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How to Borrow Ideas For Your Compositions

Borrowing, or appropriation, is regularly seen as a faux pas in the musical world. We often talk of 'seminal' artists, and the 'derivative' genre imitators that follow. And yet, rock & roll repurposed the blues, old school hip-hop sampled jazz like crazy, and the Amen Break drum pattern has appeared on literally thousands of 'original' tracks. In these examples the artists took the old material and made it new by stamping their own musical ideas on it. Let's look at how you can do the same with your compositions.

Note book

Nothing Is New

Anton Chekhov's old adage that "there is nothing new in art except talent" has never been more true than in the hyper-connected world of modern music. There are precious few new ideas, sounds, or techniques to be applied to the creative process, and those which are discovered are quickly copied and pasted into a thousand DAW projects.

The 'newness' to be found in modern music stems from the unique personalities, perspectives, and influences practitioners are able to express in their art. You should never be afraid to steal ideas, the trick is to take from a wide variety of sources and then make the resultant amalgamation your own.

you are what you listen to neon sign

Listen to Music (Obviously)

There's no better way to encourage your musical brain than to simply listen to music. This will embed rhythms, melodies, and sounds for use in your own creative process. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and listen to something you'd never consider making yourself - the best ideas often spring from the least likely places.

Listen to a large enough variety of music and you'll have a greater creative vocabulary with which to express yourself. This might be a 'funkier' swing than your genre usually allows, an interesting scale or phrasing you wouldn't have thought of, or a wealth of samples for you to slice, sequence, and repitch into other genres.

Woman writing in a notebook

Transcribe (As Best You Can)

An extension of this idea is to actively transcribe parts of a song that you find interesting and re-purpose them for your own productions. This might be an unusual new rhythm, a powerful build and drop, or a melodic hook you simply can't get out of your head. The difference here is taking the time to notate the idea as best you can.

This doesn't have to be traditional notation. A simple visual representation, or even a quickly sung recording will suffice. The purpose is not to accurately recreate the part, but to have the key elements of it filtered through your own creative workflow. With a little finesse, you'll end up with something that's inherently 'you'.

Woman looking at art in a gallery

Look Outside of Music

You don't need to borrow exclusively from music. There are plenty of ideas in other art forms as well. Imagine telling a written narrative through song. Think about shape, colour, and texture in visual art and their relationships to sound. Watch a film with the volume down and envisage your own soundtrack.

You needn't stop at art. In fact, it's arguable that standing in the raw chaos of the world around us can be far more inspiring than staring at someone else's attempt at artifice. The rhythm of urban life, the echo of distant noise, or the stories we ascribe to strangers on public transport can all be jumping off points for new ideas.

Two muscians sitting together to write music

Work With Other People

Collaborating with other people legitimises borrowing even further. You're able to share ideas in an instant feedback loop. Even emailing tracks can be far more inspiring than sitting alone in a studio. Just remember: any critique should be focussed on the work, and similarly: your output does not define you as a person.

For DJs and producers, remixing is both fun and easy. You're able to react to external ideas and blend them with your style. Contact other artists to ask for the stems (samples) for one of their songs. Don't be put off by a few rejections: not everyone will be comfortable giving away the nuts and bolts of their compositions.

It Ain't Stealing

So you can see that borrowing needn't be stealing, assuming you can borrow broadly and remix other people's ideas with your own. Inspiration is everywhere, and simply being aware of it is a massive boon for your creative palette. If you're looking for more ideas to borrow, visit us in store, or chat to our friendly online orders team about your next inspiration machine.

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