Music Production: Stay Inspired and Conquer Writer’s Block w/ Daniel Salvaggio

In this music production article, Dubspot’s Daniel Salvaggio shares ten helpful approaches to staying inspired in the studio and overcoming songwriter’s block.

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Writer’s block- the bane of every producer. In a recent article, we discussed several methods of keeping our heads in the game to stay productive and finish our projects. However, sometimes the problem is more rooted in where to start versus how to finish. In this article, we’ll explore several ways to not only keep busy when devoid of inspiration, but also to spark new, fresh ideas so that no session is ever wasted!

Create an Inspiration Playlist

One of the best ways to keep yourself inspired is to carefully curate a collection of songs that move you. As producers, we often get caught up in our own heads, worrying too much about the task at hand- our own productions. As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of why we make music in the first place. It’s important to not only keep yourself inspired, but also excited! You should want to be making music to the point where it’s second nature. Listening to your all-time favorite tracks is a great way to stay excited and motivated. Not feeling like the creative juices are flowing today? Create a playlist of tracks that inspired you to make music in the first place, throw it on your phone and take a walk!

Create a MIDI Folder

Not all unsuccessful production endeavors result in a blank project. Just as often, we’re able to create a small bit of music that just feels impossible to expand upon at times. Instead of trashing that 16 bar loop and forgetting about it, export the MIDI data and start keeping a folder of your melodic ideas. Over time, you will procure a vast collection of these ideas, and at least some of them will have applications in the future. Just because an idea isn’t coming together right now doesn’t mean it won’t sometime down the road. Additionally, are you planning on collaborating with another artist? Bring your MIDI folder! Your collaborator may hear something in your ideas that you don’t.

Transcribe & Deconstruct

Quite possibly the single greatest production exercise you can take part in is the deconstruction of a track that inspires you. Understanding a piece of music from a technical standpoint adds a whole new level of appreciation for our favorite tunes. Not understanding how a producer crafted a certain vibe? Drag the song into your DAW, create a new MIDI track with a basic instrument and copy that riff! Now, with tools at our disposal like the Audio to MIDI feature in Ableton Live, it’s even easier to break down our favorite songs into their most basic elements. This method is a highly valuable learning tool. It should be noted that this isn’t an argument for copying artists in order to release music that is similar. It is purely an approach towards demystifying what it is about a certain piece that draws us to it. The goal here is to better comprehend the production techniques from artist’s that influence you. Take that influence and run with it!

Sound Design

As mentioned in a previous article I’d written for Dubspot about maintaining productivity in the studio, there is never nothing to do. When all else fails, it’s time to experiment! Open up your favorite synth and make some new instruments. The stakes are low when there isn’t a song to be wrapped up, so this is a great opportunity to step outside of the box and make something wild. Not only is this an excellent way to better your relationship with an instrument, but it’s not unlikely that designing sound will spark an idea for a song. It’s quite important that you save these instruments. Ultimately, you want an easily accessible folder of all of your custom instruments so that when you are hit with that elusive sense of inspiration, you won’t lose it by getting caught up designing sounds.

Resample.. Then Sample!

If you’ve followed any of the steps above for an extended period of time, you’ll likely have amassed quite a collection of MIDI data and custom instruments. Still short on inspiration? Try this- Explore your MIDI folder for a riff you like and drop it into a new project. Apply one of your custom instruments and record it! Swap out the instrument for another custom instrument and repeat the process, neatly saving all of these recordings. From here, you can chop up the recorded clips and add them to a sampler. This method will allow you to approach the writing process from a sample-based standpoint. Have a MIDI controller? Even better! Jam out this new sampler instrument you’ve created over an extended beat and record every take. There’s bound to be a nugget of goodness in there!

Change Up Your Approach

Above, we just explored one alternative approach to making music. The fundamental benefit of trying something new in this context is breaking out of your comfort zone. There are plenty of ways to go about this- Do you typically start writing a song by first crafting a beat? Instead, try starting up a project by exploring a melodic idea. If you find yourself relying too heavily on one method of creation to the point where you’re short on new ideas then try switching up your approach. Exploring new approaches is often an excellent way to remedy writers block and grow as a producer!

Write Something Ridiculous

Not only is it highly beneficial to switch up the way we go about creating music, but switching up what we write can be a very liberating experience as well. We spend so much time trying to identify and pursue our own unique sound that it’s easy to overlook all of the wonderful music out there that doesn’t exactly line up with what we’re making. Take this opportunity to step even further out of your comfort zone and write something completely different from what you’re used to writing. The more alien, the better! Some of my favorite songs that I’ve written came as a result of my being frustrated with my inability to innovate a style I’ve done countless times. Not every song you write needs to be your next big single, and the more aware of this you are, the more likely you are to try new things and find inspiration in unlikely places. Are you a deep house producer? Write a hip hop track! You may be surprised at what you can accomplish when entering uncharted territory, and that feeling of accomplishment can be inspiring in itself.

Pick Up an Instrument and Jam!

When composing in our DAWs, we wear many hats such as composer, drummer, sound designer, engineer, etc. Often, this can become overwhelming, and a great way to remedy this is to separate yourself from your computer and engage in a more limited, tactile music-making experience. Dim the lights, pick up a guitar and spend a couple of hours doing nothing but jamming! The main difference between playing a live instrument and working within your DAW is that you are not afforded the luxury of hesitation. When playing a song or just jamming, you’re jumping from one note or chord to the next, often based on what feels right. This approach is quite different from the experience of methodically and carefully inputting MIDI data block by block. Additionally, it’s never a bad idea to record your sessions and listen back to them later on, saving anything potentially useful.

Draw, Build, Write.. Create!

You’re a creative person! Why limit yourself to only one medium? There’s tremendous inspiration to be gained from engaging in other creative activities such as drawing, writing, building, etc. You always want to keep the creative juices flowing and give your brain plenty of exercise. Not feeling inspired to create music isn’t an excuse to not create at all. The world is your canvas and if you’re capable of crafting art in the form of audio, why not visual? What you do doesn’t even need to be very far off from what you’re already doing- For instance, are you a DJ? Try VJing! Software like VDMX allows for a rich, tactile experience akin to DJing, but in a visual sense. Looking for something to try that’s similar to audio production? Try video editing! Film or find royalty-free content with which to craft videos for your songs, adding even more depth to the songs you’ve already put out there!

Avoid Over-listening

One of the most common pitfalls of music production is the over-listening of one’s own tracks. I am absolutely guilty of this. When creating, you’re often pooling together your strongest influences in order to create something made specifically to appeal to your own tastes. You should love your music, there’s no questioning that. However, many producers get to a point where the majority of their time listening to music is spent listening to their own music, and over time, doesn’t exactly lend itself to inspiration. As mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, it’s very important to allow yourself to be inspired by the works of other producers, especially those that originally motivated you to create music in the first place. A good way to avoid this pitfall is to make it a point to not render your project to audio until it’s finished. Keeping your material in the form of a project is excellent because you’ll have to open the project to hear where you’re at with the piece in question. If any ideas or inspiration surface, the project is already open and you can jump right in! Growing up I found great pleasure in listening to my demos on the way to and from work or school to find inspiration to complete projects. However, I often found myself disinterested and unmotivated to move forward with the project when I finally had the time to work on it. Keep in mind that the less you listen to your works in progress, the more inspired you will be to finish them when you do listen back!


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