Music and Math: Working Backwards

Music producers, like all artists, commonly face writers block. It’s a huge problem. Some go as far as taking drugs to treat it.

I reduce or remove it however I can. I don’t take drugs for it myself, but I know the people are out there.

What I do instead is think my way out of it.

I hope to some day understand the empty canvas that is a new project file so well that the music lays down in front of me. The Muse will be on my schedule. Then it will just be a question of making time for her.

But how do you do this?

Most people’s gut will tell me I’m overthinking it. I agree that I probably am. But the yield of figuring out an equation-like approach is high, so it is worth my time.

Thankfully, music is actually less abstract in my mind than painting. You can fill that canvas however you want with a painting. Music has a grid you get to stick to.

This is great news.

Listening to a loop I’m struggling with just now, I realized something. It was a kick drum on the 1, snare on the 2 and 4, and 4/4 hihats every 3rd and 4th bar. Even with a mono one-note bassline (sidechained) playing with them, it felt very empty.

I actually designed it that way, trying to copy another track, called Need U. Listen to the drop here:

Now here’s the magic. I was struggling to figure out something else to complement the sounds I already had. What to do?

Imagine the grid of a DAW. Whatever sounds you already have, consider that sonic and rhythmic space filled. The empty spaces have room for more “information” in the form of rhythm, harmonic, ambient, etc sounds. (Some space can be “filled” twice but not in the same way, e.g. a kick drum and snare at the same time.)

Your mental framework is sitting right in front of you. From wherever you are, test different sounds that don’t “fill” the space you already have occupied. Or remove things. (Sometimes art is about taking away instead of adding more.)

From there, follow Scott Adams’s advice and keep the good mistakes.

P.S. Your mood is still a very important factor in your session’s output. Eat well, sleep well, get a high dose of social stimulation before or during the production session.

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