sprout.