On Inspiration and Productivity (migration of June 18, 2015 post)

Early 20th century French pianist, Erik Satie, wrote a satirical daily schedule that included very specific times to "feel inspired." I always found this both humorous and insightful: the idea that people not involved in a creative activity see it so differently from other types of activities and work is strange to anyone involved. As a composer, there is something unknown and mysterious that can happen when making music, but the saying is true that it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. 

I've been thinking more and more about the issue of the creative spark/inspiration and its relationship with productivity over the past few months as I've been producing stock music steadily. In this time I've made an average of 3 tracks a day, not including additional variations and edits. During this time I've experienced highs and lows of excitement and interest for the music I'm making. At the best of times (the most "inspired"), I feel like I'm creating tracks that sound fantastic and I'm immensely proud of, and at other moments I find myself going nowhere with a track, forcing myself to finish to meet my daily quota. 

When the interest of the composer wanes, so too the quality of the music, which means that keeping interest and love for the music is not just an ideal, but means better quality music and more sales. In discussing this I should mention that I'm limiting myself to what is commercially viable - the comments only pertain to commercial music and I keep the music for music/experimental side of my work completely separate. 


Back to the point: the strategies for staying inspire/interested. In my experience, I have found the following strategies to work well for me. The list is in no particular order:

1. vary style/genre
2. exploring different sound libraries/instruments
3. exploring different effects/processing plugins
4. taking short breaks
5. listening to other peoples music

1. Vary Style/genre
At 3 tracks a day, that's almost 100 per month, and if every track were in the same style, the monotony would quickly become unbearable. - However, if one day I'm going to work on electronic music, the next day it could be recording folk guitar, the next day maybe orchestral horror music, this is much more interesting for me. For example, if I haven't made a corporate track in a week, then when I sit down to do so, I'm able to engage with a fresh perspective. The other benefit of this is that my portfolio is diverse (though I tend to lean on the cinematic genre) and thus have more exposure on the sites where I upload material. In particular, AudioJungle, lists their tracks from newest to oldest within each genre, which means that in the less popular genres, my music has a good chance of being noticed for longer and a diverse portfolio benefits from this.

2. Exploring different sound libraries/instruments
This one is pretty obvious - any sound library has it's strengths and weaknesses. A digital instrument will never be as versatile as a real one, but like a physical instrument, one must learn how to orchestrate to bring out the things they they feel work. For example, The Spitfire Enigma library contains an amazing collection of patches that I have used to create a number of ambient tracks that I'm quite pleased with. In this case, the sounds themselves inspired how the track ended up.

3. Exploring different effects/processing plugins
Similar to number 2 - an interesting plugin can also direct the music. For example, if I open up some distortion plugin, hook it up to a french horn and play around I might stumble across a musical idea that leads to an interesting track.

4. Taking short breaks.
When progress seems to stall, rather then getting frustrated, if I get up out of my char and do something else for 5-10 minutes, the problem I was experiencing before has usually alleviated itself somehow and the work is much better off for it.

5. Listening to other peoples music
I've gained a lot of respect for stock music and film music composers since I began doing it myself. The level of sound design and precision in the high-end corporate tracks is quite impressive. While I have no desire to copy anyone's tracks, a tone or idea that I hear can be quite inspiring as a challenge - how did they achieve that sound and can a replicate something along those lines? Another example of this is from the Game of Thrones soundtrack: The music itself is quite simple and transparent, especially the slower tracks, but the production is at a very high level. When I am writing my orchestral tracks, I think to myself "is this the same level of quality as the GOT soundtrack?"  could I even achieve something even more convincing and complex in this style?

Final Thoughts

There are dozens upon dozens of ways one can make music, changing up the work flow and using the strategies above has been very helpful to me and I hope others will find some use. Please comment if you have any thoughts and further ideas to share.

My music can be found principally on AudioJungle and Pond5 (no overlap, two different libraries)