How I Finally Moved Forward in My Creative Life (And How You Can Too)
No more standing still.
Until recently, I had a big problem: I was standing still in my creative life.
I was stuck. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t making the progress I felt I should have been, and I was watching everyone around me moving forward at what felt like the speed of light.
This happened for years. For me, a music producer, this meant witnessing my peers getting signed to labels, releasing lots of music and getting amazing opportunities.
Of course, we all progress at different rates, I thought – there are a million and one reasons why some people are further along in their journey. But it seemed a bit strange to me that the gap could be this big between them and me.
Something didn’t feel right. What was I doing wrong? What were they doing that I wasn’t?
It took an embarrassingly long time to accept, but I can now say with absolute certainty that I know what was going on. If you’re feeling stuck and you’re goddamn sick of it, read on.
Consuming > Creating.
This was a huge issue for me. I was taking in way too much information about my craft but applying none of it. I had a ton of knowledge and zero experience, and no experience basically renders knowledge invalid.
I shudder at the thought of how much time I wasted because of this.
I remember being at university and talking to my friends about advanced production techniques and intricate processes to achieve an extra .2db of headroom on your master buss, etc. but when it came time to actually make music, I would fall apart.
I could talk all day about being a badass producer, but I wasn’t working enough to become one. My friends would be making stuff, but I’d just try to learn more by doing research.
Almost immediately after I decided to put more attention on actually making music and less on watching tutorials, I started seeing some serious movement.
See, what I now know is this: When you’ve been in the field for a long time, you develop an understanding of the unspoken rules of your craft, the stuff that no one can actually explain. You just kind of know it.
What this means is that while the pros can educate you on a lot of stuff, they will never be able to give you that special understanding that can only be attained through consistently doing the work.
Watching tutorials and reading about how to become a better producer will only get you so far; it’s maybe 10% of the work. The other 90% is getting out there and doing it: experimenting, making mistakes, getting all of the shit out to make room for the good stuff.
This was a great starting point to moving forward. And as soon as I started making progress, it suddenly didn’t matter that I wasn’t signed or getting crazy opportunities. I was just enjoying the progress.
Don’t throw away all of your books.
You don’t have to disavow research, just flip your priorities. You absolutely still want to be learning and reading and watching stuff to help you improve. Just make sure the practical work is the main course and the research is the accompaniment.
What I like to do is dedicate specific (large, if possible) chunks of time to actually creating. This is sacred time and not to be interrupted. There’s no research, tutorials, anything other than sitting down and getting your hands dirty.
Then, I try to fill in the gaps in the rest of my day with useful stuff. I’ll have YouTube tutorials on when I’m on the treadmill, or I’ll play music in the shed while I weight train (exercise and learning are an amazing combination). Or I’ll read articles while I’m eating dinner. You get the idea.
Ok, let’s move on. Once I had this “play first, learn later” thing down, I started to look at what else was causing me problems:
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
This is Einstein’s definition of madness. I don’t know if you know of him, but he was pretty fuckin’ smart.
After I made it past the first step – actually making music instead of trying to “understand” my way to progress – I was feeling a lot better, but I still wasn’t moving forward as smoothly as I felt I could.
I was often stuck in a loop, literally and figuratively. I’d built up habits of certain processes and techniques that were slowing me down. This only made conquering the first step even more frustrating.
If you’re a music producer, you might be familiar with:
- Always returning to the same EQ settings.
- Playing a loop over and over until you’re bored of the track.
- Using the same processing chains on all of your sounds.
- Not taking breaks and effectively sabotaging your studio session.
- Over processing sounds and ruining them.
- Comparing your track to professional tracks too much.
These are just a few of the many bad habits that wreaked havoc on my creative outlook, until I made the conscious decision to change them.
For me, it was a game of opposites: I decided I would do the exact opposite of everything I’d taught myself to do. This meant drastically reducing my processing in early stages, not using reference tracks at all, taking regular breaks, and moving to new sections of a track quickly.
This wasn’t necessarily a concrete “new plan”, but it allowed me to see clearly the habits that were holding me back – and there were a lot.
Experiment. Try new things. Don’t completely disregard your natural instincts but get to know yourself enough to recognise when you’re playing the saboteur. Once I pulled back on the creative self-harm, I began to get familiar with progress.
A quick note on subconscious programming.
Your subconscious mind is a million times more powerful than your conscious mind – that’s not an exaggeration. You have to be fucking diligent in overriding your subconscious programming, especially if you’ve been building a habit for years.
This was the case for me. It wasn’t easy to change these habits, and I still fall into their traps often.
It’s a matter of repetition. Fight back against it, consciously, all the time. Do the same with your limiting beliefs, which can also affect your progress. Once you start to change these habits, you’ll get that plane off the ground.
Getting it done > having none.
The final step for me was getting to the end of my projects. Getting the kinks out of my creative hose really helped me to develop my ideas further, but that didn’t mean a whole lot without a finished product.
I’m naturally a starter: I like to start shit. The problem is that once a starter gets past the beginning of a track, they don’t know what to do – it’s new territory. And if you
This was a big pain point for me. I needed to get past this in order to truly move forward.
So, I made the decision to bypass my ego and finish my tracks at whatever cost. At this point, I figured I’d rather have something shitty to show for myself than nothing at all.
It wasn’t easy, but it was totally worth it – once I’d made that decision, the train started moving again.
Finishing will get you infinitely further than just starting anew a million times. You gain experience that just isn’t available to you at the beginning of a project.
It helps you see music in a different way and opens your mind to the possibility of real progress. If you can finish music – regardless of how good or bad it is – who says you can’t write an EP or an album? This kind of thinking just doesn’t exist when you’re stuck on details at the beginning of a track.
If you’re stuck, getting it done is more important than getting it right. Make a track and work it to the end. While it might be painful at the beginning, there’s no faster way to see those changes you so desperately want.
It’s not you. You’re not defective. It’s just bad practise. This is what I tell myself almost every day now.
You have to do the work, whether it’s breaking bad habits, finishing tracks or just sorting out your priorities. This is what my peers were doing while I wasn’t. I’m so glad I can finally see that.
Find your biggest issue, fix it, then needle in on the next one. If you work at this, if you keep finding knots and loosening them, you’ll develop an unparalleled workflow and achieve maximum progress. Does that not sound just so sexy?
I hope this helped. If you’re feeling stuck, come back to this and get yourself free. Please don’t waste years like I did.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into the mental side of things, check out my post Limiting Beliefs Are Hindering Your Creative Growth. This could help change your mindset and supercharge your progress.
In the meantime, I would love to hear about what has helped or hindered your creative progress. Have you found a way to break free and get shit done? Let me know!
Until the next time, my friends.