Sometimes the stars align and creativity just flows. Pumped Up Kicks sold upwards of seven million units worldwide, hit number one in multiple countries and earned itself a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. It was written in just five hours, on a day off at the beach…
But if Mark Foster hadn’t taken that day off, instead he had gone to the studio to write a commercial jingle as he had planned, would the song have been created? Surely, a studio is a much more conducive environment than a beach in which to write a song. We won’t ever be able to say for sure, but it’s very possible that this career-changing hit would never have been penned.
The point is you can’t force genius. You can’t predict when it’s going to hit. You can be in the studio, utterly refreshed and ready to write, and your mind will go blank.
Creator’s block hits everyone at one point or another, and when it does, it would be easy to just give up and wait for that lightning bolt to hit again. But while genius can’t be forced, there are several things you can do to get those creative juices flowing.
Keep it Bang Tidy
It’s common knowledge that a tidy desk equals a tidy mind. This is fine for the naturally-tidy among us, but for others, it’s a battle that they have to keep fighting. While you may not sit down at a desk to pen your next track, it’s important that the area you’re in is as free from mess as possible.
There are various reasons why a cluttered workspace can be detrimental to your creativity. A 2011 study found that one of the main causes is that your brain processes all the objects as though they are ‘competing’ for attention. Your brain is literally trying to process everything your eyes are seeing, and therefore taking up your concentration. By removing these extra objects from your surroundings, you can free up your brain’s processing power.
Keep an Ear Out for Ideas
No-one is an island. There have always been prolific musicians who work alone, but for the longest time duos like Lennon & McCartney and Jagger & Richards dominated the industry. However, the average number of writers on a hit song today is much higher than two. A 2017 survey, Music Week found that, on average, a hit single now has 4.53 writers.
The main thing you should take away from this is that it’s okay to brainstorm with others when you’re writing. Get out of your comfort zone and expose your raw ideas to other artists, or perhaps sing the bare bones of the song you’re writing to your friends or your parents. Listen to advice from all directions. It doesn’t mean you have to take all of it, but you never know where the next great idea is going to come from.
Get Out and About
One of the best things about working in the creative industries is that you don’t often have to sit in an office. It’s not always completely avoidable, but you are afforded a lot of freedom. If you’re having a songwriting session, and really not getting anywhere, just go for a walk.
Take a break from the stress and the frustration, and have a stroll down the road or through a park for half an hour. Maybe hit the gym (COVID-permitting), if that takes your fancy, or ride your bike to get those endorphins firing. Removing yourself from the situation and doing something that can let your mind wander can do wonders for your creativity.
Turn It Around
A lot of people have a songwriting process, a method they work to perfect that aids creativity. This may work well a lot of the time, but the problem is that when it falls apart, the creator’s block can hit hard.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to overcome this kind of creative block. Just switch up the process. As great as the music you write might be when you get all of the lyrics down before the music, or by working off a killer chorus, try it another way. Don’t let yourself get caught in a rut simply because the method has worked for you in the past.
Give Up… For Now
Of course, there is another thing you can do. Just give up. Not forever, of course, but if you’ve tried everything else and you’re still blocked creatively, just come back to it another day. Alternatively, if you’ve been trying to finish off a song, switch to another one and see if you have more luck there.
Don’t be disheartened just because you’re having a bad day. Next time you sit down to write, you’ll probably feel completely different. It cannot be emphasised enough that you can’t force genius, just help it along in little ways.
Creative block is probably the most frustrating obstacle an artist can hit. You know that you have great ideas inside you, but for whatever reason, they just don’t want to show themselves. This doesn’t mean you’re a terrible musician, sometimes it just takes a bit of a shake up to get yourself writing hits.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help kick-start your music career, why not come along to one of ACM’s Open Days.