Writer's block is a problem that all creatives, be they grizzled novelists or fresh-faced tropical house producers, deal with on a regular basis. It's only fitting then that one of dance music's biggest digital audio workstation (DAW) producers, Ableton, has set out to break down a few creative barriers. To that end, they're releasing a definitive guide, Making Music – 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers. Unlike user manuals or internet forum posts, it takes an easier-to-digest approach to solving problems with the creative process.
Written by Dennis DeSantis, Ableton's Head of Documentation, Making Music applies emphasis to creative strategy rather technology. A point that Dennis, a Detroit native with a PhD in classical composition, was keen to communicate: "The book has nothing to do with Ableton's products," he tells THUMP. "The words 'Live' and 'Push' [two key Ableton products] are never mentioned. Our idea was to strip things down to the core and deal with them in a musical way."
THUMP: What is your major source of writer's block?
Boreta: The times when we find ourselves stuck are generally when we're trying to force the creative process. Like sticking a square peg in a circle hole.
How do you overcome writer's block?
We will generally stop and take a break. Forcing it almost never works. Alternatively, we will try something completely fun and random, and we call this phase "throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks."
What do you do to maximize creativity? Is there a specific setting that helps?
Our best work is done when we are able to get the thinking-mind out of the way, and let intuition take over. The best way to allow that process to happen is to have fun with it. It's important to have fun, to have an open non-judgmental space for creative exploration.
Are 74 creative strategies too many?
Not at all! This is more like a book of recipes, something you flip through in the studio and grab a bit inspiration.
What lesson from the book would you recommend to a professional musician?
The power of erasing is important. We do this religiously as the very final part of every track. It's easy to forget that the magic of music happens in the space between the notes. When we give feedback to fellow producers, more often than not, it's about removing and not adding.
How much time do you devote to learning new production techniques?
Something we love doing is learning new techniques and plugins when we feel stuck. It's a great way to keep in the creative zone, but change perspective.
What lesson from the book would you recommend to an aspiring musician?
The reality is that there are no shortcuts. The process of creating art is, fundamentally, a process of work. For most of us, every note really is a struggle, and this is simply the nature of the process. We have a romantic image of the artistic genius, who is able to spin endless amounts of material out of nothing, but these types of artists are extremely rare.
This is a crucial point. We say this to people all of the time: don't get disappointed if you get frustrated, or feel intense difficulty. Don't wait for a great idea to start working. Work while waiting for a great idea.
Ziad Ramley is on Twitter too.