We have all opened up our DAWs, ready to write the next big hit, and we end up creating nothing. Starting a new track can be one of the toughest parts of the production process. That initial spark that begins your musical idea is tough to generate and the absence of it can quickly get you into a creative rut. Below I have listed five ways that you can generate this spark and get to writing your best music.
1. Create a sample folder
Searching for samples while you are in the beginning stages of a track can be a creativity killer. When you listen to hundreds of snare drums trying to find the perfect one, the initial idea and inspiration that you had can quickly disappear. Not to mention that you will always fatigue your ears faster, which will shorten your production session. There is a simple workaround for this. Before you start your track, create a sample folder with all the samples that you think you will use in the genre that you are working in. By having this collection of samples all ready to go, you avoid having to dig into your library and get lost in all of these samples. When picking out samples, listen to your favorite songs in the genre or style that you are looking to make. Listen to what types of sounds are in these tracks and look for samples that have similar sonic characteristics. You don’t need to go overboard here and add fifty or more samples to this folder. Ten to thirty samples will be plenty here. When you work on your song, try to stick to the samples that you have selected. Once you have finished the creation process, then you can go back and change around samples where needed.
2. Use a recorded vocal
Vocals help connect people with your music. They are one of the most recognizable sounds by the human ear, so adding in a vocal to your music is a great way to enhance your overall song. When we look for vocals, we usually search in our sample library or download vocal samples on the web. What producers often overlook when searching for vocals is their own voice. By using your own voice in your track, you can put in the exact vocal you want instead of being limited by your sample library. Don’t have a microphone? No problem at all. Every computer will have a built-in microphone that you can use to record your voice in your DAW. Get creative with your vocals once you do record them. Pitch them around, add distortion, and add reverb. The creative potential is limitless when doing any type of audio processing. By starting with a recorded vocal, you will feel more invested in your track and will be able to generate more ideas for the beginning stages of your production.
3. Have a jam session
In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to start a track. Having an all-out jam session allows you to play around with different ideas without judging your work too critically. Often times we are always looking for the perfect take. By hitting the record button and just letting the creative ideas flow, you are not worried about making mistakes. You are just focused on coming up with as many ideas as you want and musical passages that sound good to your ears. To start this jam session, load up two to four different instruments of your choice and record your various musical ideas on each instrument. Don’t force anything when playing your instrument in the jam session. Be curious, experiment, and let the ideas flow into the DAW. After you have recorded your instrument, then it is time to edit down your ideas. Listen back to the audio or MIDI track that the instrument was on and take only your favorite parts of each instrument. By doing this, you know will have a few musical ideas for different instruments that you can start building your track on.
4. Map out arrangement markers
Mapping out arrangement markers in your DAW is a great way to kick start your project. When starting a track, it can seem like a very daunting task to turn that eight bar drum loop that you just started into a full song. By placing arrangement markers in your DAW on the specific part of the arrangement that you are on (Intro, Chorus, Verse, etc.), you create a roadmap and destination for that eight bar drum loop and your song. To find out where to place these arrangement markers, simply import a song that is in the same genre or style that you are working in and map out that song with your DAW’s arrangement markers. This will give you the skeleton of your track and give you a direction for your arrangement. This arrangement is not set in stone. Feel free to change the arrangement however you like. The goal of creating this skeleton is to kick start ideas and keep the creative flow going, not to just copy the arrangement of another song. You should arrange your track for what works best for the particular song you are working on. Don’t be afraid to lengthen or shorten certain sections or completely change around the skeleton arrangement.
5. Manipulate samples
While this may seem like a very basic tip, it is often underutilized by music producers. Sample manipulation is one of the best ways to create changes in timbre and dynamics in your mix. There are countless ways to manipulate samples in your tracks that can be experimented with to start your track. Here is a list of a few ways you can manipulate any sample:
- Time stretching your samples
- Placing reverbs, delays, and any other spatial effect such as a chorus
- Chop up your samples and rearrange them and reverse them
- Place on any effect and automate the parameters of the effect
- Layer different types of samples
Starting a song can be one of the most difficult parts of the production process. Staring at a blank screen knowing that it needs to be filled with an entire track can be quite overwhelming. By applying any of the five tips above or any combination of the five tips, you will be able to generate that initial spark to start your track.
Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.