Music Producers: Feeling Discouraged? Workflow Issues Could Be To Blame

Creative dry spells have plagued musicians and artists for all of human history. But what if your creative process itself is actually causing the dry spell?

I have a simple trick that I use to maximize productivity when I’m having a creative dry spell. The trick is that I use those times to focus on the non-music-making parts of music making. This includes tasks such as studio maintenance/upkeep and researching ways to improve my workflow. That way, when the spark of creative insight returns, I can jump right into the composing and trust that my tools will be there and ready to use, freeing up my creative time for actually creating.

Having now been stuck in a very long dry spell, I’ve nearly run out of ideas for further maintenance or improvement. I’ve upgraded most of my hardware, built a new desk (new article with photos coming soon), rearranged the furniture, built numerous custom cables, and so on. Next time I’m able to make music, I’m sure the process will be more convenient than the last time. But that isn’t really the topic of this article.

This long string of studio upgrades has given me a new thought: What if my studio itself has been causing the creative dry spell? That is the topic of this article. I’ve had some recent experiences that lend evidence to this being the case, and I’ll talk about one of them below.

Unknown Hardware Trouble

One particularly effective upgrade I made was to replace my sound card. I won’t go into much detail here, but my old sound card was having major incompatibilities with my new PC, and the manufacturer didn’t seem interested in addressing them. Not only that, but I had also been working a full-time job for two years that wasn’t a good fit for me, and that job took energy and motivation away from the thought of even trying to solve this problem. So, I decided to just live with the issues.

In hindsight, that was a huge mistake. Upon upgrading to the new sound card (from a much more reputable manufacturer), I was surprised to notice it sounded not just a little better, but significantly better. I did some research and became aware of a hidden problem–the old card was actually applying a lowpass filter over my main outputs the entire time that I had it! This means that for years, I was monitoring my mixes with a reduced ability to hear the high frequencies. Again, I’ll spare you the unpleasant details of how this happened and how I discovered it, but it is an absolute crime for a pro audio device to distort the sound of the main outputs in this way. I always had the feeling that something could be wrong with my setup–maybe my speakers were just voiced that way, or maybe that’s just how high-end hardware was supposed to sound–but again, because of my job at the time, I didn’t have the energy to question it. All I knew was that the thought of trying to make music seemed too frustrating. But then using the new sound card felt like being released from prison. The clarity and accuracy of my monitoring became infinitely better, as it should have been from the start.

And to my surprise, to not have this massive problem anymore made me get a little curious about music again. For the first time in a long time, I felt like turning on a synth and doodling, or browsing through my enormous Native Instruments Komplete sound collection and taking note of any good patches. I knew that I could trust what I was hearing, now that my sound card was working properly. I wouldn’t need to doubt or question my own mix decisions anymore. My former sound card had been causing a great deal of frustration, and I wasn’t even aware of it until I unwittingly solved it.

This experience also infuriated me that I had gone for so long without recognizing there was a problem.

Further Thoughts And Speculation

I’m not out of the dry spell yet. But this experience has me thinking about dry spells in a whole new way. If this unseen technical issue was silently killing my inspiration, then what other external factors could be contributing to dry spells? I’m going to propose some questions here that might be relevant to you and your dry spell. I’m not a psychologist and these questions are only my own ideas about issues that could be hindering your musical inspiration without you knowing it.

First, how is your studio environment in terms of appearance and comfort? Is it a cozy space for you, or does its appearance annoy you? Is it a big mess of cables and instruments? Do you enjoy working in it, or do you get angry a lot because of tripping over things or accidentally yanking cables out of their jacks? Is your chair adjusted properly? Have you thought of bundling your cables together to make them look nicer?

Next, how is your hardware arranged? Is your desk at the right height, and do you have enough room to work without constantly moving things around? If you use speakers, are they positioned properly? Can you hear your own work accurately? Are you using acoustic treatment? Or do you struggle to hear small mix changes due to an untreated room, and if so, does this make you frustrated and discouraged? Are all of your controls within arm’s reach? Or do you have to lean to the side to reach them? If you use a MIDI keyboard, is it in front of you, or off to the side? If it’s off to the side, do you mind swiveling your chair over every time you need to use it? (For me, the keyboard absolutely must be on the desk in front of me.)

Are you proficient in your DAW software? Do you have to stop a lot to look up how to perform a DAW function? Do you have all of your most common key commands memorized? Do you struggle with frequent PC trouble? Overheating, crashes, lost work? Have you thought of making an effort to fix those issues?

Is there anything else going on that takes your attention away from music in a bad way? Unhealthy relationships, unhealthy job situation? Other anxieties and worries? Addressing big issues like these goes beyond the scope of this article, but you get the idea.

I hope that this has helped you come closer to resolving your own dry spell.