Monday, September 27, 2010

Optimizing Your Creativity

Let's face it, when it comes to creativity, inspiration can be fickle. There are times when you're on fire and everything you do seems like a complete gem. Then there are other times when it all seem like complete garbage. The worst seems to be when ideas don't seem to be coming at all. There are things we can do to optimize the time when we're the most creative and what to do when we aren't.

Being On Fire

We all love those times when ideas are just flowing. The ideas are coming from every where and one seems better than the next. We all know though, that these times are fleeting and they seem to leave just as quickly as they arrived. Creativity can be like a little child. They come and go when they please. They're very erratic and can't be depended on. They can last but usually they're quite short...or never long enough. And the worst part is that the harder you try to get them to abide by your will, the harder it is to get them to cooperate. In short, when it comes to inspiration, we're at the whim of the gods.

Taking Control

So we can see that creative inspiration won't abide by our demand and will. Like the little child analogy, there are ways we can set the stage to entice creativity to come our way. We can make sure that we take time for it everyday. Creativity needs a playground. It needs a time and space to play. We can't always be there when it wants but we can set the stage and see what happens. We can have an open mind and most of all, patience. Great ideas come when they're good and ready. You should be ready too.

The Repetitiveness Of It All

Our brains work in different ways depending on our environment. Have you ever noticed that you get great ideas at the weirdest times? There are good reasons for it most of the time. There's no mystery why we come up with our best ideas when driving, vacuuming or taking a walk. Something happens to our brain when we do simple, repetitive tasks. Much like our brain when we take a walk, the brain gets into the the repetitive motions of the activity and spurs the ideas in the back of our brain. We want to get our mind into this area when we're trying to be creative. That's why being consistent with your work is such a valuable asset. Being in the right mindset helps too.

Cramming Your Day

There's also the opposite effect when we're stressed out, or trying to do too many things at once. Creativity usually can't fit inside your mind when you're preoccupied with a million other things. Try to set aside a time where you won't be bothered. Try and forget your day. Don't put too much emphasis on 'getting something done' as much as 'seeing what comes up'. If at all possible separate your 'creative days' from your 'working days'. I try to get as many of my chores done in a single day so I can devote a separate day to just creating. Pick a time of day when your mind is more quiet. Ironically, I usually find this to be the morning, you may find something else. If you're writing and your mind is preoccupied with things to do, write them down and let them go. They'll be there when you're done.

Other Places to Play

Some people say that they come up with the best ideas in weird places but have trouble getting the juices going when they get home or into the studio. I've had some musicians tell me that they've had their best ideas when teaching and working with others. There are two reasons for this. The first goes along with the notion we mentioned earlier about the environment and repetitive tasks. When teaching students, teachers are usually in the same space and same environment mentally for quite a few hours. They're also doing actions that are very similar and repetitive. The other reason is the state of mind. When sitting down and trying to get creative in the studio, you may do a couple of warm ups and get right to it. You start to bang out a couple of ideas and wonder why nothing is coming. Like the child, creativity doesn't seem to want to play today or at least won't play on demand. In the teaching scenario, you aren't asking the child to come and play. You're simply working and trying to convey ideas. You're playing on your own and leaving it open to creativity if it wants to come in a join you. Of course since your mind is on the task at hand, this happens in your sub-conscious. Working on your sub-conscious is much more effective because that's the area where your creativity stems from. Your mind isn't concerned about coming up with the next best idea, it's simply involved with the task at hand.

So What Can I Do

The best way to stimulate creativity is to just start playing. It's much more interested in playing along than being told what to do. Some people work best when they put aside a particular time of day and just get to it. If you're dismissing this right off, don't. I've always felt that I needed to be 'in the mood' or at least 'in the right state of mind' to be creative. I've also always felt that I was more effective at night than at day. The problem with this was I never really tested it. The reason why I felt this way wasn't from concrete results but it was always the time I was 'in the mood' to be creative. It amazed me when I started working in the morning because I was busy at night and didn't like losing days. To my amazement, not only were the results better, but I was getting much more done.

The Space

We've talked about this in here before. I think it's a great idea to have an area set aside to practice so that when it's time you can just get right to it. When it comes to creativity, there are a couple of ways to go about this. It's usually better to have a space set up because you can all of your items there ready to go. All you have to do is pick up your guitar and press record. The opposite to this is to work in different areas and see what happens. You may find that with creativity you may need a change in atmosphere once in a while. Be careful about having a writing area. This may put more stress on your sub-conscious. It's better to have a 'play area' and just see what flows. After you've been at a while you may find that you can get creative in pretty much any space. It's all about getting the mind into the right space and not so much your body.

Patience Is A...

If there's one trait you need to cultivate when it comes to creativity is patience. You have to be patient and wait for the ideas to come. You have to be playful and see how things evolve. If things aren't going well, try another way. Try another chord, another groove. Try something and see what happens with that. Try not to be too judgmental at first. Children don't like nay-sayers. Or, the child may still continue to try but the judgmental will eradicate any ideas as soon as they arrive. Ideas need time to germinate and grow. We have to take our time and just see what arrives. Our first reaction may not be the best every time.

Hit the Beach

I've had other musicians tell me that they're the most creative at the beach or an area like that. This actually comes from our brain being in a playful envronment. If you're stting on the beach with friends and start jamming , you may find that ideas are flying. This is again because your mind is in that playful state. It's probably not stressed, happy and most of all free to explore. Of course you don't have to be on the beach for this to work, just get into the right mindset.

Not Tonight, I Have a Headache

So what happens when you're not feeling creative at all? What if you haven't felt like doing anything for a while and when you do something, you're less than impressed with the results? Two things may be at work here. Either there may be some turmoil in your life, and the mind is focused elsewhere. Or, everything may be fine but (for usually some completely unknown reasons) the creative juices just aren't flowing. Creativity isn't a science, so there are no hard and fast rules. We won't go into the psychology of it all, we'll just look for some solutions. First off, there are a number of things that you can do to get your mind back in order without having to spent time with your therapist.

Shut It Off

Unfortunately, our minds aren't a finely tuned machine. There are things that we have no understanding of at all. But there are some things that we can do to slow the mind down. We can work on our minds like we work on our music. We can practice letting go, concentration, focusing and mind games that stimulate the creative areas. First off, one of the best things for musicians to do (actually I think it's beneficial for all people), is to work on quieting the mind. The mind is in constant motion which isn't always a good thing. One of the reasons why you seem to get creative at the weirdest moments is because the mind is quiet. I don't mean quiet in the 'not doing anything' way but quiet in the fact that it's concentrating on only one thing. Take time everyday to quiet the mind. The best method is to simply count your breaths. It seems really simple until you try to do it. You quickly realize how much junk is running through your mind at any one time.

Exercising the Mind

One thing I like to do when teaching people how to write is to throw ideas around. There are specific exercises that I do that stimulates the mind and gets the wheels turning. These work because it challenges the mind instead of 'waiting for inspiration'. If you're a writer and having trouble coming up with new ideas, try some exercises, get out of your regular cycle and see what happens. Most writers don't like the results of most of the exercises but they're there to stimulate the mind. They actually lead to something great.

Mind stimulation exercises for songwriters:

1. Give yourself an odd assignment. a) write in a musical style that you're completely unfamiliar with. I usually will give a metal guitar player an assignment to write a pop song They usually hate this but do quite well. b) write in a lyrical style that you're completely unfamiliar with. I will ask a pop songwriter to write a song based on a ridiculous theme. (e.g. rabbits falling in love, what it's like to be a dog, the political climate in America). You get the idea.

2. Become a remixer. This involves taking somebody else's work and seeing what you can do with it. Some famous composers did this all the time; Bach was famous for using folk melodies. In essence you would take the backing track (or form, or chord progression, or groove) from a song you love and see what you would do with it. This is great for writers who have a hard time with re-writes since it makes you come up with something in place of a well known piece. This can also be applied to lyrics. Take the general theme (or main line) and write a new lyric.

3. Get a book on music theory or take a course. Nothing stimulates the musician's mind more than learning other kinds of music. Learn a new chord progression or lick or some theory and apply it to your music. Even if you're in a terrible mood, it won't last long. The ideas will be flying in no time.

4. Get a toy, new way of working. Sometimes the best way of doing something is to take another approach completely. If you've always wrote on guitar, try piano. While it's not always the best solution, sometimes just getting new toy gets you in the mood to get to work. How many times have you gotten something new and just couldn't wait to get home and get to work. Be careful not to overdo this one though. Some people have way too much gear and not enough work done. 

With all of these exercises don't worry if it's good or not, just see what happens. The point is to get the juices flowing, not to create a masterpiece.

Be Like Nike

One of my favorite websites is a site about how creative people work. It's mostly writers but it gives great insight into their creative processes. One of the things that stands out to me is that fact that most of them get up early and just start working. There doesn't seem to be any regard to inspiration, creativity or even being motivated at all. It just seems like a normal part of their day. I think that therein lies their secret to success. Inspiration or not, the most important thing is to be there and get the ideas flowing. To work through all of the problems and find what you're trying to say. It's a matter of 'just doing it'. And that's it. It's not very romantic and doesn't make for great movie plots but it's honest.

True genius may come along once in a while but if you're in there everyday, you'll find that you'll be able to get creative on a daily basis and not worry as much about finding inspiration. Happy writing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Genesi - live audiovisual - Abstract Bird

Genesi is a live audiovisual show by Abstract Bird.

Both the music and the visuals are generated in realtime using the input of two electric instruments (a wind instrument and a piano).

More information on Abstract Birds and about this piece Genesi
Some stills at: and​photos/​abstractbirds/​sets/​72157624962280404/​

Genesi by Abstract Birds

Genesi (trailer) from Abstract Birds on Vimeo.
This is a very beautiful work and at present one of my favourite audio visual pieces - ok I do have a lot of favourites, its the quietness and simple shadings - just great.

"Abstract birds are Pedro Mari and Natan Sinigaglia, two visual music artists.
Their work combines images with sounds through the use of musical instruments interfaced with generative systems dedicated to audiovisual creation in real time.
The musical aesthetic is rooted both in the tradition of classical music and in the well-established tradition of jazz, drawing in particular from the latter the improvisatory nature of execution, which is crucial in the work of Abstract Birds.
The visual aesthetic is abstract, with a conscious use of shapes and colors, although the dynamics of the audiovisual world take inspiration from the natural world."
Source: vimeo channel description -

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Working Solo: Problems & Solutions

In a past post we talked about some of the problems with goals setting and planning. As a musician most of the time you're going to be on your own when it comes to trying to get things done. It's tough trying to get things done at the best of times but being on your own makes it that much harder.

What To Do

The toughest part of planning is trying to figure out what's important and what needs to be done. There isn't just one way to the top in the music industry; there are many ways of getting there. So what do you need to do? What's your first step? What's your next step? What needs to be done first? Of course the answer to any of these questions has a lot to do with where you are now and what you want to accomplish. You're going to have to do some research and development. Most companies allot a certain amount of time in research and development and as a business, you're going to have to do the same. That means spending time everyday doing some research in figuring out what people in your industry are doing to make it.

Let's look at some specific problems that musicians face and try to find some solutions.

1. "I don't even know where to start"

The Master Plan

The first part is putting together the master plan. The hardest part about this is that there is no clear cut path for musicians. You're going to have to be as creative in your endeavor for success as you are in your art. This means that most of the time you're going to be trying things out and seeing if there are any results. There are times when you know that this is the right step for you but often you won't be absolutely sure. You're going to have to try things and just 'see how they go'. This happens in music a lot so it shouldn't be a brand new paradigm for you. The musicians that go furthest in their careers are the ones that take an active approach in forwarding their career. This means finding out what other people are doing, reading material and taking courses when needed. The biggest part is that there must be some plan to action. That means whatever ideas you come up with, you must implement them. Once you've given the idea some time, you will know if it's worth continuing or just going on to something else.

2. "It's too overwhelming, I don't know how to tackle it all."

The Goals List

Putting a master plan together is great because it gives you a sense of purpose and direction. Looking at a master plan can be overwhelming when you look at all of the things that need to be done. Once you establish a goal, you need to break it down. It needs to be broken down into a list of actionable goals. Once you have these it still needs to be broken down once more into steps that can be done within a short time. The amount of time is always a variable and not always something that can be estimated correctly. Once you've done these a couple of times, it becomes easier to tell what is involved and how long it's going to take. Once you have these steps, then you can add them to your daily list.

3. "What can I do today to get the ball rolling."

The Daily Plan

The daily list is very important. I keep mine on a simple notepad. I carry it around and cross off items when they're done. You may find something else that works for you but try and keep it simple. Don't make the list another item on your list. It's good to only put a couple of items on your list. Be honest with yourself. If it's only a couple of items you're more likely to see how easy it is to complete the list. This increases the odds of getting all of the items done. Make it a habit of making daily lists even if you don't get it done. The discipline will creep in slowly if you work at it.

4. "How to do I find the people who will help my career?"


Everybody in the music business knows the importance of networking. I find that personal relationships is the lifeblood of a lot of industries not just the music business. You have to remember that it's all about personal relationships. It's about making sure that there's something for them as well as yourself. Since the industry runs on relationships it's possible to get a lot help and get a lot done just by your personal skills alone. This includes not only industry contacts but contacts with other musicians and the general public. Networking is one thing that should be on your daily list...everyday. There are always chances to make a connection with somebody be it ever so small. It's all about a number of small contacts more than it is one do or die situation. It's only after a number of contacts with the same person that things usually happen. Therefore, it's important to make those 'small' connections as much as you can without being a pest. That means you have to make a list (yes another list) and get to connecting with those people. There is no short answer for this, you're going to have to do your homework and work at it everyday.

5. "How do I make money from my music?"

The Financials

When I was putting together the business plan for my music business*, I was thrown for a loop when I had to put together the financial section. The whole idea was completely foreign to me. Not only did I not know how to even put together a financial forecast, I didn't even know how to put together my expense list. I find that a lot of artists are like this. This sort of thing is not the stuff you learn in music theory class. Nowadays the method of making money from your music isn't as straight forward as it was a decade ago. There are many avenues to take. Most of them are DIY, which is great for musicians because it puts them in control of their own music. It's a problem in the fact that there are so many avenues to take and so many details to take care of that it's overwhelming. Like networking, you're going to have to take this one step at a time. Start with releasing your music and putting it on CDBaby. Find a distributor like TuneCore to get it on all of the different outlets. Don't just let it out there though. Find out what works. There are a number of ways that you can track the sales from the different places. See where the money is coming from. Don't forget about touring as this can be the catalyst for most of your sales.

*Every musician should put together a business plan. It invaluable as far as seeing your music career as a viable business.

Keeping Motivated

The hardest thing to deal with when working on your own is keeping motivated. It's one thing to try and figure out which step to take next, it's another to keep yourself motivated when there's no one on the team but you. One of the best ways to keep motivated is to get other people involved. The best is to get others involved in your project. Things get done much more quickly when there's other people helping you out. The other is to have a community. It's important to have others that you can talk to, to seek advice from, and to kick you in the ass when you need it. Other musicians and people in the industry are the best for this since they understand what's involved. Knowing musicians, there's usually some healthy competition involved too.

The Whole Package

As you can see, there's a ton of things to take care of here. Realistically it's too much for one person to do. The launching of a music career takes a team of people to make it successful. This includes a lawyer, PR, management, bookkeepers, agents, etc. When you first start out, you're going to be on your own. The support team won't be coming onboard until there's some momentum and  money to be made. You're going to have to do it all initially. That's why it's important to keep organized. You can go crazy with it all if you don't have some organization. There has to be some  measure of if you're on the right track and if you're having any success with the route you're taking.

Be the Tortoise

Keep working, keep at it, stay organized, and get something done everyday. Soon enough you'll have a team of professionals to consult and chat with. For now though, you're on your own and nobody will work harder for you than yourself.

pixel noizz - PXN_richterizz

Pixel Noizz

Influenced by Hans Richter's Rhythmus 21. Pixel noizz developed a plugin to produce richter style video glitches from any input.

PXN_richterizz from pixel noizz on Vimeo.

View Pixel noizz vimeo channel:
Visit pixel noizz blog:

Ted Brickman - Video Mapping

Made in Cornebarrieu near Toulouse. The images were made by Ted Brickman, Dc.olfta, pauline Monnet, Julien Rondot. The soundtrack designed by Julien SanFrancisco.

Vimeo documentation of Video Mapping - Mapping "à la maison"

Mapping - Cornebarrieu - Toulouse from ted brickman on Vimeo.

See Ted Brickman's website - excellent work and thoughts and ideas on VJ and music and sound. In French

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sonar - Gravité, 2009

"Gravité (Gravity)
Falling objects synchronized to produce rhythm. 2009"
source vimeo page:
This is quite brilliant as it demonstrates that a visual music work does not neccesarily have to consist of abstract imagery and music - it can consist of real action footage. However, in a visual music work, the visual and music become like a connected entity - a visual music object. I discussed this idea in my latest paper on Visual music - a composition of the 'things themselves' at the Sounding Out 5 conference held at Bournemouth University, UK. I am beginning to see more works of audio and visual that make such interplays.
(authors opinion)

Gravité from Renaud Hallée on Vimeo.

Funki Porcini Orange Drop

"A synesthete's bathroom with music."
source: vimeo page.
The hammond organ in this is quite beautiful.
Music and video by Funki Porcini, Bill Drake on Hammond.

Orange Drop from Funki Porcini on Vimeo.

Chris Casady - Tongul Torture, 2009

"Chris Casady, known for his energetic abstract graphics and colorful Flash title sequences, has worked in motion picture effects, music videos and TV commercials from his studio in Los Angeles, CA."
Source youtube iotacenter channel:

Sensology - Michel Gagné - 1996 to 2010

Many animation techniques were used and experimented with in this film.
"Sensology is a short animated film by Michel Gagné that visualizes in abstract form, an improvised musical session by two leaders of the avant-guarde jazz movement, Paul Plimley (piano) and Barry Guy (bass). The film was started in August 2006 and completed in July 2010.
Sensology was handdrawn (painted) with a Wacon tablet at first, and later, a Cintiq, using Adobe Photoshop. The drawings and frames were then composited and manipulated in a 2D software called Animo. There is no vector animation at any point in the film."
Source youtube description:

Seth Olitzky - Flashpoint, 1987

"An experimental animated film that combines computer generated mattes with cameraless animation. Scratch on film and paint on film are combined thru an optical printer using high contrast mattes produced by a computer. The software for the mattes was written by the filmmaker. The film was made in 1987."
Source youtube:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yoga for Musicians

I have to admit, I love yoga. But before you think I'm going to get all new-agey on you let me point out some practical applications and conventions from yoga that we can apply to our art.

Getting Into It

Yoga practice is a lot like music practice; its a set of exercises to set the mind and body in a specific direction. It's done everyday, it follows a regimen, and it can be done practically anywhere.  With every yoga practice, there is a mind/spirit connection. You try and be in the moment. Focusing all of your energy on the matter at hand. You take time to notice how your body feels while trying to quiet the mind. There is the constant 'practice' of working on something, keeping focused, working hard and getting better everyday. It becomes a ritual but not automatic. It becomes an important part of your day. It becomes part of you.


Before you start any yoga session, you're encouraged to slow down and empty your mind. In the first part of a yoga session there are some very simple gestures and poses. These are to settle the mind down and get you into the right mindset.All of the external problems and mind think is thrown out the window and all of your energy is in the moment, concentrating on the material at hand.

The same should be for your practice sessions. Use the first 5 minutes to get your mind into what you're doing and away from all the usual noise going on. Part of the reason I always start with a simple finger exercise is because they're so useful in slowing the mind down. That's why it's good to always do your warm-ups slowly and deliberately. It gets the mind into the right mindset while getting the fingers and muscles ready.


An important part when learning how to meditate is concentration. It is essential for effective meditation. Some people believe that concentration is something that you have or don't have. Concentration must be developed; like working a muscle or learning a new skill. We all have various amounts but can develop greater abilities with some practice.

I've written before about making the most of your practice sessions and how important it is to stay focused. Concentration is a big part of this. Much more can be absorbed when there is a constant concentration on the material at hand. It's much more effective to practice for half an hour and be totally focused and concentrating on the practice session than it is sitting a couple of hours in front of the TV, noodling aimlessly. While working through exercises keep the mind on the material. Ask yourself questions, throw yourself some curves, keep the mind in it. Even when going through scales and other material that's almost automatic, keep the mind engaged. Sing the scale while playing it. Take notice of what your fingers and body is doing. Try to 'hear' the scale before you play it. Notice the sound of the scale and differentiate it from other scales. The more ways you do this, the better.

Get With the Program

Yoga sessions aren't arbitrary. There is a program and a logic to every move and the overall session. The point is to work different parts of the body and making sure that there is variety while the most important techniques are always included.

Your practice sessions should follow a program. It's the best way to ensure success and make sure that there is some development. Consistently changing the program doesn't allow any material to really take hold and master. It's important that certain skills are done regularly and the basic fundamentals are taken care of. It's also important to have variety and encourage creativity and self exploration.

Daily Practice

One of the greatest things yoga can bring to us is the ritual of the daily practice. It's all about setting aside time to practice everyday. You're encouraged to do it at the same time in the same space, everyday. The mind is cleared and the practice begins. It's about gently pushing yourself a little everyday. Trying to get better without pushing too hard. Have patience. Be in the moment. Let your mind be absorbed with what you're trying to achieve and nothing else.

Try to approach your practice sessions everyday with the same paradigm and see how it enriches your whole musical experience.