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4 Bar Loop to 4 Minute Opus | How to Fight Creator’s Block in the Studio

How to raise your infant loop into a successful college graduate with a paid off car and a mortgage.

In any medium of art, the initial capture of ideas is both invigorating and instantly rewarding.

The initial sketch on a canvas.

The opening stanza of a poem.

The perfect loop for a chorus.  

However, once captured, it becomes far too easy to let these pieces of effort remain stagnant and eventually be forgotten, especially in regards to music. The audio remains dormant, and you venture off to create a new snippet of sound, chasing that feeling of easy accomplishment. The following are ways to push past that initial gratification, put in the work, and create a tangible form of art. This will specifically target audio production, but the concepts discussed can be applied to other art forms as well. Assuming you have a chosen Digital Audio Workstation, you most likely have a library of projects, ranging in levels of completion. Choose the project that you’d like to complete and release, and let’s get started.Visualize.

Our brains thrive on visualization. When you visualize an outcome or goal, whether it be completion of a song, or finishing a marathon, it’s scientifically proven to be more likely to achieve it. In a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, average test subjects were told to mentally perform “contractions of their little finger”, that is, to visualize moving a muscle. Those that visualized “working out” increased their finger strength by 35% without ever lifting. Visualization is a powerful tool and can be applied to any activity. Visualize yourself posting your track, receiving feedback, and your audience blasting your perfectly mixed opus on the way to work. Actually close your eyes (nobody is looking). See the chain of events unfold. After you’ve directed the victorious final scene of your mini-movie, roll up your proverbial and literal sleeves, and put in the effort.

Between a rock and a hard place.

After visualizing what you will achieve, you now must venture into the trench of the real, mentally-straining work that accompanies any sort of art. You have your loop, your intro, your idea, whatever it may be. Listen to it extensively.

Now try this.

Ableton Loop Music Production Software

Above is a fully-developed loop that can be extended and then edited for variation in arrangement.

Expand that loop for the duration of the entire song, so that you can see the waveforms  fill the screen. This is immensely helpful as it removes the stress of creating each fully-fledged section from scratch. You are now free to delete certain instruments in certain sections, adjust drums to add suspense, and anything else to add variation to your track. Think of this in terms of sculpting. Before, you were building the rock while attempting to simultaneously sculpt. Now, you have your fully formed rock, all you are required to do is refine it from there.

Ableton Live Audio Software
Loop now extended for longer duration with certain elements deleted and modified.

There are more ears than your own.

Art and music are unique in that they unify their consumers with a common bond and teach different perspectives because of pre-formed common ground. In that same train of thought, use other perspectives to gain insight as to what your track is lacking. You may want to add a gritty, distorted bass, whereas your 42-year-old mother sees the void only a commanding cello can fill. In the end, it is still your creation, but it may be helpful to give others the chance to weigh-in and provide input. You are making music to be enjoyed, after all. Gather as many opinions and ideas, and use those to create the most appealing track as possible.

When doing this, make sure to have it in an easily-listenable form. Mix it to roughly what you need, and extend the loop out long enough so your listener can have enough time to form a rational thought. A minute is a good benchmark. Then send it off to whomever you choose to provide input.

Give them ample time to process and form an opinion, as it easy to hurry someone along as you await judgement.

Don’t.

After receiving your feedback, thank them, and use it to better your piece of work.

Slow it down, junior.

An oft overlooked source of inspiration for producers, is a mere tempo change. Taking a blistering 175 BPM loop to half-time may be the spark needed to keep progressing. The joy of working with digital audio is that everything is easily malleable. If it doesn’t do anything for you, hit the trusty CTRL-Z. Take your drums to half-time or double the speed of your melody. Do whatever you can think of regarding timing, because time is crucial when it comes to arrangement. The most brutal deathcore song is built around one thing: the slow, guttural, climax known as a breakdown. And it works, it’s memorable. Create your own moment where your listener says, “Just wait for the part at 2:23.”

The Outro
These are just a few ways for pulling that simple loop out of the rut we all face as creators. There is no rush on art, but to be able to progress in your creating will often bring more inspiration to continue. Don’t feel discouraged if you haven’t released any work, but visualize the moment when you do. And whatever you do, don’t stop creating. All it takes is one song, one lyric, or one riff to inspire those who will come after you.

Now stop reading, and get to work.

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