by Anders Johanson November 14, 2020 6 min read
If you’ve been making beats for an extended period of time, chances are you’ve encountered the dreaded affliction of beat block. Symptoms of this condition include but aren’t limited to:
The problem with beat block is that the inability to create or complete new work can become all-consuming. One incomplete track can eat up all of your brain power with the resulting agony and frustration that comes from being in creative limbo. And if one unfinished song turns into two or three, the stacks of incomplete work can leave a producer crippled with self-doubt.
As scary as this part of the creative process sounds, the good news is that it happens to everyone—even the most successful musicians and producers. Whether you make music for a fun, a side job, or a full-time living, you’re going to have good days and bad days. Sometimes enduring a string of bad days or a week's worth of them is all part of the growing process.
Fortunately, breaking out of beat block might not be as difficult as you think if you apply the proper strategies. Here are several easy-to-use methods to help you overcome creative paralysis.
As a serious creator, it can be difficult to give yourself permission to do this as it might not feel like “work.” But listening to music for enjoyment and studying the nuances of it is an essential part of your musical training. Even someone as prolific as Stones Throw’s Madlib takes lengthy breaks from making music to glean inspiration.“I’ll take two months off just to listen to records and not do any music so I can absorb all that and then when I go do my music it’s all in me,” he said in a2014 interview withDazed Digital. “I’ll listen to a different genre every two days or something, study it, 24 hours straight.”
The same approach can be helpful for producers working through beat block. Instead of trying to conquer the task of finalizing a challenging new composition, take a few hours to EQ your drums or experiment with different methods for chopping up the same drum loop. If you don’t feel like tackling drums, take some stock, simple drum loops and experiment with different sample chopping combinations on top of them. Play around with your basslines and let yourself try out different chord progressions. By going granular and focusing one discrete element at a time, you might find the divine inspiration needed to take on an entire song.
If you’re looking for a more precise breakdown of work vs. break time, try the Pomodoro Technique. This time management strategy was developed entrepreneur and author Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s as a way to maximize the effectiveness of his focused work time. Here it is in five easy steps.
Though some creative types might flinch at this level of self-imposed micro management, using Cirillo’s technique or a similar strategy is a great way to keep you focused and moving forward with your work day. Having the added pressure of working with time constraints can sharpen your focus and increase your creativity and productivity. To learn more about the technique, check outthis LifeHacker article.
This advice is all good and well, but what if you’ve tried these steps and still feel like your frustrations haven’t been addressed? Here are some additional resources to help you work through the minefield of feeling stuck.
“Breaking the Loop” by patches.zone - This article is a great starting place if you find yourself creating an abundance of cool loops but struggle to turn them into full instrumentals. By addressing the importance of adding variation in rhythm, melody, and texture when duplicating a basic initial loop, “Breaking the Loop” gives readers a systematic approach to help them turn their starting point into a finished product while avoiding beat block in its earliest stages.
“Overcoming Creative Block (Writer’s Block/Beat Block)” by Altruwest - A nice collection of positive, simple advice for working through beat block. One of the points that really hits home is Altruwest’s emphasis on constantly studying and learning about new music and how it was made. Being an open-minded student is key.
“Tutorial Tuesday | 5 Ways to Overcome Producer's Block ‘Beat Block’” by Kapitol and The Aim Society - This short YouTube video is packed with easy to follow, powerful advice that will help any producer destroy beat block. From revisiting old throwaway beats to meditating or going outside, Kapitol has some great tips here.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield - This book is a short, powerful, and essential guide to the sometimes painful art of creating by successful writer Steven Pressfield. Packed with tough love and loaded with useful real life examples of creative struggle and creative block, Pressfield breaks down the art of creating, getting started, and working your way through feeling stuck with indispensable advice. Highly recommended.
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