Don't Scrap Your Song! Here's Why:

Most producers will find themselves at a stage in writing a song where they cannot go any further. Normally this is just a creative block, but sometimes it can be that the ideas created so far can't be developed further to a high enough standard. This is normally the stage where we decide to scrap the project and start on something fresh. The problem with scrapping a project is that it is an excellent resource for your creativity. This article will cover some better ways of dealing with creator's block, and how to make sure you can benefit from dead-end projects.

This article originates from a post I made on Reddit last week. The original post discussed various ideas in a lesser depth. It went down fairly well and so I thought I'd elaborate further!

1. Save the Project so You Can Come Back

This may seem obvious, but there are a good few people who will just give up and click off without saving. This means that all the ideas in the project are lost. Consider setting up a folder specifically for "dead projects" where you can open one up at random each week and see if there is anything you can do to develop it.

One really nice thing to do is go back to old projects after a year or two and see how far you have come. You may even now know what you were missing the last time you were working on the project, and it might just be enough to turn it into a great song.

If you have the cash, it may be worth setting up a folder in a spare portable hard drive dedicated to the inspirational death heap. 

I recommend you have a dedicated hard drive anyway as a music producer because files start to clog your PC. You will also have a faster computer, and more room to allow for old projects. I recommend this Seagate 4TB Hard Drive as it has plenty of storage, USB 3, and also acts as a USB hub for all your other peripherals, which producers have tonnes of.

2. Render All Your Stems & Chop Them

This is a great thing to do before you close down a project. The song you were trying to make was no doubt filled with decent ideas, hence why they were in the song, perhaps they just didn't translate well together. 

Maybe one day you'll have 35GB of samples you can release for free, just like Cymatics did!

By rendering everything as individual tracks and appropriately cutting them, you end up with individual samples which can be used in future songs. This is a really good trick because not only does it allow you to recycle your ideas, it also allows you to build a hefty sample pack very quickly. 

The biggest benefit, however, is that these samples are solely created by you. Regardless of what your thoughts of sampling other people's work is, you can sleep easy with 100% confidence all the samples in your songs were written by you. 

One final thing, when you get famous, you can now release this sample pack and say it was integral to your style.

3. Send the MIDI Through Different Synths & Presets

This is a fantastic way of bringing your project back to life. Instead of scrapping it, save it and then go wild with reimagining everything. Every synth sound can get changed and every instrument's melody swapped around. This can give you brand new ideas which may not have been considered.

When I have trouble with my drums, I like to just load the same beat into random drum kits (usually in Battery) and oftentimes the brand new kit can have the right samples and punch which was holding back the track.

One of my favourite synths to run melodies through is Native Instruments (free) Mikro Prism. It has a wonderful range of preset options and when trying new melodic ideas out, simply flicking through the presets with the melody running can give a bunch of inspiration.

It is really nice to stumble upon a sound you weren't looking for, that turns out to be the sound which your song needs. This is why using presets should be important to a producer. While every effort should be made to create your own unique sounds, sometimes you need to remove the limit of your own creativity and embrace someone else's. 

Bear in mind with this trick, you can render each melody through a range of presets while you are testing, this means that even if there is one which doesn't work for this song, it may work well in another (and don't worry about the melody being the sample - samples can be chopped and re-arranged).

4. Duplicate Your Synths & Try Layering

If your song sounds thin, it can be very disheartening. Try duplicating your synth and adding a different sound over the top. Try layering in different frequency ranges if you are worried about a messy mix, and remember the sound which is used as an extra layer can be heavily EQ'd so they fit.

A benefit of doing this is that you also have an extended range of sound versatility. Perhaps the progression of the track is a bit boring with the same sounds over and over again, well one thing you can do is automate the "blend" of layers, perhaps shifting over to the brighter one for the chorus and leaving the cleaner one for the verses.

Again, while you are searching for the best layers, remember to render a few samples on the way, it will really help you in the future.

5. Switch the Tempo Drastically

Melodies can be the exact same on paper, but when played at different tempos, can bring out brand new ideas. If you are struggling for inspiration on a track, you can try drastically changing the tempo. This could work out in two different ways, firstly, you may find that the track sounds better at that tempo, or secondly, you may find that this new tempo allows you to jam out new melodies in a different feel.

The most extreme form of this would be to double or half the speed of a section so the track itself is at the same tempo, but one part of it is in double/half-time.

Another trick here, while you are at the tempo controls is to slow down the tempo to jam out complex parts. If you have a melody in your head which is a bit too hard to play, there's nothing stopping you slowing down the track just for the recording stage. Remember, we are typically dealing with MIDI instructions, so the speed variations won't deteriorate any audio quality.

6. Mute Anything You Don't Currently Like

Sometimes, just taking an idea out of the mix for a second will give you some good perspective. Try muting one of the main elements and on a new track, replacing it with something else. You can then A/B toggle between each idea and see which one is stronger. 

This highlights one of the issues many people have when producing a track, which is committing to an idea they spent time on. Sometimes it takes leaving something behind to keep the progression moving onwards. 

Remember if you try this, whichever musical idea you decide to reject should be rendered and saved as a sample.

7. Load a Different Song In

Live your dream as the extra member of your favourite band and help compose one of their songs? Perhaps not quite.

Choose a song with the same tempo and key signature as your project, load it into your DAW and compare. You may notice that your song structure is very different, perhaps the verse is twice as long, perhaps a section needs lengthier development.

This gives you a reference template to base your song on, you don't need to mimic the song, but try and identify what it has that you lack.

The second stage of this is to jam (and record) some melodies off that song. They will be in key and in time because the song was picked to match. This can be a really successful method for the reason that the recorded song might introduce a different feel to your creative flow, it may have a groove in it which you can harness as you are jamming out your melodies. 

If this trick worked, and you have a decent melody, try removing the reference song, and laying that same melody recording into your work. You may need to switch up one or two parts in the MIDI editor, but I promise you that the results will often be successful. 

8. Secondary Dominants

Learning some extra music theory will always help your songwriting. Possibly one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is secondary dominants, these are incredibly useful devices which "borrow" chords from other keys to make the musical progression resolve multiple times in its course.

While this might not necessarily save a project, especially considering it would mean re-writing a significant portion of it, it can be a great starting point for adding a new section such as a bridge or chorus in. 

9. High-Pass Everything

Ok, so perhaps I should rename this website to "Audio High-Pass". It is a point which seems to apply in almost every guide that I've written, I've even made a T-shirt with it on:

High-pass filtering is extremely important for your song. I won't go into too much detail for the sake of brevity, however, I will say that simply by removing all the unnecessary frequencies, your mix will sound slightly better, and a cleaner mix, while you produce, allows you to correctly identify where your arrangement needs to be fixed. 

If your low-end is a sludgy mess, you probably won't want to add any more bass to it, when musically, that is what the song really needs. Clean up the canvas before you paint.

10. Transcribe a Random Third of the Notes

Pick around a third of your notes in a melody and transcribe them up/down an octave. You could also transcribe them up 7 semitones/down 5 semitones to make them fifths (think guitar power chord) of the original.

This works especially well with layered synths, where most of the notes are the same. You can actually pick key melodic moments which you want to highlight, such as the end of a measure, or a dramatic chord change.

In doing this, you can open up more branches of melodic opportunity, and even just make a dull melody more enjoyable to work into the rest of the track.

11. Find the Groove

Use swing quantisation on the Hi-Hats and bass to add some further groove. It is normally advisable to leave the kick locked to a straight beat unless it's not too heavy and there are a lot of 16th alterations. By finding a bit of groove in the track, the whole song can feel better to listen to, and therefore produce.

If you are enjoying jamming ideas along to a song, the listener will enjoy hearing it. I have regularly recovered "dead" ideas by just injecting them with more groove.

And if it's Really That Bad...

You've probably salvaged something out of a failed project if you have tried a few of my suggestions. The only way to get good at anything is to suck at it for thousands of hours, so at the very least you've had some practice. Just make sure that when giving up on an idea, you haven't lost anything valuable for the future!

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