The past few months I’ve been in a bit of a musical slump. It happens, I sit down, make the same beat and use the same techniques, realise it’s the same as everything I’ve done in the last while and go back to playing playstation or whatever. It happens, writer’s block, burn-out, call it what you will. It’s hard to be inspired all the time.
I know myself well enough now to know that to escape the slump, something has to change. I’m not someone who writes music with emotion or feeling in mind - it’s the gadgets and processes that attracted me to electronic music. So in the past, I’ve often relied on new equipment or software for inspiration. Due to current life events, finding the money for that is kind of out the question.
So here’s what I did - I set myself a challenge. Use one synth, in my case a Novation Bass Station II, for all sounds and make a track. No software instruments, no samples, no vocals etc. - every sound within this track must begin its life in this one monophonic synth.
To my surprise, building a drum sample rack out of synthesised bleeps, bloops and fizzles turned out to be really fun. It also forced me to get to know my synth much better, exploring every modulation routing and possibility. Having to really think about what a clap sounds like and how I could replicate that with a synth was difficult, but rewarding. It reminded me that tinkering with synths is what brought me to electronic music in the first place. Processing each sample (I did allow software effects and compression, I’m not a complete madman) and getting them to work as a drum kit was also weirdly therapeutic.
I was also surprised that a track was becoming a reality quite quickly - the distraction of choosing instruments or samples simply wasn’t there. Finding fun and creativity within self-imposed restrictions turned out to be really productive. Plus, playing a raw analogue synth by hand, happy accidents occurred. Within a few hours, I had a finished song. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever done, but it was different, and it was fun to make. Since that day a couple of weeks ago, I’ve continued my exploration of the synth and have numerous tracks, some of which, I’m actually pretty stoked with.
Maybe this won’t work for everyone, but I thought I’d share the experience. If you’re finding you’re treading water in a sea of samples and soft-synths, maybe try stripping things back. Give yourself some rules - DAWs are so good these days that the almost limitless options can be overwhelming. This way you find freedom within limitation, without the paralysis of choice.
After I’ve tired of the synth, I reckon I’ll apply this challenge to my dusty old Alesis HR-16 drum machine and see how I go. But you could do it with anything; a guitar, your voice, a 12-inch record, a soft synth, sampling kitchen utensils..whatever. The options are almost limitless and you may find yourself armed with more knowledge and some interesting sounds. In the words of Captain Planet: the power is yours.