Reboot Technique #2:
Listen Back To Your Old Mixes
The second way to give your creative brain the ol’ shockeroo is to whip out some of your old mixes. The older the better.
Break out the really old stuff, the first songs you worked on. Give them a nice, hard listen.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
—What do I LIKE about this recording?
—What do I HATE about this recording?
—What did I think about this recording at the time I recorded it?
—What are my current projects missing — stuff that this old recording has?
I’m taking my own advice. As I type this, iTunes is playing my very first recording “effort.”
From way back in high school. I released an 8-song album, all recorded on my parents’ PC using one of those little diction computer mics and a piece of recording software a friend “gave” me.
Here’s how I answer the above questions:
What do I LIKE about this recording? I love that the the entire album is mostly in mono. I didn’t really “get” panning. I didn’t use a single EQ or compressor on the whole thing. I didn’t know what they were or how they worked.
I would record the parts over and over until they sounded right, then I’d move on. Hardly any “mixing” happened. Heck, I didn’t even know what mixing was.
I also love that I recorded using only the stuff I had — instruments, gear — I just used them all creatively to put together a record. Fun times.
What do I HATE about this recording? The songwriting is pretty awful. How much wisdom can a 17-year-old have? Obviously the recording quality isn’t great — but it’s surprisingly good when you consider the gear that I used.
What did I think about this recording at the time I recorded it? I thought I was hot stuff. I mean, one of the songs was voted to be the “class song” my senior year. I was new to recording, and I though it was incredible that I could multi-track myself…on top of myself…over and over and over.
And all the locals in small-town Yazoo City, Mississippi, thought it was awesome, too.
What are my current projects missing — stuff that this old recording has? I think I tend to put off projects, wanting them to be a cohesive, structured event. For example, rather than knocking out a guitar part here and there, I’d rather have an entire “guitar recording day,” where I set everything up, get great guitar tone, and record for hours.
When I recorded this album, I literally worked on it for a few minutes when I got home from school, or maybe an hour or two on the weekends. I worked on it because I LOVED it, not because I felt obligated to.
I could stand to remember that in my projects today.
Reboot Technique #3:
Listen To Good Stuff
If going the nostalgic route doesn’t do it for you, maybe you just need to immerse yourself in some really good music. Go back and find that album that you haven’t listened to in a while, the one you love. Or maybe buy a new album, maybe one that everyone raves about but you never got around to listening to.
Try to do this without doing anything else. I listen to music while I work out or check email or clean up the studio, but I don’t really listen to the music when I’m doing ten other things.
Put yourself in a place where you can listen critically to the music, where you can ask questions like “How did they get that guitar sound?” or “I wonder how they got the background vocals to sound like that?”
Asking these questions gets your brain thinking creatively. Before you know it, you’ve got a bunch of ideas for things you can try next time you’re in the studio. Sometimes it just takes a good recording to shake loose the cobwebs and get the creative juices flowing again.