What methods and/or techniques do you have for getting ideas and concepts down onto paper/computer? Doesn’t even have to be music related, how do you enter that flow mind state and allow you’re ideas/emotions to come into play?!
Have a notebook on you at all times! Even if you’re just jotting down thoughts about songs / chords / concepts / techniques you wanna try - it’s all helpful when you sit down to make stuff!
And make to-do lists!
For me it’s all about capturing the idea, organizing it into a library of ideas, then coming back to it after some time and developing it.
Capturing it looks like photos, notes in my phone, voice memos, or scribbled post it notes on my bedroom walls. Dry erase boards can be good too.
Some people think visually, others sonically or verbally. Learning how you manifest ideas can help you capture them in the proper medium.
I’m visual, so I place all the notes onto note cards, turn the voice memos into doodles, and take the post it notes and organize them into a flow of workable narratives. The dry erase board tends to be a place where I integrate all the other mediums. Sometimes I print the photos and place them on the wall too.
The Wall is where I look at my ideas everyday. They all live there. Sometimes I stare at The Wall intensely, sometimes it’s only a glance.
When I’m ready, I harvest one (1 only) idea from The Wall and develop it.
I started using Roam and it’s changed my life. It is a flat graph so all notes can link to one another and its genuinely so good. Suffice to say, can’t quite believe i’ve been watching note-taking youtubers but there we go.
That looks pretty interesting, I’m gonna check that out! Thanks!
I wish I had the wall space to do that at the moment. The walls around my workspace are usually covered with sketches, print outs and notes! Its a great way to work if you can constantly see your thoughts.
I use a couple techniques in parallel.
- constantly writing down ideas. i tried being one of those super thoughtful moleskin notebook people but I’m too messy. I just am constantly scribbling on everything. yellow legal pads, post-it notes, phone Note app, a very abused moleskin i forget to leave the house with, napkins, inside books i’m reading. I even got a faux Stravigor pen so i can draw 5 line sheet music staves on whatever.
it’s really a hot mess, but it works. every so often i’ll take my mess (usually when a cleanup is VERY needed) and consolidate it to a single sheet of people
i have a rule called “just make sound”. if i’m at the computer, i drag something into the timeline and just start massaging it. effects, chopping/edits, timestretch, whatever. same when i play instruments. I usually like to warm up by just fucking around for a few minutes before i get into the more structured practice or developing an idea.
i make field recordings a lot. been dumping those recordings onto a hard drive for years so i have a nice archive now.
sometimes i use a proper field recorder, but often i just pull out my phone and use that, especially when traveling. reviewing the audio brings my memory back just as much as a photo anyway so its fun.
- i workshop ideas with friends a lot over text. this feels like kind of a gross habit as my screenftime is already ridiculous, but it is nice to be able to go back and review the conversation later. a healthier variation is going for a walk with them or having lunch, then taking notes right after. (Thankfully, the weather is warming up where I live so this can be more of a thing. COVID winter was socially pretty rough since i couldn’t do this at all)
as for achieving a flow state, by biggest trick is to avoid thinking about the end goal for a while. all my best stuff starts out by not having any idea as to what i’m eventually making when beginning. it’s always just kind of poking at something or playing around and I find if i do this often, eventually i find an idea i want to explore or something starts to develop and I’m off to the races.
anyway, hope this is helpful! was fun to take a minute and think about how I actually go about this.
So these are just some thoughts about the processes I use - they’re all a bit different depending on the task, and they’re all very personal to me and what I want to do. Apologies for length (as always).
For me mostly it’s about just doing busywork tasks when I have free time so that when I have inspiration or motivation I can just go and do something with minimal effort.
It’s mostly mixes for me, so I just make a lot of playlists and add to them slowly and then do a quick search for other stuff to buy / add when I feel like getting around to doing the mix. My latest mix was from a playlist that’s probably at least a year or two old. But it could be other things, like if I’m into looking at photos I might download lots of photos I can then store and have as a mini-archive to use when I’m struggling for visual ideas for mix covers.
I also just have habits - all my music is very organised and I tag it well with genre and stuff, and I use software to help with this (Yate, Musicbrainz & dBpoweramp Music Converter). Sometimes I go through periods of just getting one genre or subgenre of music, but mostly I’m interested in at least 2 or 3 things at once, and quite a lot of the newer club stuff is not easily classifiable. So when I get new music I get a bunch of it (maybe 50 tracks or so) I then import into my DJ software, analyse it with the software, and immediately put it into playlists where I think it’d fit.
If there’s nowhere for it to go I usually listen to it and make a playlist with a name with the vibe it gives me. This could be very specific and personal (“riot music”) or very generic (“club”). The personal ones can mean that listening to one track that doesn’t really fit anywhere plants a seed that turns into a really interesting and unusual mix - many of my mixes have reasonably generic themes, i.e. they are literally just a genre, are about a specific artist, or some basic mood or property like “slow”. So the ones that are very specific are often quite special to me, especially if the idea has just sort of come out of the ether.
I try not to get too worried about losing ideas - I used to be a bit frantic about that, but now I don’t mind. At the moment I am really into all Mica Levi’s projects, which for me is about 10 years of following obsessively, so there’s a lot of music. I think I may end up doing multiple mixes around various aspects of her work, but I’m waiting to buy different equipment to do so so it’ll be a while - and I’m having ideas now but I’m not taking any notes down because I’ll never find them again, and I sort of think if the ideas are any good they’ll just pop up if and when I try to do it.
Whereas before I would be obsessive about recording everything and I think it ended up being too overwhelming and I just froze up and didn’t do anything. Being forgiving about not remembering everything or being super productive all the time is very important for me - if it becomes a self-blaming thing it’s very destructive, both to me personally and to any attempt to do anything creative.
I constantly think that I am “not a creative person” and that doing mixes and artwork for the mixes is a self indulgence and I’m wasting all my money and making myself look stupid, or that it’s a kind of arrogance. So being conscious of those tendencies, keeping on top of them and being kind to myself is important or I will just get total block, or will not attend to the organisation tasks that make it possible for me to do any kind of work at all. Keeping that all in check also means I don’t beat myself up as much about not doing stuff consistently, or not doing things as soon as I have the idea. Letting things gestate in the background until the time feels right I think has been very good for the quality of the mixes, rather than doing it all in a kind of manic and frenetic mode and trying to compress the whole process into a very short space of time.
Certain restrictive approaches can also be good for productivity and idea gathering. All the artwork for the mixes are things I’ve done, and I don’t love making art and am not a visual artist or graphic designer at all. It’s something I enjoy occasionally, but my mind is not super visual and I’m not confident. For the mixes it’s mainly something I do to try and set a mood for the mix and to provide a visual to make it easier to remember the mix and give it an identity.
So basically I stumbled across a template during a period where I was interested in the visual side that I now use for everything - it can be changed to do lots of different things, but it keeps a broad visual identity that is consistent across what is a very tonally inconsistent set of mixes. And most importantly, it makes it very easy to do. Artwork takes me about 1 to 2 hours from having no ideas to being finished at most, if I already have an image to use in the template or find one quickly that could be much quicker, like 15 minutes or something. This means I’m not starting from scratch each time, which as a non-artist would be crippling and would take ages (the original template would have been done pretty much with trial and error, and would have taken several hours at least, maybe even a couple of days). If I had to start from scratch each time I’d have given up on the mixes or the artwork.
Having the template also gives a framework of tasks - search for an image, place the image within the square icon format, choose colours for the overlays and the text using trial and error. So if I need to do some artwork I can easily get moving instead of staring at a blank page, and that’s crucial for me as if I have a blank page I have historically just thought “it’s too hard, I’m giving up”.
Cheers @0800 for mentioning Roam - I don’t quite understand it but it did lead me down a research hole and I’m going to use RemNote which is similar and has a spaced repetition thing which might be useful for me as I’m doing some studying at the moment for the first time in about a decade.
I like to use just a single audio technique for each track. Limitations provide for creative moments. For example, if I use a vst, I make every single element out of that vst. Drums, synths, everything. Or if I’m using field recording, I do it the same way.
Another classic technique, try to copy a track you really like verbatim. You’d be surprised how different yours sounds in the end.
I’ve also written down ideas for tracks before “change instruments every four bars but keep same notation” or ive done little drawings aka stockhausen style. I noticed these kinds of tracks tho, I never really finish, because a lot of the time when you are actually creating, the sounds you find don’t correlate to the plan you had laid out.
The biggest thing for me is setting restrictions. Like “I have to just leave this track is after 30 minutes” or “I can only use this small subsect of sounds” etc etc.