I was in New York City during Memorial Day weekend visiting my parents on Staten Island.  We had just returned from attending my middle child’s high school graduation in Washington, DC.  The plan was to spend a relaxing weekend with my folks and enjoy some grilled food on the Monday holiday.  

That plan was disrupted when I received an email from a music house that I recently connected with.   They were looking for music for a commercial.  They needed some musical ideas Tuesday morning.  With my weekend plans in place, that meant that I would only have Sunday and Monday to work up an idea.

This is not a rare occurrence.  Custom briefs for sync often have fast turn-around times – usually 3 – 5 days but sometimes even sooner.

I’ve been working with fast deadlines for so long, I sometimes forget HOW I’m able to consistently create with these conditions.

In some ways, making music on-demand can feel like the OPPOSITE of creativity.  Creativity is about following your inspiration.  But when you add a ton of creative constraints (the song must be a certain tempo, in a certain genre and sound just like a certain popular artist without being a ripoff), creativity becomes challenging.  Add an urgent deadline to the mix, and now creativity becomes infeasible.

So, how do I avoid writer’s block?  How do I make sure that creative ideas keep coming even with these demanding constraints?

Well, here are some of the techniques I’ve developed over time.  Hopefully, they’ll inspire you and help you to consistently be your most creative self.

I. Capture Inspiration when it comes

Nothing changes the fact that inspiration comes when it comes. You can’t force it.  What I do is try to make sure I capture it when it comes so that when I need it, I have a reservoir of ideas to pull from.

For me, yellow legal pads, my iphone notes app and my iphone voice recorder are my tools of choice.  Sometimes great ideas come to me while in the bathroom brushing my teeth.  I’ll pull out my phone and open the voice recorder app and scat the melody I’m hearing.  Then I can safely forget about it.  

I probably have dozens to hundreds of song ideas on my phone.  And I have dozens of song titles in my Notes app.   

If I need to write a song today and nothing comes immediately to mind, I have a ton of saved ideas that I can use or modify if necessary.

II. Listen to LOTS of Music

This may seem obvious but how often do you listen to music?  I don’t mean casual listening, I mean how often do you STUDY music? I find that the best way to get better at writing, producing, arranging and mixing songs is to listen, break down and analyze lots of songs.   And it’s also a great way to come up with creative ideas.  Every time I listen to a song I may take note of something unique in the production: the types of sounds used in the transitions; what sound elements are included in the music production; how is the vocal production handled – single lead vocals or stacked harmonies?

The more I listen, the more ideas I can pull from when it’s time to deliver.

III. Use the Power of Playlisting

Playlisting is my secret weapon.  I’ve been using it for years.  It’s an indispensable tool that helps me create on-demand music to reference.

Here’s how it works.  Whenever I receive a brief from a music supervisor or music agency, it usually includes a few sound references.  These references are provided to give me a sound direction to aim for.

The problem, though, is that with just a few sound references, it can be more likely that you end up creating a sound-a-like or ripoff instead of an original inspired work.

How do I avoid this?  By adding more sound references.  By expanding their 3 references to a playlist of at least 8 – 10 songs, I’m more likely to create something original that fits in the playlist of 10 without sounding too close to any one of the songs.

I’m a Spotify Premium subscriber so that’s the process that I’m going to describe.  If the brief includes any references, I’ll create a playlist in Spotify starting with those 2 or 3 songs.

Then, if I’m familiar with the genre, I’ll add a few other songs that feel similar to me.

Here’s the cool things about Spotify.  After you have 2 or 3 songs in your playlist they will auto-suggest similar sounding songs to add to the list.  This feature is really helpful cause I’ve discovered a lot of reference songs this way.  You can listen to the suggestions and then add the ones that work.  And, as you add more to the playlist, the recommendations change giving you even more targeted options.

I repeat this until I have 8 – 10 songs in the playlist.  

I’ll listen to the playlist on shuffle a number of times until it inspires some original ideas.  And then I get to work.

That’s my process.  It has worked very well for me.  I’ve been in numerous on-demand situations over the years and in all this time, I’ve only experienced one “writer’s block” incident (and that was only due to bad chemistry with a celebrity artist).  99% of the time though, I’ve always had great ideas when needed.

Hopefully, this will serve you as well as it’s served me.

By the way, I completed the brief on time.  I worked on the song in-between manning the BBQ grill at my folks house during the Memorial Day celebration.  LOL.  I love a challenge 🙂