Inspiration. If we knew where it came from , and how to produce it, we’d be millionaires. In reality, finding good ideas is an imprecise science, to say the least. But, if we want to innovate, and create something that genuinely sounds fresh, where should we start? Are there any shortcuts to inspiration?
Maybe there are, maybe there aren’t. It’s impossible to quantify innovation, and it’s impossible to create inspiration. It just happens. But, even if you can’t guarantee brilliance, there are some things you can do to give yourself a better shot. There are concepts and practices that may help you innovate in music production.
The music you write is bound to be more innovative when you listen to more music. Our minds are a live action melting pot of all the influences, stimuli and practices that we combine in the moment of creativity. Naturally, the more music we fill our brains with, the more small tendrils of ideas we have gathered in our minds, waiting for us to find them.
In other words, our music is the sum of our influences. Whether you set out to innovate or not, your music can only benefit from exposure to as much music as possible.
Try to pick out aspects of songs that you particularly like. If you can, figure out how that sound was made. What timbres and rhythms are present? What melodic ideas are at play? It could be anything, but figuring out what you like (and dislike) in songs can help you understand your own songwriting.
Turning on the laptop, loading your DAW, plugging in your gear. By the time you’re ready to start producing, your mind has gone blank. Sound familiar?
Ideas often come when we stop looking for them.
The legendary musician and pioneer Prince famously had mics and tape recorders in every room of his house. He knew that the best ideas often come when you’re brushing your teeth, eating your breakfast or occupied in the water closet.
We don’t even need mics and tape recorders nowadays. Hum yourself a voice note next time you have an idea for a song, wherever you are. Instead of letting it drift out of mind, you might now have access to your best idea yet.
Even in these strange times, collaborating with other musicians is as important as ever. And even if you can’t perform with other musicians at present, the internet makes collaboration easy. We can send instrumentals to vocalists and performers on the other side of the world in minutes, and have a freshly recorded part back in hours. The whole world is just a WIFI connection away. With one click we can engage with other artists. Different processes, talents and inspirations are suddenly added to the mix.
There are hundreds of Facebook groups and Reddit subs across the world designed to connect musicians and artists together. From niche and genre interests to State-wide collab communities, there are musicians everywhere to connect with.
Some of the most interesting music innovations have come about from artists blending existing genres. While there may be additional influences in the mix as well, the act of combining two disparate styles of music can be momentous.
From Avicci blending Country and EDM to Skrillex combining Dubstep with, well, also EDM, to the pioneers who mixed Dub with 2-Step, Disco with Hip-Hop and even Blues with Barbershop Quartets, blending genres can be game-changing.
If you want to innovate in your music production, why not think of some genres you like? Are there any that might make a unique combo? It doesn’t really matter if they bear little resemblance – sometimes the biggest ideas are the best.
In most styles of music, we quickly learn what types of sounds we expect to hear. We know that RnB doesn’t have distorted guitars and screaming, that Drum ‘n Bass doesn’t have a four to the floor kick drum. We learn that certain sounds belong with each other and in certain styles of music. And this certainty creates opportunity for music producers. Challenging preconceived notions can be exhilarating and exciting. So why not try some drum sounds that would never normally be used in your track’s style? Why not play synth parts with acoustic instruments instead – or vice versa? Maybe you could try a pattern from one genre on the kick and snares, and a different genre on the cymbals and percussion?
The last example, and its overarching lust for innovation, is exactly why we gave Captain Beat per-channel rhythm substitution. And then loaded it with dozens of rhythms from all manner of genres. This method of thinking can fast-track innovation in your music production.
Every tool we use to make music has its own unique workflow, sound or skillset. It’s easy to get comfortable with the ones we’re most comfortable with, but if we want to innovate in music, breaking out of comfort zones is key. Whether beginner’s luck, or just from having a fresh eye on something, new tools often means new ideas.
Our learned production methods are suddenly out the window as we try and a new tool. Because every new synth, drum machine or effect has its own way of getting you from A to B, it forces our brains to think differently. It can be frustrating at times, but this tension is a fertile breeding ground for innovation.
In our podcast on How to write for Film and TV, celebrated TV and Film score composer Lee Sanders told us that usingCaptain Melody was a regular method he would emply to come up with new ideas. Its unique Idea tool can intelligently generate melodies based on key parameter settings. It has a degree of randomization and a whole lot of music theory powering it. This doesn’t mean it compoes better than a human composer, but it certainly thinks differently. By forcing himself out of his regular, learned composition methodology, he was able to abandon his subconscious prejudices and compose something that he wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.
Of course, this is but one example of a tool influencing the end product, but it’s a powerful analogy all the same.