Doldrumming

(yes this picture is completely random)

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that all artists go through periods of decreased productivity.  Some people call this artist’s block, others just don’t work as hard as they’d like. But we all at some point or another hit a point where we recognize that things just aren’t going as smoothly as we’d like.  The ideas aren’t FLOWING the way they should.

Early on when I was making music, this was a frustrating and almost frightful experience.  It produced self-doubts and feelings of inadequacy, like maybe I wasn’t meant to be writing music and should just quit.  In fact it was a long running joke with a good friend of mine that every 6 months or so I’d start getting the urge to sell all my studio gear and just get a nice acoustic guitar instead.  At least then I wouldn’t feel like I had to be writing songs all the time, or wasting all this nice gear I have.

But over time, (and through conversations with many other musicians) I began to realize that these sort of feelings are normal, and for me at least, they occur fairly regularly.  I typically go through 2-3 really creative and long-term bursts of music making each year, and then go through another period where I just am flat out of either ideas or inspiration to create.  If you can’t tell yet, right now I’m in one those later periods.  Still keeping busy with music and being productive, but I’m just not feeling it like when the ideas are pouring forth effortlessly.

I’ve learned to just roll with it though, to focus on other aspects of my life and if I wait long enough, sooner or later that urge to create will return.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, because for me that URGE is always there.  I always feel the need to create something, be it music, a drawing, a painting, building something, whatever.  The desire is the same, it’s only how I channel the outlet of that energy that defines the outcome.  But here’s the thing, for me at least, the urge doesn’t always go hand in hand with an idea.  It’s easy to get that itch to make music and sit down at my gear in the studio, but if an idea to back that urge up isn’t present, I know I’m just wasting my time.

Some people are lucky and can just push through that, doing something enough times even when they aren’t feeling it eventually leads to a worthwhile result.  But in my case, I know that attempting to work this way only leads to more frustration and self-doubt, and it becomes a never ending spiral of creating nothing worth keeping.  And while I’ve accepted that this is normal for how I like to create, it never honestly becomes easier.  It’s still a waiting game, a feeling of knowing that something big is right around the corner, I just don’t know what it is or when it’s coming.

Now, I know this might come cross as whiny, or self-centered complaining, but that’s really not my purpose (though it IS nice to vent I admit).  Rather it’s a reminder to myself and other musicians out there that if you keep your head high and stick with it, the ideas WILL flow again.  Every one of these lulls in my creativity is ultimately followed by a beautiful period where I’m able to create at an almost magical pace, I just need to have the patience and positive outlook to see it through to that point.

Some people are gifted with the ability to create at will, to turn that spark on or off as they see fit.  For the rest of us though, it’s the struggle to get to those moments that defines why we do what we do.  We just need to have the foresight to remember that it can take longer than we’d like, but it’s always worth it in the end.

7 Replies to “Doldrumming”

  1. Totally agree… and great post! I am also in a period of less than enthusiastic ideas flowing as I work on my album but you are totally right, this is something an artist will experience a lot and you really do just have to roll with the punches.

    I like to use this downtime to watch videos of my favorite artists at work or read about how others work in the studio to spark some more creativity on my end, and generally it works but never ever force it. Forcing to do something kills the creative spur of it all… and although I have been guilty myself of spending 4-5 hours in the studio trying… rather forcing myself to be creative it just isn’t worth it.

    I’ve had many instances of feeling like I am not worthwhile and my music isn’t good enough, more often than not after forcing myself through one of these (Un)creative sessions.

    So, chill… don’t force it, find some productive things to do or take the time to watch/listen to how others operate and take a break. your creativity will be knocking back at your door soon enough to want to spend some time with you again 🙂

  2. I’ve been in this phase off and on for the last four months. I’ll have a week of superb creativity followed by two weeks of dull self doubt. A lot of it is distractions from the outside world, errands, family issues, bills, job hunting. It’s hard to stick to being creative when you have a lot of other things on your mind. I don’t sleep a lot because of it.

    I’m particularly nervous because I have to finish these three songs by December 15th and I’m afraid it won’t happen. I never stop working or thinking about it, but I’m not forcing myself either. Some days I just practice piano or guitar, others sample with my field recorder and synths. Today I spent a few hours going through my field recording samples and creating Battery templates with them and using my iPad and Lemur to play some rhythms for fun.

    I hope that I make this deadline and that I’m proud of my work.

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  4. It’s during those periods of self-doubt that I’m happy to have other musical outlets to explore while the creative flame kindles in other areas. I started making electronic music, taking jazz piano lessons, and DJing almost all at the same time, and it’s been a blessing that when I can’t stand the sounds coming out of my DAW I can go to the piano and learn all those standards I’ve been putting off, or load a song into Ableton and learn all the synth solos, or open up Traktor and experiment with new mixing techniques or genre blends. Sometimes I’ll just go to the record store and pick up a few random pieces of wax to listen to, it really calms the anxiety of being tyrannized by the clock, the calendar, etc… Sometimes I’ll hear a great sample and get inspired to make something. This has really saved me from giving up and selling all my stuff, since I typically get distracted with another music project just as that feeling kicks in. It has certainly paid off, as each activity informs the others in ways that would not be apparent if one was doing a single activity all the time. Meanwhile I’ve gotten much better at song-writing and production for the mere fact that I have stuck to it for long enough, which is half of the battle for junior producers. Great post, and great to hear I’m not the only one : )

  5. The most important thing in such times is to stay in touch with music. Meaning, do other stuff like Navar. Don’t force yourself to hard into creating music. Learn something around music. Like rythms/instruments from other cultures or something like that. Just make sure that the focus stays with music. Clean up your sample library or whatever… stuff like that.
    And finally a teacher once told me: “If it is hard to get something down, you are learning the most.” Repeating what feels easy and natural, won’t bring you anywhere.
    Just never take any instrument with you in holidays. Holidays should be a time where you do anything else. That gives a lot of inspiration.

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