In my last blog on navigating a creative block I focused on more of the emotional and mental impact of a being in a bit of an artistic funk.
You may have accepted that you have hit a wall creatively – you might even know why and are working through that. But perhaps you still want to be productive because, you know, creative block = productivity guilt, right? (It really shouldn’t by the way, attaching guilt to lack of productivity is an unfair judgement on yourself and could even be part of the reason you are in this position – I am going to cover this topic in more detail in another blog).
Today I want to share some tips on the more practical things you could do when going through a creative block so that you can at least maintain a sense of ‘doing something’ and perhaps even help you explore new horizons and evolve as an artist.
LEARN A NEW SKILL
Learning a new skill is a great way to see you through this time, with the additional bonus of becoming more well rounded in your capabilities.
If you are in the large camp of musicians who are relying on self releasing as the way forward, this is the perfect opportunity to start learning how to design your personal brand; understand how to build an audience; do some networking and try to make sense of how to get your music heard. There is so much advice and tons of resources to help self releasing musicians – DIY Musician by CD Baby have quite a lot of great blogs on this subject and a quick Google search will open up a whole rabbit hole of information.
Maybe you would like to try your hand at creating your own music videos? If, like me, you are a novice musician, it is likely that having a music video seems completely out of reach because of budget. But it doesn’t take a lot to make your own. You could invest a little in your own equipment like a reasonably priced DSLR camera, or you could simply use your phone camera which will probably have super high quality results anyway! Even if you don’t have the money to invest in things like lighting or props, you can get super creative with what you have at home. I shot my first video, ‘Glances’ myself using a DSLR I bought years ago, with limited understanding of the settings and terrible lighting. Yes, it won’t be winning any awards – but it’s a start. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Your skills will get better the more you do it.
Maybe you could pick up that guitar you keep meaning to learn; take the time to properly learn those plugins you keep experimenting with; do some music theory lessons; watch YouTube tutorials on how to mix and master or how to improve your recording process.
There’s always something to learn and ways we can improve our craft – maybe now is that time!
BUILD ON YOUR NETWORK
A lot of us cannot deny that we love to take a little break from real life by heading into the realm of social media. It’s ok – it is totally addictive! Some mindless scrolling is quite alright, but you could also set some time aside to do some research, network with industry professionals and find some great learning resources. Go on a #hashtag binge and find some interesting accounts to follow. Research playlist curators and try building some relationships with them (in an authentic way) so that when you have a release ready you might be able to ask them to include it. Find artist managers of musicians you admire and interact with them.
Networking does push us a little bit out of our comfort zone (in fact, if you are like me, the thought of approaching somebody I don’t know sends beads of sweat dripping down my back), but social media makes it a bit softer – comment on posts, react to stories you find interesting, share stuff you love with your own audience – but do it authentically and without the guise of it being a precursor to asking for something.
A BIG NO NO! Don’t plug your work on other people’s feeds/comments/live video streams. Nobody will appreciate that. Do show some love and support for other people’s work and that love will come back to you when the time is right.
HANG OUT WITH YOUR ARTSY TRIBE
I asked a couple of people what they do when they hit a creative block and one of my good friends Coreysan gave some great advice: Collaborate. Work on music with other producers, artists, singers, friends who can play an instrument – even (and this one may seem weird) non musicians! Maybe you have a friend who is a painter – you could spend time with them and create a piece of music that represents some artwork they have recently done. Maybe you have a curious sibling – let them have a play on your midi controller or drum pad – you never know what crazy stuff they might come up with; plus you get some quality family time in too!
Another great idea for inspiration or just general feel goods is going to a jam session – whether or not you participate is up to you. Some of my favourite moments in life – even as a young child watching my dad playing his bouzouki in sessions with his friends – is sitting amongst other musicians and just experiencing how they jam together on the fly – it is truly mesmerising. I am in awe. I don’t play an instrument and I am not confident enough as a singer to participate but it doesn’t matter. It leaves me feeling invigorated and inspired every time.
“Different projects with different roles in various genres is a way to come out of your comfort zone and embrace something new. To feel an excitement that can be applied when returning to your own project. Feeling fresh with new ideas and mindset.”
DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Buy a colouring book and get creative with colours. Do some doodling. Procure some clay and try your hand at sculpting. Write a short story. Put a blindfold on and dance to your favourite music. Do that DIY project you have been putting off forever. Clean the oven.
Doing something different – particularly something that is still creative but takes you into a state of mindfulness and relaxation or gives you a sense of accomplishment – will give your brain a break from worrying about your projects and open up some space for creativity to sweep back in. And you never know – your page of doodles could end up being your next album cover!
TEACH SOMEBODY ELSE
If it isn’t your time to create right now, maybe you could consider teaching some skills to others? This is a great opportunity to support your community and possibly earn some extra pennies if appropriate. Do you play an instrument? Why not offer lessons in your local area? You could create YouTube tutorials, live feed via Instagram or even partner with a training platform like Udemy.
Even if you are teaching a family member or volunteering your time with a local community group or charity; it will help you navigate your creative block in a way that is not only productive, but gives you an opportunity to do something meaningful with your time and help you build a network along the way.
EXPLORE NEW HORIZONS
One of my favourite things to do when I am in a bit of a creative funk but have projects I need to finish is to watch a music documentary, read a music book or check out interviews with musicians that inspire me. This quite quickly gets me in the mood again. But it also serves another purpose – when you research and listen to the journeys of other musicians, it helps you realise that you are not alone. Everybody goes through all kinds of challenges …..
Listen to things outside of your normal scope – are you an EDM producer? Watch documentaries about African music – you will learn so much about drums and percussion. Trap producer? Check out music from the Middle East – the chordal structures and just general feels are immense (might I suggest le Trio Joubran, a Palestinian band who create some of the moodiest music you ever heard). Folk musician? Listen to some hip hop – who knows what interesting techniques you might hear and adopt into your own sound.
My dad (a talented musician, bouzouki player and guitarist) is at heart an Irish folk musician, but the stuff he writes is so unique and cleverly constructed. I truly believe this is because he listens to the broadest landscape of music ever – from Funk, Soul, Rock and golden oldies to Pop, Electronic, Hip Hop, Dub and even the more obscure stuff that doesn’t even have a genre.
It is easy for us to become stuck when all we listen to is a particular type of music. Exploring new musical pastures will help expand your understanding of music theory itself and inspire you exponentially. You might even come up with an entirely new genre!
JUST STOP AND HAVE SOME FUN
Often a creative block is linked to the pressure to produce new work. Whether that pressure is coming from your label; the industry in general; your fans; or even the worst critic of all – yourself – it can lead you into a spiral of self doubt and exhaustion. It is no wonder the entertainment industry has such major problems with mental health.
But the reality is: you cannot be forced to create. This is YOUR life. It is YOUR mind and heart creating this art. It is YOUR time and energy being put into this. Yes, we all have jobs to do and deadlines to meet. But, you know what? Sorry to burst your bubble here, but the world keeps turning even when you are not producing something. You are allowed to take a break. And if that means missing a deadline, so be it – your wellbeing is more important than anything, plus the good news is that we are living in a world where mental health is being taken more seriously than ever – and the music industry has a particular spotlight on it right now.
If you don’t take the time to nurture yourself and take care of this funk you are in, you could end up worse off later on down the line.
Do something just for the sheer fun of it. You might have read my Learn to Love Learning blog, which goes into more detail about how you could use play as part of your learning process – do the same to help you through a creative block. Create something really flipping weird that you would never normally do. Write lyrics that make no sense. Go crazy with your plugins. Play your instrument for no reason at all. Get things wrong. Get things right! Just take some time out from making something for the outside world and do it for yourself.
You never know, it might spark back your vibe and could result in you exploring a new sound for your music.
Sometimes I find myself resisting working on projects I usually enjoy. I think this is because I am learning to mix my music, which feels like I am trying to conduct brain surgery without a degree in medicine…
But in those moments of resistance I force myself to watch a tutorial and open my project for just 5 minutes. In most cases, those 5 minutes are all it takes to do something that adds a sparkle that I would never have achieved had I been slogging away at it for hours on end. That in turn gives me a boost of confidence and I tend to come out of my funk and get back to work on my project quite quickly.
This is also a useful thing to do if you are an artist with very little time to work on your music (i.e. full time job, kids, social life, dog to walk etc). Just 5-10 minutes a day and you will be surprised at what you achieve by the weekend!
DO SOME ADMIN
You know what? Admin may seem like a total snore-fest, but it can be really cathartic and a little bit meditative. It can give your creative mind some time to replenish while you are focusing on a simple, repetitive task. My admin job that I am saving for a rainy day is to sort through all my samples and plugins and organise them better so that my workflow becomes less arduous.
Throw on some music you have never listened to before or maybe even search for a binaural beats video on YouTube, relax your mind and get stuck into that boring job you never want to do. I guarantee you will feel great afterwards!
Whatever you do, don’t put pressure on yourself. Don’t feel guilty either. Everybody is different and experiences a creative block in their own unique way. It is up to you to be kind to yourself, figure out why and help yourself navigate it in a way that best suits you.
Check out my recent podcast with DJ Bunjy where he talks about his experiences navigating a creative block.