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Q. How do I get back to making music?

I have a problem that I think could be fairly widespread. I've spent years dabbling with studio technology, reading SOS, acquiring various bits of kit, messing around with software and so on. The trouble is, when I do get a few spare minutes to actually sit down and create music I seem to be devoid of inspiration — I've spent so long worrying about my next bit of kit I seem to have lost sight of the object, which is to make music. Help! I need something to kick-start my creativity, but I don't know what it is. Can you offer any advice?A dictaphone or a portable recorder like the M-Audio MicroTrack can be handy for capturing new ideas when inspiration strikes.A dictaphone or a portable recorder like the M-Audio MicroTrack can be handy for capturing new ideas when inspiration strikes.

Neale, Cambridge

Editor In Chief Paul White replies: This is a common problem, but it helps if you can divide your time between music-making and and the more mundane tasks of studio maintenance and management. There's nothing worse than having to take your mind off composing to deal with a computer issue. If you don't feel inspired, then tidy your hard drive, update your plug-ins, organise your files and so on. The other useful thing you can do is construct a default song with all your commonly used software instruments ready to go so that as soon as your computer boots up, you can open your default song and start work. If you can switch on your computer and then leave it in Sleep mode when you have spare time, it will make starting work that much faster.

Nothing kills creativity like spending an hour looking for sounds, so try to keep your sound library organised, and if you do embark upon a sound browsing session between creative bursts, try to put your favourites into suitable categories for future use. Having a million samples is of no use if they are not organised. The better you prepare, the quicker you can get your ideas down when they arrive. I also find that having a good rhythm part often inspires ideas and that's where something like Stylus RMX is excellent. Even if you decide to replace or change the rhythm parts later, it is worth using a preset as a starting point if it gives you some ideas. Some composers also find that setting artificial limits gets them moving faster, so why not give yourself a dozen sounds to choose from, and see what you can create using them? Once the idea takes shape, you can break this rule and proceed as normal.

Other useful tips include keeping a simple dictaphone with you so that when an idea pops into your head halfway down the M4, you can hum it or sing it and then come back to it later. Strictly speaking, this should have a hands-free mic attached! It can also help to turn your back on the technology for a while and then just sit down with a guitar or piano and noodle around for a while. Again, leaving a portable recorder running is a good idea, just in case anything wonderful and totally unrepeatable should turn up! And finally, some people find it much easier to come up with ideas when they have a musical colleague to bounce their ideas off, so don't always assume that you can do everything alone. Different things work for different people — for me, having a deadline definitely does the trick!

Published October 2005