Stimulate Your Creativity

Making music should feel good, right?

I recently received a great email from a reader and a fellow producer, Richard Anderson. I wanted to quote his email here (with his permission), as it really hit the mark for me.

“since the summer I’ve got myself a macbook, running live 9, using a maschine, a midi keyboard and a couple of other midi controllers.  moving away from cubase and getting in to the live production.  its the best move i ever made.  i just love the intuitive way it all works, to be hands on.  instead of slaving over a mouse and keyboard, i’m now using my mind to come up with endless ways to file my loops, samples, clips etc so that i can access them quickly to perform it all on the fly.   I feel like a different part of my brain is being stimulated and i’m beginning to remember why i decided to dedicate my life to music.”

Thank you Richard – I couldn’t have said it better. I’ve been through the same process myself in the past years and it really does feel like physically engaging a different part of the brain when making music now. Without knowing much about how the brain works, I would even argue that this is actually the case.

There is something deeply gratifying about physically engaging yourself into the act of making music. I try to cultivate this way of working these days and evolve my environment accordingly.

It has become clear to me that the methods we use to make music make a big difference on the outcome – both the quality as well as quantity.

To me there are three key elements contributing to this kind of workflow at the moment:

  1. Ableton Live 9. It’s like a sandbox for music producers. It invites you to play and get creative. It’s very clever and it really shows that it’s designed by electronic music producers. And no, I’m not affiliated with Ableton in any way, I just think they’re great.
  2. Controllers. You need a good way to get your hands on the music. Something that feels good and allows you to do many different things. I’ve been using the Native Instruments Maschine for a couple of years soon. Ableton also has their own controller, Push, which I haven’t had the chance to try but I’m sure it’s great. There are also many other good ones out there so take your pick.
  3. A standing desk setup. This might sound a bit surprising. I originally switched to a standing desk because of back pain issues and other health reasons (we all know sitting too much is not good for us). But I quickly realized how liberating it feels to stand and be able to move around while you make music. It keeps me awake and alert. Somehow it relieves me from the screen, helps me focus and maintain creative flow – I just feel much better doing music like that. I’ve had the standing desk setup for about 8 months now and I wouldn’t have it any other way anymore.  Surprisingly I’ve found out recently a bunch of my friends have also independently switched to a standing setup and everyone seems to be loving it.

We must not also forget about external elements such as a distraction-free environment and a healthy lifestyle that allows your body and brain to function in an optimal way. I even think having a drink of good coffee or tea when making music is good because that also stimulates the senses. There are many things we could list here ranging from healthy diet to quality sleep and a stress-free mind, but that’s a different discussion. But do think about these things because they do make a huge impact on the way you perform when making music.

As a curious exception, when mixing I still prefer my old, more rigid way of working (I usually prefer to mix in Logic and work with pure audio). It makes sense to me as mixing is often more about being analytical rather than creative. There definitely is a time and place for everything, but it’s clear to me that when doing creative work, we should try to find ways that engage those creativity-stimulating feel-good mechanisms.

What do you think? How do you stimulate creativity?

Sign up for FREE download

Master Your Craft: 28 Rules for Success in Electronic Music Production

Mindset - Productivity - Workflow - Technique
I hate spam as much as you do. Your privacy is respected.
  • Will

    Sometimes the “I don’t care” attitude is a welcome change in my creativity progress.
    While I’ve made the majority of my tracks in a closed situation where I do everything step by step, i.e. “how you’re supposed to do it”, some cool things have happened when I just start going crazy with presets, samples, loops, vocal chops, drums I would never use in a normal situation, etc.

    • Good point Will. For me I would even go as far as saying that is the basis of how I make music! Of course in the end it is a blend of staying in control and letting loose, but I am always trying to make something unexpected happen.

      • Blaakk

        You guys seem to have some interesting discussions here. Good way of phrasing it Ilpo. Staying in control and letting loose. To and fro.

        • Cheers and here’s to experimentation!

          • Blaakk

            Cheers! 🙂

  • Christian Champagne

    Good post dude. Yeah I must admit, music became much for fluid for me once i made the switch from Reason to Ableton. I kid you not when i say i spent 2-3 weeks honing a tune in Reason, while now, i can easily do a track over the weekend ( which really is great for me!). Making beats in Reason I felt was great, but whole track writing, not so fun. Its also interesting how surely many producers, including myself become gridlock’d and too reliant on what they see happening, going on in the sequencer, bar and layers etc. What I do myself quite often is construct a rough tune layout, then bounce to my iPod, rock out at the gym for example and listen to it outside of the studio setting. I find this works for me. I think if i have improved upon one thing in tune making since 95′ it would be not to sweat the technique, and just roll it out. I find the quicker i construct a layout, the better chances I will actually have in completing that tune. Usually the longer it takes to rock something out, the higher the chances for me will be that i get sick of what i’m doing, and or just sort of lose the focus. I think music making for me has also gotten slightly easier in some respects going from 7,5 min DnB tracks to 3-4 min downtempo tracks. You just need to get to the point a whole lot faster and these days I enjoy that more.

    • Nice one Champs, fully agreed. Live changed the way we view music while we are making it and that probably plays a big role in being able to create and finish things faster. My take is also that drum&bass has got to be one of the hardest forms of music to make, haha. I also tend to finish other kinds of music much quicker and with less pain. Does that make me a masochist??

      • Christian Champagne

        lol it truly least good minimal dnb, like yours Sir, really isn’t easy to do.

  • cosmos

    Thanks Ilpo! What are you using for a standing desk?


    The standing desk really is surprising. Would you care to share some more unusual but effective workflows?

    • Putting in the hours no matter what 😉

      Seriously, I’ll do my best to bring interesting stuff to you guys in the future. I’ll probably write more about the standing desk thing too as I think it is a great concept. Thanks for the comment.

  • Blaakk

    I do the same. Well, I have a setup for standing and one for sitting. I tend to sit back, and lean over too much. Baaad posture. Fine when standing up though. One turns into a machine. 🙂

  • Blaakk

    I’ve never been interested in Live. I remember trying it, and switching straight back to Sonar. it just never appealed to me. Was bad for me and my rigid right-brain.

    Hahaaa But today I’m gearing up to play everything completely off the cuff now (with Usine’s grid as a clock). I can’t bear the linearity of Reaper and such now.

    And controllers… agreed. One excellent controller or at least ‘switch board’ which I often forget about is the computer keyboard. Always reliable. iPad is a must for me now. As is the leap motion. A thirst for doing something unique and surprising with new tech lingers on…..

    • Interesting, i didn’t even know about Leap Motion. Checked it out and I can definitely see the potential in that. Another one for the wish list he he…

      • Blaakk

        Oh there’s so much ‘stuff’ not buying it is tough.

        Yeah the Leap Motion is impressive. Using it with the Geco app found on the unit’s ‘Airspace’ platform/shop to transmit OSC to everything. It’s mega FUN. :]

        • Nice, I’ll check that out.

          How are you using the iPad by the way? Any app recommendations? I just very recently bought one and haven’t had a chance to do much with it yet in terms of music.

          • Blaakk

            Hehe how things change…. I now have a 27″ Touch Screen so I think I’ll now probably be using it as a midi manipulator/arpeggiator/sequencer. Oh and scientific calculator.
            Apps like ‘Soundprism’ which are very intuitive/easy to play and transmit their MIDI (most things do now), and there’s many excellent synthesizers too. To me many feel like the next best thing to their analog counterparts.

            But prior to Saturday, I just used it for the Lemur app. It has a bit of a learning curve. It’s scripting still confuses me. But now there’s the ‘Copperlan’ protocol for binding controls…. which I reckon I’ll be favouring. I still have a few things to finish which I was working on like these “CC Bots” which use the new Lemur sequencing objects. Building them in Usine is priority now though.

            So yeah… very good tool. Ha, I also circumstantially forced a virtually 100% stand up setup upon myself too (thanks to the Touch Screen’s viewing angles).
            What element of the whole process (recording/mixing/writing/just playing) do you prefer, or want to be doing more of Ilpo?

      • lambdoid

        I have one and it’s a bit gimmicky overall and quite limited for general OS control, but the Geco app is great for creating interesting CC automation without having to draw it in. It’s like Roland’s D-Beam on steroids.