Sometimes getting yourself stuck in the studio can be limiting to your creativity. You stick to the same routine, the same starting points, and often this can restrict how adventurous you are.
Known across the globe as the home of Robin Hood, there’s a lot more to the city of Nottingham than a little Medieval mayhem.
For some reason, Nottingham’s creative scene sometimes gets overlooked on a national level, but with designers like the legendary Paul Smith, innovative chefs like Sat Bains, and musicians like Jake Bugg and the Sleaford Mods, putting the city on the map, it’s clear that this is a diverse and engaging city to be a part of.
Just recently comedian and actor Stephen Mangan tweeted that the city was a ‘Cultural Powerhouse’ after many of the city’s industries, universities and robin hood impersonators decamped to Parliament for a bumper day of promotion and awareness raising, as they shouted loud and proud about what Nottingham has to offer on a national level.
Great morning at the Houses of Parliament for #NottinghamTogether. Some rousing speeches – Nottingham is a cultural powerhouse!
— Stephen Mangan (@StephenMangan) October 25, 2016
It’s often said that Nottingham doesn’t shout loudly enough about what it has to offer, but I get the feeling that that’s really beginning to change, and that the city is on the rise, and becoming much more confident in its own skin.
I’ve lived in Nottingham for a little over a year now, and the city’s really impressed me – the Creative Quarter in particular feels like a great place to live and run a business.
There are a lot of fantastic facilities, like the creative hub Antenna – where you can grab a coffee, or go along to workshops and events, and there seems to be a tight nit community of local businesses and entrepreneurs present.
With everything from independent cinemas like Broadway, to festivals like Hockley Hustle, there’s always something quirky and interesting happening in the Hockley area. It’s also hard to beat the amazing 200 Degrees cafe when you need to get out of the office, or studio, and get down to some work with the perfect cappuccino.
From a musical perspective, there are some fantastic venues like Rock City and Rescue Rooms, and there’s always live music to watch in small independents and pubs. It’s also a new UNESCO City of Literature, and rebel writers like Lawrence and Byron give the area an outlaw edge.
With local musicians and producers here churning out great music all around the city, GBM Music is proud to be a part of the diverse and exciting creative scene here in Nottingham.
A project like GBM Music gives me the great opportunity to try a wide variety of musical equipment and exciting gear. As a bona fide synth nerd, this is one of my favourite parts of the job, and finding a new sound from a new piece of equipment is always great fun.
So here are my top pieces of equipment that I reach for when looking for a little inspiration.
Korg Electribe 2
This box has received some stick since its release, mainly because of how good its predecessor was. The newest electribes have been condensed down into a sleek package, but some poor choices like cutting the pattern lengths down to a maximum of four bars, and a noticeable audio gap when changing patterns meant it received a pretty muted response – with many preferring their tank-like older versions.
I can see where these complaints are coming from, but software updates have solved some of the problems, and if you take the product by itself – and don’t compare it to it’s older siblings – it’s a wonderful music creation tool. With flashy LEDs and a handy X/Y pad for adding master effects, it’s another great box to get away from the computer and jam out on.
While it’s primarily for dance music, it also works great for ambient sounds.
I’m still getting to grips with this little beast, but so far I’m loving it. In many ways its similar to the electribe, but while it seems perhaps a little less deep, it’s certainly more immediate, and seems better for live performance. Going screenless was a bold move, but it really pays off, as you can avoid menu diving, and enjoy an immersive experience.
I’ve not even bothered with the software updates, which add sample playback capabilities yet.
Teenage Engineering’s OP-1
Simply put, this thing is a powerhouse of music making, housed in a sleek, ultra-portable case.
It’s the ultimate musical sketchbook, and as a synth, sampler and drum machine, it’s incredible versatile. Great design means it’s also incredibly inspiring.
With so many sonic possibilities available to us in our computers, sometimes it’s nice to take things back to basics. The Microbrute is an analog wonder, and tweaking its knobs and clunking its switches is always satisfying. Its brutal sound is the cherry on top.
This was the first synth I ever owned, and it’s still without doubt my favourite. The levers clunk, the knobs click industrially, and the filter screams when it’s pushed. It also has a reassuring amount of flashing lights, that quickly had me well and truly hooked on the world of synths.
This is a pretty cheap synth, but it’s still the most fun to break out, and jam with. As a standalone synth it’s a great fun box, but there’s also no arguing that the oscillator sounds fantastic as well.
One of the toughest parts of making music is simply finishing the damn thing. Many of us have tons of ideas, and love getting started on them, but the more progress we make with them, the more likely we are to get distracted, and leave them unfinished.
There are a few reasons why this happens. At the start of a track, making music can be really fun because there’s no pressure or expectations. As we form an idea into something tangible, however, there’s more at stake. If you’ve got the seed of a good idea, you might start to worry that you’re going to it, or waste it – all of which can lead to inaction.
Another problem tends to be the fear of failure. This is a major problem for any creative person, and especially those who tend to be perfectionists. The closer a project gets to reaching its conclusion, the more vulnerable that person is to criticism or self doubt.
This is simply because you’ve invested time and energy into crafting the final product, and if it’s not very good, or is received badly, there’s nowhere to hide. If you’ve done your best at something, the idea of then receiving criticism for it can be incredibly scary, and really undermine your confidence. Ultimately, being creative is about exposing yourself to the potential for criticism, which can be very daunting.
There’s no easy solution to these issues, as they’re problems that affect us on quite a deep level, and the fears may be more subconscious than anything else. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a hard-drive full of half finished ideas and tracks of good background music for the site that will probably never see the light of day.
One good solution is to work on one project at a time, and work until it is complete before you allow yourself to start another. This takes discipline but will ensure you actually complete your projects.
Another is to simply leave tracks alone for a while if you feel you’re struggling, and then return to them with a refreshed pair of ears and eyes. This distance will stop you feeling so invested in the project, to the point where you’re scared to finish it.
It’s also important to note that sometimes an idea simply can’t be expanded, and should be discarded. Knowing when to say enough is enough is an important part of the creative process as well.
One technique that I like to use is to break things down into a methodical process. Listen to your unfinished tracks, and simply make a list of what needs changing and completing. Giving yourself a to-do list of small tracks takes the emotion out of finishing your music, and let’s you see and feel your progress as it happens.
Trying to build a habit around making your music is also a good idea, and will really help you make progress.
Do you have any ideas for completing your projects? Let us know in the comments.
Now – more than ever – you’re faced with a huge world of distractions waiting to pull you out of your creative process and distract you. If you work on a computer, then the distractions are never more than a mouse click away.
Our computers are inevitably hooked up to the Internet, and if you’re anything like me, you feel that familiar temptation to check your social media or emails (again) and lose the flow.
This is one of the reasons why I love making music with hardware – it takes you away from the distractions, and is perfect in the way it lets you focus solely on the task at hand.
Using accountability to boost your productivity
If you really want to boost how productive you are, one of the best ways to do so is to use accountability.
I used to have a boring desk job. I’d come into work everyday and slave away for hours on the same repetitive tasks. My boss was sat behind me, and the rest of the office could see exactly what I was doing.
Then, one day, we decided to shift the office round a little bit, and my computer was moved into a corner, facing a wall. Suddenly no-one could see what I was up to. In no time at all, my productivity plummeted.
What do we learn from this? Well apart from the fact that I can be a lazy sod, we learn that being accountable makes a huge difference to how productive we are. When I knew I was being watched, I worked harder, faster and more efficiently.
This principle can be applied to your music making – we simply have to simulate conditions, to create accountability where there currently is none.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to take to social media, and announce the date of your album’s release. If you talk publicly about your release date, or your aims, then you’ll have nowhere to hide, and the shame of letting people down, or embarrassing yourself by failing to do what you’ve said you will, will be a huge motivation.
Fear of failure is a major reason why we never do the things that we want to. By telling everyone who will listen about your plans, you’re shifting the fear of failure onto not producing what you say you will – which can be incredibly motivating.
Another method I’ve used effectively is to give yourself rewards for succeeding.
So if you work uninterrupted, and complete your daily to-do list, add a few coins to a reward pot. Be strict with yourself, and you’ll have a great motivation to succeed, as raise money for a little treat.
Or, if that’s not working for you, try out the opposite. If you fail to do what you need to each day, give some money away to a charity. If you want to take it to extremes, give the money to a charity that supports something you hate.
All these methods are simply adding in accountability to your workflow. Don’t underestimate these techniques, and use accountability to massively improve your music making productivity right away!