Writer’s block is a well-documented condition with many different causes. It happens when the “author is unable to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown”.
And the longer it lasts, the more frustrating it can become.
“As a writer, a blank page will humble the hell out of you. It always does, and it always will.” (Barry Jenkins, Director of 2016 award-winning movie Moonlight)
This blank page is something all creatives (especially producers) must face. At the best of times, it gives you a sense of freedom and possibility. But the number of options it allows for can also be paralyzing.
So whether you’ve been experiencing writer’s block for a long time, or are looking for new ways to spark your creativity – you have come to the right place!
In this article, we will explore 7 tips to overcome the blank page. Let’s go! 👇
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Tip #1: Steal From Another Song
Not literally of course. Don’t go out copying Bonobo’s latest single note-for-note just to get me sued.
But copying the arrangement of a song is one of the best tips I received as a beginner.
Firstly, it trains you at understanding how songs are structured. When does the bass come in? How long should the breakdown be?
Secondly, it can be a great way to start new sketches when lacking inspiration.
So here’s how to go about it.
Drag a song that inspires you into your DAW and set it to the same tempo. Then, put down markers for the different sections:
This will give you an overall structure for your song. What you want to do next is closely examine each section. What are the elements contained in it? How does the section progress? Write them down, and then re-create them.
Just some high hats in Intro – A? Got it. Mid-bass comes in halfway through Intro – B? No problem.
Remember that even if you feel like you are just “copying”, chances are your track will end up entirely different. You might not even stick to that initial song structure. But at least you will be off the ground.
Note: this is the exact strategy we use in our 7 Day Song Finishing System (coming soon).
Tip #2: Explore Unused Plugins
Let’s face it. We all buy too many plugins.
Black Friday comes around, and another 11 plugins appear in your DAW.
But how many do you actually use?
Trying out plugins that you rarely use is a great way to spark ideas. This is because “repetition is the enemy of creativity” (I actually made that quote up). Use the same plugins with the same settings, and you will get the same results.
I had a look in my own effects plugins and came across “Effector” – a stock FL Studio plugin. No idea what this plugin does – let’s give it a try!
Here is the original sample I started with:
And here are some cool sounds I came up with using Effector:
This also works with synths. Head off the beaten track and mess around with plugins you’ve never used before.
You will be surprised at the ideas this will spark, and it works great with the next tip!
Tip #3: Have Dedicated Sound Design Sessions
Sometimes, the feeling of having to write an entire song can be daunting. Not every session needs to be aimed at writing an entire track.
Sound design sessions are a great way to relieve the pressure of writer’s block.
The aim here is to create sounds without thinking about a song. Just create cool sounds without wondering how they will fit into a track. Either save the presets in your synth or export the stems directly.
This way, you can create a bank of sounds that you can easily drag into future projects.
The bonus here is that you are also creating your own sound identity.
As mentioned, you can even combine this with tip #2: designing sounds with synths you’re not familiar with!
This also works for drums, creating small loops that you can easily drag into future projects.
If you need some extra sound design tips, check out our huge list of 100 here!
Tip #4: Play Around with Music Theory Concepts
You don’t need to know music theory to write music. But it does help to know some basic concepts to overcome writer’s block.
One common way is by using less familiar scales.
In FL Studio, you can explore a multitude of scales and chords under Main menu > Stamp:
Let’s try Minor Hungarian. Select it, click any note in the piano roll and the entire scale will fill in:
Duplicate these notes across multiple octaves and stretch them out. Now open another instrument, and the notes of the scale will appear greyed out:
I’ve created a little arp sequence using this scale:
Quite a sinister vibe, which I’m not sure I could have achieved without this scale!
You can also use the chord generator to spice up your progressions. Here I have a basic Am – G – F progression:
Nothing too exciting. Let’s explore some chords:
I am going to replace the Am with a Minor 9th, the G with a Gsus2, and the F with an F Major 7th:
This evokes a lot more emotion in me and gives me some ideas of where I want to take this.
In Ableton Live, simply enable “Scale”, select the scale you want to use and the keys will light up:
Tip #5: Explore Obscure Samples
Exploring obscure sections of Splice or Loopcloud is a great way to spark creativity.
We touched on this in our article about pitch shifting and time stretching. Integrating other genres into your music is a great way to stand out.
Many producers actually dedicate entire sessions to sample hunting.
Obscure Spotify playlists, YouTube, and platforms like Splice make for great hunting grounds. Just like with sound design sessions, build up your sample library.
The next time you are in a creative mood, just scan through them to start a sketch.
You can also use a website like Samplette to find sample ideas quickly.
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Tip #6: Shake Up Your Workflow
Changing your workflow is one of the best ways to spark creativity. Only fools repeat the same thing expecting a different outcome.
If you tend to use only samples, try writing everything in MIDI. Or vice-versa.
If you have an instrument lying around, start your track with it. Got a guitar? Plug it in, slap a huge reverb, and create some pads.
Again, it doesn’t matter if you are proficient or not. We are just looking to generate ideas.
If you always start with a chord progression, try starting with drums instead. You get the idea. Personally, some of my best songs came through changing my workflow.
This can also mean experimenting with other genres.
This is probably one of the most common pieces of advice that come up on my podcast. There are numerous benefits here.
First off, you get to explore new sounds and techniques. This will in return benefit you when returning to your main genre.
Secondly, it will alleviate a lot of the pressure of writing.
Most of us will write with the objective of releasing our music.
But what if you wrote just for yourself? Without the pressure of pitching it to a label? Writing in another genre can give you the freedom to experiment.
(If you’re in Ableton, also check out our free Ableton Workflow Bible below!)
Discover the tools that expert Ableton producers already know and use in our free Ableton Workflow Bible
Master Ableton Live and make music twice as fast. Avoid frustration when designing new sounds. Pick up creative techniques that will change the way you produce.
Tip #7: Get Your Marketing Hat On
This might be a bit of a controversial one. But I firmly believe that being an artist doesn’t mean “writing music” 24/7.
In 2022, being an artist also means being a marketer, a content creator, an entertainer, etc.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth.
How to get noticed in the flood of daily new music? You have got to go the extra mile. Getting noticed is as much about marketing as the quality of your music.
Not feeling inspired to write music today? No problem. Maybe you can write a short post about your latest release? Or start thinking about how you’ll promote your next release?
Keep in mind that most opportunities you get will come through who you know. Get active in Discord servers (or start your own), answer those emails you’ve been putting off, and interact with people on social media (rather than just scrolling past).
Take advantage of those creative lulls to build up your online presence and your network. It will pay off over the long run.
The Last Words on Writer’s Block
Creativity is not something that can be summoned. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t.
All you can do is nudge it, and set the right circumstances.
This is why a lot of people recommend dedicating at least one hour a day to music production. The more you write, the more chances of overcoming writer’s block.
But you will also need to accept the fact that off-days happen to everyone. Some days, no matter what you try, nothing will come. Accept it and move on.
Lastly, if you want to take your learning further, be sure to check out The Producer’s Guide to Workflow & Creativity. We go deep on writer’s block, creative routines, the best way to improve, and a lot more.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Did I miss out on anything? Any tips you have used to overcome writer’s block? Feel free to get in touch with me at [email protected].