The Secret To Maximum Creativity (In The Studio And Beyond)

| Mixing, Rant, Tips, Video

Have you ever felt stuck as a songwriter, producer, or engineer?

First you have to know that this is normal. Second, you need to know the secret to waking up your brain to maximum creativity.

Today I want to share with you two strategies to keeping you at your best with your music making.

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48 Responses to “The Secret To Maximum Creativity (In The Studio And Beyond)”

  1. John G

    Thanks for the video! I’m just getting over some writers block this week. A few things that helped me is to start writing on a different instrument, or just start on a part of the song you don’t typically start with. Second, I tried to stop writing and just jamming. There’s something about sitting down with the pressure of work that kills the vibe. Third, if you are stuck…don’t stop yet. Just keep going, an (typically) you will randomly get there! Lastly, instead of writing specific ‘parts of a song’, I’m searching for a vibe. Whether or not I use the lead, melody, or whatever, I at least nail down the Key and approximate tempo.

    Reply
    • Ben Kruse

      Writing on a different instrument is VERY helpful – even if it’s an instrument you aren’t proficient at. I recently started playing piano (guitar and bass are my main instruments), and writing on the piano has opened so many new creative avenues.

      Reply
      • John G

        Writing on an instrument your aren’t proficient in may help write simpler songs and not overthink the complexity a la Graham’s limitation philosophy.

        Reply
  2. Ben Kruse

    I am often mixing or recording or songwriting after a long day at my day job (teaching high school) and then spending time with my family helping my kids with homework or playing with Legos. I’m exhausted but I really love music production and want to get into the studio to get our EP out. At this moment there is a significant lack of inspiration and excitement. One trick I use to get myself started is to keep a running list of the things I am working on and maybe some inspiration that I had the day before. This way I can get in there and start right away on something productive and meaningful, and this magically causes the creativity to flow. Steven Pressfield says something like writing isn’t hard, what’s hard is sitting down to write.

    Reply
    • Bryan Hoogenboom

      I agree 100% with Steven Pressfield. I think, at least for me, it is related to my own perceived inadequacy. Right or wrong, I think I stink. Additionally, for me again, the writing process is not stimulating. You know what I’m talking about. It’s drudgery because it’s too much like school or work or… accounting. It’s hard to convince myself that, in order to write my own music, I must first sit down and… well… write my own music! I would likely do it more freely if I did it more often and produced more material for public consumption. Success breeds confidence, while failure educates us on what success really is and what is separating us from it.

      Thanks for posting, Ben.

      Reply
  3. william garrett

    I really appreciate your input on creativity, Graham. I have been in a slump for quite some time but have figured out how to implement working in ‘sections’ to complete a song. I am pretty reclusive also but can’t drink caffeine, lol, so no Starbucks for me. Anyway, I find it helpful if I’m writting a song or a lead solo, to groove on just one measure at a time until I’m happy with it. Then move on to the next. You would think that this would interfere with the vibe but it seems to work for me. I use a punch peddle, so no setting up punch points on the puter.

    Reply
  4. Tryggvasson`

    Good luck, man! Don’t overworry. Just take a break, as you said, reset your brain, go get yourself reinterested in life (I’m not saying you’re not, you know what I mean, just something to rekindle your passion, your joy, and your innocence as to life, music and stuff, without worrying about job specifics). This is usually a result of overstress, overwork. So maybe the cure is a break of understress and underwork :). Keeping my fingers crossed. All the best!

    Reply
    • Tryggvasson`

      You know what I would do, if I could afford it? Get a boat and wander on the sea for a week. Or climb a mountain. Physical effort and meditation is the cure to mental exhaustion – it’s not me who has said that, it was somebody smarter, but it’s true. Not thinking – that’s the enemy. Taking a few steps back to gain a wider perspective and catching your breath – on the inside. Take care!

      Reply
  5. Jon Gorrell

    Great advice. My wife and I both have multiple income streams that do not require us working conventional “jobs” outside the home and we find it essential to get out to avoid stagnation. Over the years I have found my two best, and most common, events for new song material come from 1) Waking up with a fresh song already going through my head, and 2) Taking a shower. In both cases I immediately hit my studio (I record on the BOSS BR-1180) and start laying down some tracks before the memory slips away. This happened just today and I think a great song will come out of it … and I got a shower and shampoo! Any word on these types of phenomenon, Graham?

    Reply
  6. Joshua Hall

    Mick Goodrick, in his book “The Advancing Guitarist”, has a whole philosophical section that I found really helpful – he recommends when you’re feeling stale to do things like “walk in the park, vacuum the house, make dinner, walk the dog” anything really other than play or practice music.

    I am currently working through Frank Gambale’s guitar technique books. Just playing material someone else’s fingers created gives you a little of that magic.

    Definitely go outside, sit at the beach, hike a mountain, be with your family/friends, and don’t stress out over when the creativity starts flowing. Just make sure you’re prepared when it does.

    Peace,
    Josh

    Reply
  7. Joe

    As always, thank you, Graham, for your advice. Especially when it comes to expressing how the job (for lack of a better term) makes you feel physically and emotionally at the end of a week. That’s the stuff most blogs and tutorials won’t teach you, and I appreciate that.

    There’s a park near where I live that has a trail you can walk, can do climb through the crags of the hills, or go and sit down and look over the river.

    There one spot I’ve found out there I like to take an acoustic and play, even though I’m a drummer and really can’t play the guitar. For the most part I let the birds sing their best hymns to me, the wind, sun. Nature, in my opinion anyway, is the brain’s polar opposite to the studio.

    Only other thing that helps me like that is seeing a live show, generally in a genre of music I don’t play. For example, I grew up with my brothers playing heavy metal. The last concert I went to was to see Andy McKee.

    Reply
  8. Adam Snyder

    Great advice Graham! I actually got out of the house last night for the first time in awhile and just enjoyed some live music, talking to people about life, my daughter, etc. It works!

    Reply
  9. Tom

    Fantastic video. These sorts of things are more important than tips and tricks I think sometimes.
    I’m all day and evening in the studio and I find it really hard to take a break. I even feel guilty when I do take a break.
    I’m going to put those ideas into practice from this video, things like take a different route to the studio. Start a different time, hunt out new blogs and tutorials etc.

    Good work graham.

    Reply
  10. preston

    Once upon a midnight dreary ,as I pondered weak and weary.
    [Edgar Allen Poe] ars longa vita brevis not sure who said that but they spoke Latin

    Reply
  11. Dennis Lauritzen

    Is this a coincidence or what?
    When you held your release a song in a month I decided to release a song every month this year..
    And what happens… Writers block.
    Even though the second song came out a little too late it did come out, because I ended up turning this writers block into what the song is about – namely about the frustration and then how to get that inspiration… Exactly getting out into the world and let your brain get overloaded!

    You can hear the song here:
    https://soundcloud.com/internalized-sun/02-inspiration

    The third song is well under way exactly because of me realizing how important the input from the world is.

    Thanks for the variety in your videos Graham!

    Reply
  12. william garrett

    Sometimes all it takes is a REMINDER that we need an epiphany to bring us into the ‘receiver of the muse’ moment. Your post inspired me. I know that we are all different people, more or less, when experiencing different environments. This is something I’d forgetton. My addition to what’s been suggested, is any new instrument, device for said instrument, i.e. stomp box , new amp, drum machine/plugin loop etc. Anything that deviates from your norm is a huge plus. I remember getting a Roland GR-1 guitar synth. That opened huge doors for me. Then I bought a Digitech Vocalist II for experiening harmony possibilities. These paid off well. So … anything that does it .. does it, eh? 🙂

    Reply
  13. Walt

    Great thoughts on refreshing your creativity, but I disagree with the statement that mixing is an art and not a science: Studio recording and mixing is definitely both an art and a science. That’s one of the things that is so great about it. When art meets science, great things happen.

    Reply
    • Liquid Solids

      True. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about learning about making music is that it’s such a great combination of art and science!

      Reply
  14. Forde

    Take a 3 month break from us if you need it Graham, I won’t be offended, i’m sure the others won’t either. Take the pressure off yourself, no more vids for three months, let us stand on our own two feet for a while.

    Reply
  15. Dougie Fraser

    Thanks Graham for your good thinking on creativity. You’re always my go-to guy for all things audio but I hear what you’re saying about varying-up the input. Mixing by the sea sounds wonderful. I’m in a big city in Scotland but I’ve got a beautiful park close at hand that I can go to sometimes to listen back to tracks I’m working on – though I often break off to just soak up the natural sounds around me! I’m a birds and squirrels fan as well as a recording nut!! The sounds of nature crackling all around you I find really rejuvenating after hours in my studio.
    Love your stuff Graham. Love you man!
    Happy Easter to you and your family.

    Reply
  16. Mark Young

    My formula: Study + Physical Exercise = Creativity
    Study: books, your instrument/practice scales/new chords
    Exercise: run, swim, bike, camp, get away, explore

    Reply
  17. Nick Critchley

    Thank You for this video, I was stuck, I knew what you were saying in the video but had just forgotten, you nudged me in the right direction, thanks again.

    Reply
  18. jonas nymose

    Great video!
    The first thing I thought where “Graham, you look like a mess and like you didn’t get enough sleep the past week. Are you ok?”. And later in the video you kinda pointet it out yourself. I know it sounds odd, but to me that where the best part of the video. Most of the time I’m pretty introverted myself. So I can relate.
    We all need contrast’s in our life. Without contrast (which is impossible) life wouldn’t make any sense. And we wouldn’t be able to change. To me life is all about learning and evolving. So change is very important. Even the tiny ones. It’s hard to see what is going on when we are stuck in the same position all the time. Creation never comes from creation itself. Because creation is creation. It can’t be anything else. But It’s always reflected by something else.

    Reply
  19. Rick Campbell

    One trick I’ve used for years: Do not use your mind for non-creative tasks. Gotta remember to buy toilet paper? Write it down. Empty your head of all that sort of stuff as much as possible. Let a piece of paper do that work. The idea is that it frees up brain power for creative purposes. Works for me.

    Reply
    • jonas nymose

      That makes sense. It’s the same for a designer during the design process. One of the first parts is brainstorming. When doing a brainstorm it also cleans out the thoughts. But you need to get it all out without judging. Never hold back. Even if it’s very dirty. Thoughts you would normally label as “WRONG”. A proper brainstorming is a longer and sometimes very exiting process. You really go deep here. It’s actually the subconsciousness on paper written in front of your eyes. It can be a pretty great tool for several things. In the end you’re gonna get some connections here and there that will give you the right direction for your next designs in that particular project.
      Maybe it can be used for music and art as well. Who knows?

      Reply
  20. Javier RL

    I’ve just read “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles”, by Geoff Emerick. He tells how he broke every EMI’s rule during the Beatles’ different recordings, and how he would refuse to repeat any technique used in the past in new albums. He hammers on the idea that creativity is essential to a recording/mixing engineer’s work, and that being creative was the key to his success as an engineer. He would ditch any project were some band would tell him “we looked for you because we wan the sound you achieved in this or that album”. I highly recommend its read, as an amateur mixing engineer and as a Beatles fan.

    Reply
  21. Jean-Philippe

    My opinion is:

    It depends. Creativity is not really important to track a band. Using what is known to work fine is all right. Especially if the band is well prepared and did the creative part…

    Depending of what kind of band or artist that you mix, you probably don’t need to be really creative either. Why putting a crazy chain on vocals if the artist just want it dry…

    To ”Create”, write songs, do arrangements, etc, you sure need to think and be creative at some point.

    For the tracking and mixing part? It always depends. I wouldn’t try to be creative recording a classical ensemble. I’ll just put 2 great microphone, press record and that’s it.

    Reply
  22. Russell Smaha

    Thanks for the advice, Graham! Been in a slump for a few weeks and I think this simple yet helpful advice is just what I need. Thank you for sharing this video!

    Reply
  23. Piankhi

    I really agree with you on this. Just changing my desktop wallpaper seems like it has an impact on my music.

    Reply
  24. Daniel

    WOW!
    This is amazing and I feel like it is amazing how simple Graham puts it. You can tell that he is a true artist. I am always trying to take a different spin on things but never actually getting out of my environment or putting new “input” as Cochrane put it into my brain. Thank you so much for this amazing insight.

    Reply
  25. Marie

    Thanks for the video ! They are very interesting 🙂 (sorry if my english isn’t correct, I’m french)

    Reply
  26. Ethan Curtis

    Graham, enjoyed video! Good advise for stirring up creative juices and for positive living in general. Creativity is all about innovating, and without fresh inspiration our art stagnates. Our brains are like any other muscle, we have to switch up the routine or we are sure plateau. Thanks for sharing!

    I noticed that you’re in Tampa. If you ever find yourself in the Orlando area, give me a shout. I’d love to have you come check us out and catch a vibe at the studio.

    Rock On!
    Ethan

    Reply
  27. Nicky R.

    Hey Graham, great video! I too want to mix on the beach. Last summer I actually mixed a song on my terrace and it worked really well. Like you said, my brain woke up.

    Cheers!

    /Nicky

    Reply
  28. Owen Thomas

    The secret to being creative is, clearly: never having to wait longer than it takes to say “I’ll have a grande iced-mocha with cream please” for your next shot (or three) of caffeine!

    Reply
  29. Hakim

    Loose your job, your girlfriend, fall into depression… the best way to wake up your creativity 😉

    Seriously, Graham, “change inputs going to your brain (the environment is also an input)” is really your best advice. Many many thanks.

    Reply
  30. krayzbeat

    Thats true, course a lot of my songs that are best for me lyrical I do memories them at work , am a front griller at a restaurant that’s where I come up with a lot of ideas & record them on my smart phone. It really dose help me a lot even when am walking alone around town going to the shops

    Reply

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