5 Ways to Beat Music Production Beat Block

by Anders Johanson November 14, 2020 6 min read

Music Producer Beat Block

Recognizing Beat Block and 5 Actionable Steps for Overcoming It

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: 

  • Spending hours trying to find the perfect mix without nailing it
  • Staring at your screen or sampler for long periods of time without creating anything
  • Starting an endless slew of new beats because you can’t finish old ones
  • Leaving tracks incomplete or half-finished
  • Watching other producers Instagram/Snapchat/YouTube videos and feeling inadequate instead of working on your craft

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 everyoneeven 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.

  1. Listen to music for an extended period of time-Making music involves a great deal of hard work, but you’re supposed to enjoy it. With that in mind, give yourself a day or multiple days to just listen to music for inspiration. Make a Spotify playlist of your favorite producer’s best work, explore a new genre, dig through Soundcloud for some hidden gems, or pull out some records from your collection that you haven’t listened to in ages. 

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.” 

music production feedback
  1. Put your music production draft out into the world and get some feedback - The old aphorism “perfect is the enemy of good” perfectly describes a mindset that often leads to beat block. Producers sometimes obsess over a level of perfection that is both unrealistic and unnecessary which leads to creative paralysis. In reality audiences sometimes love rough, unpolished, or demo versions of songs. So if you’re obsessing over whether one of your songs is properly mixed, mastered, and ready for public consumption--or if you just want feedback on a partial version of something--upload it on your preferred platform and share it with listeners. Fans appreciate this kind of vulnerability and they might be able to offer you some valuable insight on how to break out of your beat block. Better yet, they might even just tell you the track is perfect as-is. 
  2. Work on one isolated part of your production instead of entire beats -When humans face a complex and multifaceted task, it often helps to break it down into pieces. Instead of staring blankly at pages of notes or an entire study guide when preparing for a college exam, people often break the information into manageable chunks by creating notecards. Using this method makes the overwhelming volume of information on a semester exam manageable and helps the human mind better absorb it. Instead of curling up and a ball and feeling helpless, breaking the exam into tiny pieces helps students tackle it bit by bit. 

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.

  1. Take a break - Working in isolation for long stretches of time can be very mentally and emotionally draining. It’s important to know when to stop and do something else. Create a work schedule and give yourself time to eat, exercise, and sleep, as all of these are imperative if you want to survive as a creator. At the end of a productive work block go outside, take a walk, and interact with the world. If the weather sucks, watch a funny show, draw, listen to an interesting podcast, or read a good book. Again, it might be hard for you to give yourself permission to do this, but taking time to unwind and think about something other than your beats is an integral part of living a balanced life. Taking breaks provides inspiration, prevents beat block, and helps you work through beat block when you’re in the midst of it. 

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.

  1. Choose a task from your to-do list.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes. (My personal preference is closer to 45-50 minutes)
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If you’ve completed the task, remove it from your to-do list.  
  4. Take a short break for up to five minutes.
  5. Take a longer break after you complete four 25 minute work cycles.

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.   

music producer collab
  1. Collaborate -Producers love the image of the lone genius toiling away in a studio by themselves crafting masterpieces. The truth is that most successful producers rely on a good deal of collaboration during their quest for success and working with others is a fun, invigorating way to work through creative stagnation. Like-minded people can bring a fresh perspective to our work that we might have missed and help us with our areas of weakness. Can’t get your drums to slap just right? Ask your trusted producer buddy if they want to give it a try. Having trouble even getting started? Invite a musician friend over for a creative jam session. Sometimes admitting that you can’t do it alone, at least at the present time, is the first step to working through a major creative funk.

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. 

Anders Johanson
Anders Johanson

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