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StauntonLick

The Creative Process

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Hi Everyone,

I was thinking it might be useful for people to share their creative processes - how they build, develop and finalise ideas into musical masterpieces. If you're having a creative block, or just need a bit more juice, trying someone else's technique might work wonders for you!

For what it's worth, I'll kick things off:

- Normally an idea will spring into my head, pretty fully formed - generally a few seconds of music. I then go and try to replicate it in real-life and end up going down a totally different path. Unfortunately this normally happens when I'm just falling asleep (as your brain is least inhibited by the "day to day" processes you have to think about, freeing up creative space) so I forget about 90% of the ideas I come up with.

- A similar technique - sometimes I set out to emulate a particular piece or composer's style. I generally find quite early on that I diverge from my preset path, and come across some other cool stuff instead.

- Sometimes I'll have an idea for a technique - e.g. [url="http://www.soundcloud.com/jonnymartyr/grim-gardens-free-download"]this piece[/url] started off as me thinking "What would happen if I reverse a snare and mix it in with the original signal?". I then had a similar idea about chopping up a piano recording, and the rest of the piece came fairly naturally. I wasn't thinking about what I was writing, just building something up around a certain technique

- If I'm feeling a bit creatively dry I'll just jam around using some drum sounds. Eventually I'll settle on a beat I like, and loop stuff on top of that until I've built up a whole texture. I can then chop it up and "sculpt" it over time into an actual piece.

Anyway, hope that helps someone - looking forward to hearing all your techniques as well!
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The piano in Grim Gardens is exactly the type of sound I've been trying to get.. how did you do that? If it's not a secret of course [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/biggrin.png[/img]

There's a book on the learning and creative process by Josh Waitzkin, [url="http://www.amazon.com/Art-Learning-Journey-Pursuit-Excellence/dp/0743277457"]The Art of Learning[/url]. It tied a lot of stuff together for me and I recommend it to anyone trying to excel in their craft. Imo the creative process, as al'Thor said, is a flame. If you tend the flame by honing your craft and putting all your emotions and passions, greed and jealousy and love and hate, etc.. it will grow and burn on it's own and ideas will flow out like madness and spill into all aspects of your life. Spending time with your art constantly is maybe the ultimate creative process.

When I'm trying to come up with something I tend to be very derivative, I'll pull out licks that I've used before and progressions that I've used for literally a decade. If you can spin it in a new way, then power to you. Pop music's 4 chords are a good example of that. One hindrance to creativity, I think, is trying to be original. Imo, don't try to be original, just write what sounds good, write what you like. Music isn't in a vacuum, it's a big gumbo and you put whatever in that tastes good to your portion. Just write all the time and the blockages will stop. And remember when, say, what you're writing isn't hitting you hard like you want it to.. imagine if you wrote it when you just started composing.. it would probably inspire you tremendously, and when you're inspired you got to write.

If I find myself starting with chord progressions a lot, maybe I should try starting a song with a melody, or with a beat. Maybe just a soundscape until some melody or something arises and I have somewhere to go. Imo, don't try to tell the music where to go, let it go where it wants.. even if that makes you write music that makes you feel uncomfortable, maybe it's too cheesy or you think it's too predictable. That seems to be a common theme.


If you want to write jazz, listen to a lot of jazz, and jazz will come back out eventually. If you want to write metal, same thing. It's food you eat it through your ears. Exploring new genres will compliment your old genres. Go to concerts and go crazy, join the fanatics and let yourself loose. Personalize your favorite artists by reading biographies, learning what they struggled with, make them real to you. If still nothing's come out, then take a smoke break, or eat a sandwich, or just listen to some music.

Here's some tips from a much better authority than me. Thelonius Monk wisdom below!!

[img]http://jazz24.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/monks-advice2.jpg[/img]

All reet!! [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/biggrin.png[/img] [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/biggrin.png[/img]
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I'm just a hobbyist at composition, and as such my process is horribly inefficient and unreliable -- I start out with some idea, usually a short phrase or basic chord progression, and then build around that based on the mood I'm trying to achieve.


I do remember reading about someone -- unfortunately I can't remember who, perhaps Ryan Adams? -- a couple of years ago who said they write a song every day, and then put extra work into the good ones. I know Jerry Seinfeld takes a similar approach to writing jokes; if you produce enough material you're sure to stumble on something good occasionally.
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Wanted to add another tip:

- Sometimes I read reviews of music and use the reviewer's words as jumping off points for imagining what kind of sound they could be describing. Things like "Melodies gracefully intertwine above the distorted bleeping of wounded robots, and a lilting acoustic guitar carries the piece off into the heavens". Sounds like overblown wank, but it gets the brain thinking musically.
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My process is really driven by harmony. I always start with a chord sequence unless i'm trying to do something specific with a theme or motif. And so i've found that I can very quickly achieve something I want harmonically. I've found however recently that I wanted to write a great melody but I was stuck - i haven't studied melody writing as much as harmony. So that is, for me, the next compositional task. To find out which intervals, rhythms, scales etc. can be used in which ways to create the desired melodic material. Hopefully that will speed up the process of writing melodies i'm happy with. Production-wise, I think I have improved a vast amount recently (although, as with most things, there is still a long way to go!)... really ever since i discovered using a limiter on individual tracks and the master track. As well as layering! Often the things that seem messy and clunky but sound great are the way to go! Getting over the idea of "why doesn't my one kick drum sound good? I should be able to make it sound good with just one!" etc. was essential for me!

The main way I generate material is by jamming on the piano, mostly around the chords or opening up different synths almost at random and seeing what happens. Or maybe i'll write something out and see how many variations on that material I can make.

Great thread - it's good to hear about other people's processes!
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Found this from Lifehacker on maximizing your creativity, thought some people might find it useful. Enjoy!

[url="http://lifehacker.com/5885641/how-to-find-your-creative-sweet-spot"]http://lifehacker.com/5885641/how-to-find-your-creative-sweet-spot[/url]
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For me the creative process starts with getting into the world and story of the client's project. Once I get some artwork, screenshots, video or script of the project I'm usually busting with so many ideas that I cannot get them out fast enough. At least that's how it usually goes. A few times I'll freak myself out if it's a large client and my first time working with them. I'll become uber, hyper critical about anything and everything I'm doing. In those situations I can usually tell I'm WAY too close to the process - so I back off. Do something else for a bit, play a video game, eat some chocolate, read a book, etc. Meanwhile the project is always in the back of my mind. I'm cranking away at possible ideas while distracting myself enough to forget about the pressure I'm putting on myself. Then after an hour or longer, I feel better and have a good idea of what to do.

I've found that my creative process varies greatly from the type of project. For example if it's a heavy melodic, plot-driven game then I'll really focus in on creating melodies first. After I have some good melodies formed, I'll fill in everything else. Other times if it's a much more ambient track then I narrow in on the sound that I want to create and spend a good bit of time tweaking patches. If it's a loop for combat then I'll start with rhythm and percussion. Writing to video (either game cutscene or actual film) comes the easiest for me. I used to create markers to sync to but now I don't do that anymore. Instead I just play the ideas that come and tweak them in editing.

I think it's good to vary how you approach songs and their creation. Always starting with X can create "ruts" that you always seem to travel. Changing up the process can help bump you out of those ruts and into some new territory. If I'm not feeling particularly creative or inspired I'll change the meter or force myself to only write in mode X or key Y.

If you're not feeling very creative or struggling with what to do next consider a few things:

1) Your mood can play a HUGE factor in how you feel about your work. Look for ways you can influence and change your mood (hopefully for the better! [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/tongue.png[/img])

2) Sleep on it and come back later. Most of the time a few hours away will do wonders for how you hear the song and where you want to take it.

3) Constrict yourself. Total freedom can become daunty. Stravinsky put it best:

[i]The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.[/i]
- Igor Stravinsky
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P.S. Can personally vouch for the Lifehacker article above. I've had a bit of a block this week, but a night on the drink followed by a long day at work left me exhausted, and I managed to produce some of the best stuff I've done in a while. Recommended!
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My method starts with getting familiar with what I'm making music for (usually games). Then I try to imagine the basic sound or music that would be going on in a scene. If its a style of music I dont feel super familar with, I'll research it. For example, I'm currently working on a asian-themed game and I never composed anything that sounds japanese or used those instruments like Shamisen and that hard-to-spell asian flute (shakauichi??). I spend some time listening to music using those instruments to get an idea for what sounds good.

I then come up with a lead melody (unless the project is super ambient, in which case I start banging out some long chords). I never use my guitar or keyboard to come up with melody. I tend to fall into familiar patterns and usually end up accidently ripping off some old Nintendo game melody thats been in my head for 20 years. Usually I'll just try to hum different things and record it. I usually end up with an hour of embarassing doo-dee-doo's on my iPhone.

I take the best parts of these and form them into a song, then I beef out the intro outro and maybe come up with a change or two that matches. Then I usually mock it up quickly in iSequence on my phone. Just to get some ideas. If the song is simple in structure, the iSequence midi export might become the actual project.

Then I get it into Logic pro, start attaching VSTs or sample packs, then its standard mixing, mastering, etc.

This is my process 90% of the time.
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Hello,

Just thought I'd share this great video with you where John Cleese talks about creativity:
http://vimeo.com/18913413

Cheers,
Moritz
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