Our resident agony aunt Charlie Leigh Gamble is here to answer your queries on music, life and existential crises. This month, our question comes from a reader struggling with a creative block.
I am in a creative rut.
In the past, ideas for tracks have come effortlessly. But for the past six months I’ve struggled. Not only am I finding it hard to find ideas in the first place; I’m not feeling the songs that do come. I’m in the inspiration desert with no roadmap and no sign of water. Where do I turn?
Now here’s a question I can relate to.
A few years ago my answer to this question would have been simple: Not feeling creative? You’re clearly not taking the right drugs. Go visit you local chemical candyman and ask for something stronger. In the words of the original Gonzo, Hunter S Thompson: “I’d hate to advocate drugs, alcohol or violence to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
But I’m a different person now. And while chemical inspiration has inspired any number of artists through the years, there are plenty of other less costly, and less damaging, sources.
The fact of the matter is, inspiration is everywhere… unless you’re not in the right frame of mind to be susceptible to it. To that end, the only thing standing in the way of your creativity is you.
As much as our egos would love to deny it, a creative block has roots. Often deep roots. It’s not just some invisible force that was dreamed up as a scapegoat for our lack of productivity. You have to do a bit of soul searching and ask yourself: “What is different as of now?” If the ideas were flowing effortlessly until recently, what was happening in your life at the time the well ran dry? Once you tackle the emotional and external distractions that built the metaphorical concrete wall between you and your creative place, you’ll be able to open yourself to a state of being where you will be more open to new ideas and free forms of thinking.
You may find, if you’re wired that way, that the problem is you don’t have any problems. For many creative people there is a great deal of truth in the saying that art suffers when you don’t. If you’re one of those people, then it’s hard to know what to do; no one in their right mind would embark on a mission to make life more difficult for themself. But there’s no harm in rethinking your creative path, getting back to the basics that worked for you.
Often it’s the simplest of changes to your routine that reignite the muse.
Not feeling it today? Stop staring at your laptop screen, listening to the same drum loop play for hours on end. Go outside and live life for a few days. Not only will you come back to the studio refreshed, but a scene, event or conversation might provide the creative fodder for a new tune.
Need motivation because you get mild anxiety when you have to leave your tech toys for more than three hours? Buy a field recorder, go out into the world and just press record. Capture everything; noises, conversations, street musicians. Sometimes all it takes is one sample to inspire a whole tune.
If you’re finding it hard to get excited about music at all, then how about rediscovering your love? Head to a live gig. Any gig. Go to a new club night. Challenge yourself by listening to a genre you normally wouldn’t listen to. Go to a place you normally wouldn’t go. Often the deepest ruts are those we’ve been in too long. Outside of them is fresh ground.
Need lyrical content, but not ready to let the world know about your broken heart or drinking problem? Write songs about the experiences of friends or fictional characters in books or movies.
Too lazy to do any of those things? Treat your hard drive to some new sample packs. Remix a track. Make a cover version. Working with other people’s sound is the dance music producer’s equivalent of jamming with a talented third party. And those kind of sessions can generate creative gold.
Above all, remember that many of the best songs are written in the aftermath of a creative dry period. And the truth is, no one can call themself a true artist until they’ve faced and conquered the evil nemesis of the creative block.
If you’re looking for advice, brutal honesty, or a little devil on your shoulder to nudge you down a path of troublemaking, debauchery and bad decisions, Charlie is your girl. Send her your dilemmas via the Contact page.