5 Things to do When You’re Stuck in a Creative Rut (Or Unmotivated)

Sam MatlaThink, Workflow & Creativity%s Comments

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We’ve all been there, let’s not lie about it.

What am I talking about? You know, when you open up your DAW, you’re excited, ready to start a new track, but for some reason you just can’t get anything down! This often leads to unproductive sessions resulting in more frustration and can even cause a long lasting lack of motivation.

It’s annoying, it sucks, and it’s a nightmare for those on a regular release schedule. And unfortunately it’s almost inevitable.

So, how can we dig ourselves out of this hole, and rekindle our passion and creative self?

1. Take Some Time Off

I’ve always had an issue with this one, mainly because it’s hard to do.

For some people, taking time off seems absurd, especially if you’re trying to make a living off music. I agree, it’s stupid. While you’re taking time off, someone else is busy at work, creating music. Why are you not doing anything?

Here’s the thing though, you can’t force this. If you treat music production like a job, then you’ll likely become less passionate about it which can ultimately lead to a lack of motivation and creativity, for example: If I’m doing freelance audio production I find that I have more of a ‘get it over and done with’ mindset, which isn’t ideal.

If you find yourself trying to force it, take some time off. Spend a week away from music production altogether, and see how it helps. If it doesn’t help? Fine, don’t do it again. But in most cases it will.

Why would this even work?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship you’ll know that spending a week away from your partner has some sort of effect on the emotional section of your brain. It goes something like this:

  • Finally, I’m away. I can spend some time alone!
  • You know, I’m actually starting to kinda miss him/her
  • Okay, I’m sick of this
  • [finally reunited] YAY!

Call me weird, but I find it the same with music production. After spending a while away, it gets difficult, you find that inspiration, and your only desire is to produce: you’re out shopping for groceries and you can’t get that new melody out of your head. Hear a new song on the radio and all you’re picturing is yourself in front of your DAW.

Unless you get paid by the hour, then taking some time off can be incredibly beneficial. It doesn’t have to be long, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re not committed. If you’re worrying about not progressing then just remember that when coming back after a break you’ll be moving ahead at 110%.

2. Collaborate with Others

Collaborating is something I recommend that every producer do. Why? I suppose the better question would be, why not?

No two people have the same workflow, ideas, or exact philosophies in regards to music production, and this is what makes collaboration so great. Not only do you have someone to kick you up the ass when you’re not getting enough work done, but you’ve also got someone to bounce ideas off and discuss things with.

This is especially helpful if you’re lacking motivation, because when collaborating with someone you’re staying accountable to them. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing this in person or over the internet, your collab partner won’t be too happy if you don’t help finish the track you’ve both started.

Note: this doesn’t apply to just producers. Try collaborating with vocalists, musicians, even audio engineers!

3. Organize and Prepare

There’ll be times when you just don’t feel it at all. During these times you may be tempted to watch TV, play GTA V, or go drink some vodka – but there’s something inside of you that’s telling you to make music OR do something related.

During these times, I like to do organization and preparation work. This might include sample organization, cleaning up projects (renaming, coloring, etc.), sound design… you name it.

This is an incredibly productive thing to do and will help you immensely in the future when it comes to finding a particular sample or opening that old project of yours. Basically anything that’s remotely related to music production, I mean, you might even want to do some promo work for yourself.

4. Feed Your Mind

A few months ago I was actively monitoring BT’s Twitter stream, after he posted a tweet inviting people to ask him questions. One of the questions went something like this:

I want to get into music production. What do you recommend I do?

A rather open ended question, I’m sure you’d agree. BT’s response?

Study as much as possible, read everything.

Obviously not word for word (I can’t find the tweet) but that was the basic gist of it. You’ve got to feed your mind if you want to progress in this creative field!

So, if you find yourself stuck in a rut – why not read a book about music theory or audio engineering? You’re learning, for one, and it might even spark a bit of inspiration for a track.

5. Set Goals

This applies more to those who are unmotivated rather than those feeling uncreative.

Regardless of whether music production is your life’s purpose, or just a hobby, goals are important. Why? They help us strive to be better. One might argue that you shouldn’t apply things like goals to music production, because it kills the creativity and causes one to focus on themselves rather than the music. To that I would simply laugh and walk away.

If you haven’t done this, do it now. Write down three goals on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you can see! Don’t set unrealistic goals, but don’t make them petty and easy to achieve. Here are my three if you’re looking for some ideas:

  • Release on Fraction/Tool Records by Mid 2014
  • Have a track supported by an artist I admire
  • Impact someone

Looking at this every day will do wonders for your motivation. Vision and positive mindset is incredibly powerful despite it being controversial.

Wrapping it All Up

Again, this is going to happen. There’ll always be times where us producers feel uncreative or unmotivated, but fortunately there are a few things we can do to stay productive or rebound.

So, take some time off, consider collaborating, organize and prepare, feed your mind, and set goals. I can assure you that doing any of these will have positive benefits in one way or another.

Feel free to report back with results!