What are some ways to get inspired to write music again?
May 12, 2016 8:13 PM   Subscribe

From the 90s to the early 00s (roughly my teens and twenties), I was a prolific composer and producer of music of all sorts of genres. Eventually I started doing it for my day job and all my creativity went away. Now it's 10 years later, and I haven't really done anything in about 10 years, and I'm getting desperate.

I feel like it was my identity and that I've been unmoored from that. It's all anyone I haven't talked to in awhile asks me about, and I feel like shit every time I have to talk about it. I have such high standards for myself which makes it hard to admit my inability to get started. I have all the tools available to me but they simultaneously repel me. No longer having an outlet/label/association to release music with is part of it. Nothing is more depressing to me than making some stuff and it being another one of the 1,000,000 soundclouds or bandcamp pages that get totally ignored.

I guess I am looking for some how-tos/exercises/techniques to get those sorts of juices flowing again. I'd try anything at this point, no matter how bizarre the recommendation. To clarify, I no longer do it for my day job, so that's not the problem.
posted by basehead to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Download some nothing/silly music program to your phone or tablet (assuming you have one) and just futz around with no goal.

Try composing something in a genre you've never ever done.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:21 PM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get a deadline from somewhere - commit to someone (to work with, or for - something low-key, for a person you trust and don't need to impress, but don't want to let down).
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:43 PM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe find some like-minded friends and start a loose songwriting collective & build songs from jam sessions. I've been doing a lot of group improvisation lately, and it's helped build my confidence back up to where I find myself more able to contribute ideas & co-write in another project I had been 'just the bass player" in. I doubt myself too much, but when there's group consensus that something sounds worthwhile, that buoys me.

You're going to have to work on the getting ignored part aside from that, though. It's the reality right now in the business. You've got the believe that what you're playing is worthwhile enough for YOU to want to hear it, instead of trying to figure out what THEY want to hear. People will appreciate that you're genuine, if you stick with it & mold things that matter to you as an artist, & you're good at your craft. Reaching people is hard yes, but trying to second-guess whether they'll like what you're making is a damned fool's errand.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:47 PM on May 12, 2016

Play- just play music with younguns much worse than you (if you play ). YMMV - it will vary. At this point nothing matters so just let others take the lead and use your deep know-how to bring things home.

Good luck!
posted by mrzz at 9:25 PM on May 12, 2016

They say the best criticism you could make of something is by going out and doing a better version of it. You hate that movie? Go make your own. You hate a song? Cover it, only better. Start with that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:46 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Perfect is the enemy of good.

If you cringe at the idea of producing less than your best work...just remember that you have to pick things back up from somewhere. Instead of focusing on a finished product, how about if you just set aside a specific amount of time each day or each week to mess around with your gear, without the pressure of producing anything finalized. After a while ( a few months, maybe more) you'll probably find something that feels interesting enough to polish, that you would want to publish online. So go ahead and do that. But give yourself some space to just mess around for a while.

If you're worried about being ignored on Soundcloud / Bandcamp, just remember that 90% of being noticed there is marketing and not the quality of your music.
posted by ananci at 10:53 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is a group of people who would absolutely love to find some free, fresh new music to use for their creative efforts. Those people make YouTube videos. No offense to Kevin McLeod, but if I hear Clenched Teeth one more time...
posted by xyzzy at 11:13 PM on May 12, 2016

Check out the work of Andrew Huang, if you haven't already. He sets challenges for his songs, like he makes the whole thing with the sampled sounds of water, or he does a whole rap without the letter E. Some of his songs are impressive just as music, the challenges aside.

I would have trouble sitting down and just trying to write songs by themselves, but if I had an idea for a musical I could probably bang out nine songs in a weekend. (Now, I'm not saying it'd be the next Hedwig or anything.) Maybe you could write the score for a musical, or a whole bunch of songs about one subject. If you were writing about the seven deadly sins (for example) you'd know that when you had the first four sins done you still had the three sins to go, and it'd give you a structure.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:24 AM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start somewhere you won't be totally ignored. Write songs specifically for friends, family or loved ones.
posted by Homer42 at 1:34 AM on May 13, 2016

a) agreeing with everyone saying play with other people - even if it's working remotely and you never see them. Me and some folks produced a whole album that way. When you're working with people you admire it forces you to come up with good stuff.

b) come over to MeFiMusic and post whatever you're working on, we will comment, critique and compliment, and you'll find lots of willing collaborators there if you want them!
posted by greenish at 2:12 AM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't wait for inspiration, just work anyway. You don't get inspired to write music... You write music and inspiration comes and goes!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:41 AM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't describe your day job, and I'm wondering why.

It sounds to me like you feel it's futile to create without an audience. Well, the audience isn't going to come to you, you have to find one. Or create one. Do something for someone's birthday? Put an ad in the paper to create something custom for a wedding? Find a community band or chorus and do something for them.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:48 AM on May 13, 2016

Find and fall in love with a new band and offer to do their demo. You have all the cool toys, share them with people who can ignite your lost passion.
posted by myselfasme at 6:07 AM on May 13, 2016

Yeah, I came in to give a shout-out to MeFi Music! The monthly-ish challenges can be a nice low-stakes source of external pressure.
posted by usonian at 9:17 AM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just started listening to a lot of new music, thanks to Metafilter pointing me toward some great artists, and it sparked my interest in songwriting again. Maybe just listen to some new music, or old and beloved favorites, for enjoyment and without pressure, alone. It might be just the spark you need to ignite your creativity.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2016

I bought this book called Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers. It's really a gorgeous book, so even if it doesn't make you do anything, it might be worth it for the gorgeousness. That was my thinking, although I don't make any species of music, electronic or otherwise. I do take it out and look at it on occasion. I love the Problems of Beginning section.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:07 AM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a similar issue in that I was a performing musician from around 1991-2001 but then got an unrelated day job, family, etc. I have done a few different things over the years to try to stay connected to music, like:

* Teaching kids to play guitar
* Learning a new instrument and playing casually with friends
* (Recently) buying a few new pieces of equipment for home and setting up a comfy space to go play/write music.

I think the key thing is to not pressure yourself to be at the level you were before in terms of output or notoriety. For me, just hacking out a few 3 chord songs was something I hadn't done in ages. Also if you can find new people to collaborate with (family, friends, whoever) that can be really fun even if they aren't in the same place as you skill-wise.

And for sure listen to new music. I am getting too old to go out on work nights often but now and then I go to a club show and I always come home stoked to do something musical.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:57 AM on May 13, 2016

Nothing is more depressing to me than making some stuff and it being another one of the 1,000,000 soundclouds or bandcamp pages that get totally ignored.

Make it about you, not the prospective audience. You sound like you've got regret, frustration and alienation going on right now about making music. Work with that. Make the music angry and frustrated. Force it and record it. Make it caveman simple, noisy, shouty, weird, whatever. Bang stuff. Play your chosen instrument the wrong way. You're a producer, you can fix it later if you hear something in it that works for you.
posted by Hoopo at 2:15 PM on May 13, 2016

Nthing deadlines and challenges, but I think one real underlying issue here is in the phrase "I have such high standards for myself." It's a real killer for enjoying the process. It sounds like you may have some beliefs like, "if this music doesn't meet my own standards, and/or if a lot of people don't like my music then it's pointless for me to even try." You might want to try challenging those beliefs by doing a deliberately fast-and-loose job: this is the "shitty first drafts" approach from Bird by Bird. Some ways you might do that: be blatantly derivative and uninspired on purpose, use only synth presets, make songs where you only allow yourself to do one vocal take and have to write the lyrics in thirty minutes or less, mix things in a totally amateurish way instead of obsessing about EQ and compression. And then see if, regardless of how "good" the final product is, whether you actually enjoyed the process of writing and completing something.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:02 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buy a new instrument or piece of gear, especially something you're largely or totally unfamiliar with - an oud? a theremin? tin whistle? Kaoss pad? Trying to figure out how to make the darn thing do something close to what you want it to do can definitely spark creativity.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2016

I've thought about this a fair bit, and this applies to most arts, but music composition especially:

A composer has to want to prove something. A composer has a chip on their shoulder, or a nagging little bug under their butt. A composer has to want to go through the often annoying and boring process of creation in order to just make a point. Good composers often tend to be constantly discontent in some weird way. (Or discontent in some weird way when they do their best stuff...)
posted by ovvl at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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