Posted May 19, 2012 by Stephan Earl in Tips and Tutorials

Lessons of Nostalgia: Maximize Your Creativity

I can clearly recall the joys of recording and producing music in my late teens and early twenties.  In those days, buying a particular piece of kit meant the difference between eating a normal meal that week, or surviving on a rice-only menu.  With that choice I was very happy to pick up a five pound bag of rice from the grocery store, right after I picked up a much needed piece of music production hardware from the local Sam Ash music store.

Getting a piece of kit in those days was a major event for me, but it meant that a good twelve new pieces of music were about to be composed… that night!  Those were the days when sleep was optional.  Those were the days when I could turn every knob and move every fader in my studio while blindfolded because I lived in that space.  Back then every piece of kit had to last, and it had to earn its keep.  But it got used, and used well.

My 1991 Home Recording Studio - Home Music Production

In those days, I spent hours and hours diving into my synths and samplers – programming and squeezing every bit out of it.  All 8 bits that is!  Since I was very limited on effects processing, I had to be ultra-creative with routing and find ways to re-route effects that have already been re-routed.  I had to make every recorded track count, because there were only 8 tracks to work with and one of them had to be used as a MIDI sync track with the computer.

But if I had to do it all over again – I wouldn’t change one thing.  Those were some of the most creative and fulfilling times I had as a recording musician. Although I was lacking a heavy bank  account, I was rich with a creative work ethic and one that I strive for today.  Now of course that was over 20 years ago and things have changed for me since that time.  I have a family now.  My priorities have changed.  While this is true, there is one key lesson learned from that experience that I feel compelled to share with you.  Are you ready?   Wait for it… here is it:

Limit Your Options to Maximize Your Creativity

Suddenly you realize that you understand exactly what I’m talking about here.  We live in a world of too many options.  So many things are much more accessible to us now, and much more cheaply.  Everything is instantly delivered to us and gratification is grand and immediate.  Or is it?

These days we can download apps instantly to our tablets that would have cost 100 times as much 20 years ago.  Instead of having two treasured synths that are the joy of our collection, we have 20 synth plug-ins.  Maybe some of them were free.  Maybe some of them we only played a couple of times before ditching to the hard drive junkyard.  None of them have we mastered or even ventured beyond 50 of the 4,000 presets.

We fall victim to masterful marketing gurus that say, “we must have this peice of kit”.  That “our lives will be more enriched, if only we purchase this kit”.  Our mixes will no longer sound like mud, once we get this magic piece of software.  Then it get’s added to the other 6 versions of that software we already had.  None of which made our mixes sound  better than mud.

Limit Your Options to Maximize Your Creativity

Recently, I took my own advice.  I went on a purge and rid my computer and hard drives of all non-essential software and plug-ins.  If it wasn’t a part of my regular workflow then it had to go.  If I had multiple synths that did a similar thing and I hadn’t spent any time programming or discovering them, then they had to go.

As much as it hurt to see these cool and colorful DAWS, instruments, and effects plug-ins go; it needed to happen and was long overdue.  I needed to force myself to get back into the instrument plug-ins that I love, but never find time to dig into.  I needed to stop wasting time learning five DAW packages when the one I use the most has all the features I need and 100 more I’m sure I haven’t learned yet.  I needed to stop waiting for that magic plug-in that is going to fix my mixes and learn how to mix music better.

And when I limited my options, my creativity began to breathe again.  Not bogged down reading more manuals for tools I didn’t need, I could focus more on writing good music and mastering the tools I have.  I can now see clearly the creative light at the end of the tunnel, because my my virtual track had been cleared of clutter.

Stephan Earl

Composing, recording and producing music in the home studio environment for over 25 years, musician and author Stephan Earl now enjoys sharing his home studio setup experience with other home studio recording musicians via HomeMusicProduction.com.