How Your Software Can Help You Fight Writer’s Block, Pt. 1

By Damien Verrett

DMA music production instructor and professional electronic musician Damien Verrett is back to share more wisdom on the business and art of making music. His latest topic: What to do when musical inspiration doesn’t strike…and you need to help it along.

Anybody who spends a significant amount of time writing music will go through phases of creative drought. It can be especially frustrating when these bouts of writer’s block strike when you have a deadline looming. When artists seek creative inspiration, we typically look inward. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the frustration that stems from a spell of writer’s block is not a positive foundation for any kind of creative output.

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Damien Verrett uses his musical production talents in the studio, and in the DMA courses he teaches.

Fortunately, we’re living in the 21st century and have amazing tools that we can leverage when we’re in need of a creative boost. It doesn’t take much to get the gears turning again if you have a strategy in mind. Here are two techniques I’ve used in the past to get the ball rolling again mentally while producing music.

TECHNIQUE #1: SIDECHAINING CREATIVELY

Chances are if you’re making electronic music, you already know how to sidechain in your respective digital audio workstation (DAW). For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume you know these techniques well enough to follow along. If not, there are tons of resources on YouTube that can teach you how to sidechain in whatever DAW you’re working with.

After trying pattern after pattern with no success, I decided to roll the dice a little…

A while back, I was having a hard time beginning a new song. I had picked a pad sound and a chord progression that I liked, but I was feeling uninspired about the rhythm of the part. After trying pattern after pattern with no success, I decided to roll the dice a little. I ripped out a piece of paper from my notebook, set up a condenser mic with my interface’s preamp cranked and started crinkling the paper in front of the microphone.

I took the recording of the paper and slowed it down a bit. Then, I scanned through the recording listening for any portion that seemed like it could make a solid loop. I grabbed a loop, sidechained the volume of the paper sample to control the volume of my chord progression and then muted the paper sample. Ta-daa! Like magic, I had a creative rhythmic pattern to go along with my chord progression and all it took was looking at the creative process from a different angle.

TECHNIQUE #2: ROLLING THE DICE WITH AUTOTUNE

AutoTune is a polarizing subject in the music business. But no matter how you feel about using it on vocals, the popular plug-in can be used to great effect as a tool for writing melodies and lead lines. This technique is similar to the last one we covered. If you’re having a hard time thinking of a melody for a song, or the beat you’re working on is missing that certain SOMETHING producers are always chasing, try using AutoTune.

I like to grab a handheld mic, load up a channel with AutoTune set to the key of the song I’m working on, followed by a distortion effect and maybe some delay. Loop a section of the song and hit Record. Now, make whatever kind of nonsense sounds you want into the mic. Try screaming, gargling, buzzing your lips, whatever! With AutoTune set to the key of the song, everything you do will be in tune, no matter how nonsensical.

Listen back to the recording, pick out a melodic line that sounds cool and go from there. You can re-record the part you’ve just been gifted with another instrument, sing real words over it, or you can keep your AutoTuned vocal and use it as a sample.

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Come learn music production with Ableton Live 9 at DMA tech camps this summer!

No Rules, Just Right

Deferring to chance in favor of using your freewill isn’t always the best life advice. Fortunately, there are no rules in music or music production! Roll the dice and just see what happens.

Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge in the right direction and before you know it, you’ll be writing your next big hit!

Damien Verrett is a singer/songwriter/producer/filmmaker from Sacramento, Calif. He performs under the stage name So Much Light. Check out Damien Verrett’s recent album!