The beauty of not getting the sound you want
How long have you spent in the past agonizing over trying to get “that” sound?
Trying to get the exact sound in your head & succeeding can be very satisfying, but it’s largely a waste of time.
Let me explain further.
That sound in your head that you are trying to put into your song most likely came from another song by another artist. Now I’m not against sampling, borrowing or even downright stealing when it seems appropriate, but I think you’re missing out on a whole lot of sound opportunities when you get locked onto a specific sound in your head.
Having a basic concept is one thing, but when you block out every alternative to the particular sound, you are also filtering out many more unique and original sounds. I’ve been there many times myself. You are so focused on that sound, that you don’t even recognize when you are creating genius in the moment.
A much better approach is to start with a basic idea and then let it go once you get started. Let yourself be guided in the moment. This will still require some focus so you don’t go way off the trail, but even that can be a worthwhile journey.
When your music takes you somewhere you hadn’t expected, you become both the driver & the passenger. This is the best place for an artist to be.
When I find myself inspired by a song or artist (which happens quite a bit), I consciously try to avoid thinking in terms of bass tone, drums rhythm etc, especially if it’s already a song that is in the same genre that I make. Instead, I think of words to describe the vibe or tone of the song. I might use abstract words to describe different elements like “cotton candy pads” or “underwater bass that periodically comes up for air”. Or maybe I’ll think of the song as a story “Lonely satellite dreaming of leaving it’s orbit to explore the universe & perhaps interact with other intelligent machines”.
Once I’ve done this, I’ll usually put it away for a week or so. Long enough to forget the songs that inspired those descriptions. When you return to these descriptions, your brain can explore it’s own unique way of expressing these images, with only a subtle nudge from the original influence.
I think this is also why coming back to unfinished songs months later can often sound more inspiring to you. You forget that place you were trying to get to & become free to take it in a new direction. You no longer think of the sound you failed to create, but hear it for what it is. When you have no particular path in your head to follow, forging your own path becomes the only option. In order to not get lost in too many options, you’ll want to make sure to read my post on separating your producing & sound design. We are still in the business of finishing songs after all. You just want those songs to sound like you & not a xerox copy of your influences.
In the case of music making, you should be thankful when you don’t get the sound you want, because once you let that go, you can explore what inspires you in the moment. Whole new genre’s of music were born this very way, so embrace it & know you are helping music evolve.
Happy music making,
Thanks Jason. It was especially interesting to read about you writing down abstract descriptions. This chimed with me because often when I read descriptive music journalism I get inspired just based on the words the writer might use, even though I haven’t heard the song or even artist before. Even cliched descriptions like, for example, ‘taut, barbed wire baselines’ can get me inspired to put something down.