Creative Strategies for Producers w/ Matt Shadetek: Input and Output

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek explains that you only get out what you put in when it comes to the creation process. 

Dubspot Creative Strategies w/ Shadetek: Input and Output

Feed Yourself

As creators, we all experience the feeling of guilt or regret when we’re not creating as much as we’d like. The challenge with this feeling is knowing when to say “I’ve done enough.” For some of us, what we create never feels like enough, myself included. I believe that people have an infinite creative capacity, that this is inherent in the nature of creativity. It never runs out or dries up permanently. Long term, the only thing that will stop me from creating is my brain and body giving out. My plan is to ride until the wheels fall off. However, it’s important to note that, even with an unlimited creative capacity, there is a limit to how much we can create in any given time period. There’s a rhythm and cycle to my creative process. I’ve found that if I pay attention to this fact, I can avoid some of the frustration and guilt.

I learned this the hard way, by running straight into a wall. I started making music late in life, when I was about 19. I was in college at the time, and did not have endless time to work on music. When the summer vacation started, I was so hungry to work on music that I set my challenge. With all my free time, I’d make a new beat every day. The first few days were amazing! I was deep into the zone and buzzing. I got a bunch of great work done. When I got to the fourth day, I started to feel some resistance.

Yes, I showed up and made something. It just wasn’t very good, and I could feel it. I showed up and went through the motions, but what came out didn’t excite me to continue. It was painful dragging the idea behind me. When my work goes well, I feel like the idea takes off ahead of me down a clear path. All I have to do is chase it and fill in the blanks as it races ahead. In this case, I felt like I was carrying the idea on my back and hacking my way through thick brush. With thorns.

The expression “squeezing blood from a stone” came to mind. I realized I had to take a break from being a music making robot and go be a human for a while. After I did, I came back refreshed and the muse started talking to me again. Creativity is mysterious and tricky. Try to put a leash on it and it disappears. It’s work, but not the same kind of work as digging a ditch or folding laundry. It’s more like working with something alive.

Planting Seeds

Todd Henry, of the Accidental Creative podcast uses a farming metaphor that I like. You cannot perpetually harvest from your creative source. You also have to plant seeds, water them and give them time to grow.

This brings us to the idea of creative input. If all you do is harvest and never plant anything, you will end up empty-handed. If all I do is work, after a while things slow down and the quality drops. I need to feed my creative process, to plant some seeds.

Primary and Secondary Inputs

I divide these types of input into two categories: primary and secondary inputs. Primary inputs are things you experience first-hand. The breakup of a relationship is painful but gives you an experience to draw from and process into something creative. Taking a trip somewhere, seeing nature, meeting people and having experiences all feed my creative process. Secondary inputs are other creative works: music, books, films, and games all inspire me in different ways. Sometimes inspiration is very direct, such as a specific idea you want to interpret in your own work. Sometimes, it’s just a mood or atmosphere.

Try to maintain a mix of influences. If you produce hip hop beats and you only listen to hip hop, you run the risk of your work becoming derivative. Like feeding anything, don’t feed your creativity too much of any single thing and ignore the other creative food groups.

My creative input process goes through phases where I take in plenty of one specific input, and phases where I don’t want any. Direct influence is most like that for me. At times, I’m very curious to hear what everyone else is doing. My radar is up, searching for interesting direct influences. I enjoy this process, and always produce a lot of work. There are other times, however, where I feel that I’m getting too much direct influence and my own voice is being drowned out. During these times, I need to turn down the outside world and go in search of indirect sources of inspiration. As an electronic musician, this usually means reading, or listening to music very different from what I’m working on. These less direct influences usually spark some interesting thoughts and feed into my main creative loop in surprising ways.

I get many of my best ideas in the shower. In the shower, I’m pretty zoned out, not thinking too hard. Somehow, my ideas love this and always choose this moment to reveal themselves. Long walks are also great for this. I think it has something to do with having my blood flowing and system moving. Almost inevitably, I get a bunch of great ideas. I’m taking regenerative time, not thinking intensely about something else, or taking in other influences. Letting my brain cool off and wander is very valuable for me: I’m giving the creative seeds time and space to grow.

Creativity will always remain a mysterious force. That doesn’t mean we need to leave it unexamined or deliberately make it more mystical. But it does mean we need to approach it with a healthy and respectful attitude. Like all living things, creativity moves in cycles and seasons. Learn how your process works, and you’ll get better at surviving the ups and downs. Find a balance that works, and keep happily creating for the long term.


About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website


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