“I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” – John Cage.
There is nothing more rewarding and frustrating as trying to finish a musical project: a new song, a new set, a new look…
That’s why we asked producer and educator Dave Gray to share tips that work for him and his students:
I actually like to think of these finishing-music-project ideas as “Daily Meds”.
Pick one that works for you and digest it; some take it with food, or others like to choose a certain part of the day; the main thing is that you give it a try.
Some creative cases could require multiple doses per day, so prescribe as needed!
1. Go to the Bathroom
Sometimes the most personal intimate and private room available is a bathroom. It is our personal 24-hour cathedral or church. Go to a bathroom, sit down and turn off your mind. Focus on the sounds you are hearing in the bathroom and let your mind drift from the project you are currently focusing on. When you feel you have really drifted onto some new thoughts, day dreams, visual images or ideas, only then go back and look at your project.
2. Remove the “Next Step”
Look at your project or piece and consider the logical next step. For example, a chorus often follows the second verse.
What if you abandoned all ‘next steps’ in your project? What if song structures, instrumentation, note progressions, EVERYTHING about your project broke free of any ‘next steps’? What would that sound like?
3. Be Random
Take four different ideas you currently have and randomly connect them. Make sure that they are not related to each other in any way or form. Listen to the results, and continue to repeat the random mapping as many times as necessary until you find a sweet spot or section to build upon.
4. Take a Shower
Taking a refreshing shower can be a relaxing act and clear the mind, helping us focus on something simple. Remember how it feels to do a relaxing, mindless and effortless task, and bring that feeling into you next piece of music. As an added bonus, those you collaborate with might not be so prone to staying on the other side of the room from you.
5. Dig Around in the Past
Take a look at your past recordings and compositions. Try to remember what issues arose during the creative process, and what solutions you were able to come up with in those projects. Make a list of what the solutions were and apply them to your current project. If there were issues you didn’t find solutions to, try to brainstorm possible solutions you would suggest to your younger self. Add these to your list.
Dave Gray has just published Daily Meds for Musical Creative Practice: A Path to Effortless Creativity.
Dave Gray has performed on, produced and engineered hundreds of projects. He is also an ethnomusicologist. Dave started producing and engineering after working for Rick Rubin in Los Angeles. Gray has also performed and recorded with artists from major labels: Columbia, Wind Up, Warner Bros. and Capital records. His PhD specializes in the production techniques of multi-award winning Canadian music producer Daniel Lanois.