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How to Increase Your Output with Artistic Constraints

For modern music makers, choice paralysis is one of the great enemies to our creative flow. We often have multiple instruments, countless plugins, and more samples than we ever have time to listen to. And while having options isn't inherently a bad thing, when your output suffers, you need a solution to keep you focussed and moving forwards. You need artistic constraints.

close-up of smart watch on wrist

Set Deadlines & Keep Them

A simple starting point is to set deadlines and keep them. As amateur music makers, we often lose interest in a song or project long before we finish it. Setting yourself a tight but achievable deadline focusses your mind on completion rather than exploration. Producing to deadlines is a very useful skill to develop for your creative practice.

For this to work, however, we often need to be ruthless. Don't miss a deadline because you aren't happy with the work. The 'quality' of what you produce isn't as important as finishing and moving on. No one has to hear your output, and you can always come back and redo things later. Completing music under time pressure is a result in itself.

Loungeroom with electric guitars, amplifiers, and laptop

Try Limiting Your Tools

Modern music makers have access to more studio-quality instruments and tools than even history's greatest composers or producers would've known what to do with. All these perfectly adequate options lead to choice paralysis, or worse, to a mindless flicking through presets searching for inspiration from someone else's hand.

We can overcome this by limiting our tools. Choose a small selection of instruments, samples, or plugins with which to build songs. This forces your creative brain to innovate with what you have. Instead of selecting presets, explore your instruments and effects. Instead of being overwhelmed by gigabytes of samples, mangle or make your own.

Man gesturing while producing music

Treat Music as a Game

Another take on this is to play creative games. Like a drama-class warm-up, creative games exercise your lateral thinking skills without the pressure of 'getting something done'. If you manage to achieve something during the game, that's brilliant. If not, it was just a game designed to get you warmed up for the session.

Use novelty to keep the task fun. Write a guitar riff on a bass, make a reverb patch out of a delay, or drum without your most dominant limb. For DJs and producers, mix a slow burner into a club banger, build an entire song from a saw wave, or sequence an oscillating effect. Follow your joy and your brain will respond with creative solutions.

Orange Wilco record on turntable under window

Visualise Your End Result

One final strategy is to visualise your end result. Free exploration is great for generating raw material, but it very rarely translates into a finished product. Ask yourself what you're trying to achieve, and then try to form a solid mental image of what that looks (and sounds) like. It may help to make some notes.

Refer to this image when you become sidetracked by a specific task. It's easy to spend too much time tweaking a sound or phrase into perfection. By taking a step back, we can assess whether that's a worthwhile time investment, or if there are more pressing things to attend to. Most of our 'perfect' sounds get glossed over in the mix anyway.

Hold Back & Be Set Free

Artistic constraints force us to be our best creative selves. They heighten our musical instincts and adaptability and focus us on our end goal. If you'd like more perspectives on how to increase your output, visit us in store or contact our friendly online orders team about your next inspiring piece of gear.

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