A blank piece of paper…
That’s how every song/recording/production begins. A clean slate. A vast sea of nothingness.
Our job as musicians and producers is to fill that void with something good, to create something out of nothing, to make something beautiful. (Or at least something that makes people wanna break out a cowbell and start playing along.) 🙂
That’s what excites me about music. I can sit down with a guitar or with a microphone, and an hour later I can walk away having created something…something that didn’t exist an hour earlier.
However, sometimes staring at that blank page or that empty Pro Tools session can be a bit daunting, if not downright overwhelming. Where do you start? Once you have a song, how do you figure out what instruments to add to the recording? The arrangement?
Stuck in a Rut
I think I’m in a little bit of a rut myself. The last few songs I’ve worked on…they’re starting to sound kind of the same. I’ve developed this habit of doing drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, B3, percussion, mix, done.
I’m generally happy with how they turn out, but I think I’ve got a case of tunnel vision. I start a song, and I don’t really let my mind open up and think of ALL the ways I could produce it. I have this default “production kit” that I use.
There’s nothing wrong with having a “style” or a “sound.” The lead singer for Cake was interviewed recently. They asked him what he says to critics who claim that Cake’s music hasn’t changed its sound over the years. He simply told them, “You’re right.” Having a sound that works for you is awesome, but don’t be afraid to venture out and discover new ways of producing your recordings.
Here are a few ideas:
Buy a New Instrument
I’m not saying go drop $3,000 on a new Les Paul. Sometimes all it takes is a weird, quirky little instrument to reboot your brain and help you come up with fresh new production ideas.
If you’re not a musician, per se, go to your local music store and peruse the percussion instruments. Something as simple as a tambourine could spark new ideas.
If you’re a guitarist, try finding a cheap, beat up mandolin somewhere. It doesn’t HAVE to be used for bluegrass music only. I used an ooooooold beat up mandolin on my album. Only half the strings even worked because the neck was so warped, but I came up with a few cool parts that I’m happy with.
Don’t go crazy here. Spending money isn’t always the answer. Maybe you just need to borrow a banjo from a friend and see what happens. Or a kid’s keyboard. Or a kazoo. Get creative.
Listen for New Ideas
I definitely don’t do this enough. I get in this groove where I’m listening to the same music over and over, and it takes me a few months to branch out and find some new albums to listen to.
Some of the best production ideas and “ah-ha” moments I’ve had are a direct result of simply listening to other people’s music. You don’t have to personally know the producer/engineer to learn a lot from him.
Upgrading Your Gear Probably Isn’t the Answer
If it’s your production skills that need improving, upgrading your microphone or interface won’t help that. I know it’s fun to do, and I LOVE to play with a new piece of gear, but nicer equipment won’t make your boring arrangements any more interesting. 🙂
These are just a few ideas I thought of. What about you? Share with the rest of us by leaving a comment. How do you get yourself out of a production rut?