Being creative means finding abstract ideas in your inner self and making them happen in the real world. But how does it work? Why do some people seem to be more inventive than others? 

Whether you’re a music producer or just a drum & bass enthusiast, you’ll easily understand that discovering the music of an artist is one thing but knowing where the idea came from is definitely another. What’s the story behind this track? How did they create this EP? How did those songs come to life?

In this article, we’ll explore the roots of creativity in order to understand it and to unleash our best creative potential. Dealing from the creation of authentic music to the invention of the sounds of tomorrow, we’ll focus on drum & bass but you will also find more generic definitions and tips. In effect, creativity is a skill like another, it’s not specific to arts, it’s for every discipline in life. Scientists, philosophers, athletes, writers are also highly creative minds.

Creating music comes from a combination of technical skills, knowledge, hard work, passion, and something we call the ‘creative process’. As a matter of fact, creativity is the brain at its best. Some people are more creative than others, but only because they choose it. The good news is, having a highly creative mind isn’t innate and you can improve it as much as you want. Although it requires a lot of tenacity and perseverance, this starts by trusting your work and constantly seeking knowledge in as many fields as possible, not only in music. Therefore, having an open eye on the world is fundamental.

Speaking about knowledge & learning, you have no excuse to skip this first step. Nowadays, we have thousands of ways to find useful information and at any given place, from the subway to your home. Everything you want to learn is available 24/24: articles, books, videos, online classes, or even podcasts provide a huge source of information. Your journey starts by feeding your passions daily, collecting references, having models and influences to grow. 

Podcasts have emerged a few years back but during lockdowns, many of them speaking about our scene appeared: Must Make Podcast by Workforce, R.O.A.R.: The ‘90 Rave Podcast, The Art of Rave by Becky Hill, The Amen Brother Podcast by Jon GLX, Rich Visionobi and Jack Pola to only name a few (find a non-exhaustive list of drum & bass podcasts at the end of this article). In other words, all these podcasts underline the fact of learning, through funny or more serious talks. Musicians can use their voices as recognized artists to spread values, teach lessons, give their opinions, or talk about their experiences. They’re models who can help us stimulate our creativity and become better. We have a lot to learn from our pioneers. Besides, if you want to go further than podcasts and random tutorials, a lot of artists teach masterclasses, offer sample packs, and many other exclusive things on their Patreon. It is also a great way to support them.

“Consume a lot of music. Don’t be scared to listen to other people’s shit and take influence from that because as soon as you start putting yourself in this box of I only make this or I only like that then, you’re going to sound like everyone else. Just because your point of reference is so small. If you have a wide point of reference then you’re going to be able to draw from so many different ideas.”

Ivy lab – Studio session, Redbull music (2017)

 

Jonathan Ferreira

 

Creativity VS Passion

Being creative means you are better at managing the most complex and abstract ideas, and so the more likely you are to be an artist. Music is part of the abstract world, it’s something you can’t touch. It’s only something you can experience or see in your imagination. It draws pictures in your mind, makes you feel a certain way, and can even make you shiver. How powerful is that? Certainly, because this strength comes from a real passion that lies inside the heart of each creator. 

That’s why, to be highly efficient, creativity must be directly linked to a passion. Let’s define it as an intense emotion that drives our actions and thoughts. It is the perfect combination of the body and the soul. Therefore, when we create something with our deep heart, blended with our powerful brain, we produce authentic music.

“My music has always been fueled by strong emotions. Actually, one of the things I don’t like about a lot of modern Drum & Bass is the lack of impact and emotion. The epic element is gone. Now all you hear is an obsession with clean sound design and ridiculous levels on the master channel.”

ZARDONIC (viberate)


Although being passionate is an essential key, it’s truly not enough to become a creative genius. For that, it requires hard work and patience.
Nevertheless, many people seek pleasure by avoiding pain. They aren’t realizing the greatest satisfaction and successes in life come from overcoming those sacrifices. There are no shortcuts to success. 

Besides, mastering a skill and growing your creativity requires moving outside your comfort zone and total immersion in your work. Somehow, doing it 100% or not at all is the key to success. Furthermore, it will always have a better taste if you fight for it. Success inspires confidence, confidence produces success. Accomplishment is worth this hard challenge.  

The Creative roller coaster: highs & lows

Do you know where that sense of creativity comes from? The motor of creation, the thing in our brain that drives us to it is called “dopamine”. A molecule of pleasure and desire. Dopamine not only confers us the motivation to act, it also gives us the patience to endure. Even so, motivation is temporarily high so you need to set up a routine to discipline yourself to be productive when you are lacking motivation.  

Routine takes place in both good physical and mental environments. There isn’t any defined routine to success and being creative, we are all different and each person must discover his best set up to be the most efficient. Work on yourself, find it, test it, and improve it until it becomes a strong habit. 

On top of that, it also requires finding tricks to stimulate it. Don’t wait for your creativity to magically appear. It’s like any other skill, ability. We all have it, but through practice, training, and learning, we can enhance our creative thinking.

Even the most creative minds admit they experience the “rollercoaster mood of creation”, which means you will always have bad creating sessions, unproductiveness, and feeling horrible. This also means you will experience “higher sessions”, feeling euphoric, and having strong confidence. Don’t worry, it is completely normal, we experience the “high moment” thanks to the “bad moments”, it’s the life scheme. 

 

Extract of “MUST MAKE”  PODCAST by WORKFORCE in a conversation with Alix Perez  (2020)

“Like everyone else, I struggle. I found, more recently, I’ve been touring a lot, but touring in chance so I would do 2 or 3 months away from home touring solidly where on tour I don’t really feel making much music because it’s kind of exhausting […], but I found, that, then, getting quite a lot of hunger when I get home, and get back to the studio so that has been helping a lot. 

I  feel like, even before in general, there is a pattern where I would have a block, struggle and I don’t have an answer for getting over creative blocks, I have certain things, like not pushing through, or trying not to become frustrated as much as I have done in the past but in general, now I would just let it happen, and then eventually something comes back, something clips and that’s the start of the creative pattern, I would maximize on that and write as much music as I can.

 You need that dynamic of highs and lows, you can’t always be up, it’s like everything in life, it’s not always high. For me those days can be very tough, it can get quite deep sometimes but then you have the extreme, the opposite, and that feeling is insanely good, that feeling of nailing a vibe nailing a tune,  it’s worse than the low as much as the high feels. I think that’s part of being an artist. “


Creative blocks & how to get rid of them

Where do you get your best ideas? Have you ever noticed, most of the time, these appear when you are not looking for them? Don’t try to find the greatest ideas, stuck in front of your computer. You‘d rather do something that clears your mind.
Somehow, the harder you try, the worse your results will be. For this reason, if you have to force something, try a different approach, get out of the box, don’t stay behind your laptop, go have a walk, play an instrument, learn a new thing, try a new technique, etc. Unconscious ideas will pop into your mind. Your brain needs multiple stimulations from various activities outside of music, to generate powerful ideas.

“Often when writing music, the most creative moments arrive when the analytical side of your brain is switched off and you’re not trying to control or dictate the process too much, almost a meditative state.”

KOAN SOUND (vibrate)


Among others, multidisciplinarity and multitasking are good approaches to face creative blocks. You draw inspiration in other disciplines, opening your field of actions. Tasks become complementary and influence each other to grow into potential ideas.

When you paint graffiti and you look at the outline, the background, the colors – it’s the same with music for me. The same method, light color to dark color all the way down, looking at a painting sideways. Doing gallery shows and putting paintings in galleries, for me, that’s where art and music meet.”

Goldie Red Bull Music Academy (2005)

 

September 1988 – Goldie and Dez: ‘Small Mind in a Big City.’
Fabric


In the same way, another issue that could block your creativity is setting up standards and expectations too high. Perfection is the enemy of creativity. Don’t forget that all pioneers have failed before getting to the top.

Try again, failing is a good lesson and an opportunity to grow. It allows you to learn and to do better the next time. Many people are just afraid of going outside the box and failing but the only thing you get is feeding your fears and never improving your creative mind. 

Last but not least, creating is hard but one of the main keys to making good music is to enjoy the process. Don’t be too serious sometimes, have fun. Creation is the art of playing. Play with the whole thing until something cool happens. Thereby, if you start viewing your production sessions as an obligation, it will be felt through your music. Studio sessions are also moments where you allow yourself to experiment with new things, fail, start again, and have fun. Moreover, if you focus too much on the goal rather than the process you will never be satisfied.

Conversely, don’t think too much and do more. You gain knowledge by learning but you gain experience by doing. At any rate, you have to create and experiment to be more creative. Most of the time, the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. Don’t worry, you don’t have to execute them all. You collect, you select, you grow.

“Part of the Studio Process is to create accident so it’s when the accident occurs that the magic happens because that’s something different”

Keir Tyrer, CEO & owner at SHOGUN audio & ELEVATE Records (Loopmaster podcast)


Authenticity & collaboration

We talked about success and confidence previously and this is another root to strong creativity. For that matter, don’t wait for people’s validation to end up a project and never, EVER, create for others. If external validation is your only source of motivation, you’ll mostly be frustrated by your output. Thus, the healthy way is to trust your work and make stuff that comes from your gut. By speaking of creating for others, I mean producing for the market, following trends with them as a unique ambition to make money, at the cost of your own values and authenticity. Your art is not about how many people like it. It’s about the fact that YOU like it and that it makes YOU move. It’s about how honest you are with yourself. Never trade honesty for profitability.

For example, when Goldie included in his second album Saturnz Return, in 1998, the hour-long orchestral track “Mother”, he said that the record company was going in a completely different direction than the one he wanted it. They said it was a “commercial suicide”.  Metalheadz founder didn’t make music to create something he didn’t feel,  just to sell records. It was more about what he had to do for his own journey, working with “real players” (the album included collaboration with Noel Gallagher or KRS one) and people he fully respected. Critiques were cruel about this album but Goldie said it was the most beautiful thing he did in his life.

I’ve had fun with music, but I have a purpose and a duty almost, it’s like duty within music to do something that no one else is really doing. Someone’s gotta do it. Someone has to push the boundaries of music and I’ve found that really important.

Goldie, Red Bull music academy (2005)


Collaboration can also be a strong tool to grow your creative inner mind. It gives you the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other. Don’t stay on your own, meet people, network, ask questions, and feedback to grow. 

Let’s see an example with Mefjus. The Austrian producer explained how collaboration was fundamental to the creative process of his legendary album: “The Manifest”.

“The intense touring period in 2015 and the beginning of 2016 had me stagnating and actually feeling quite unhappy with most of my songs in general. Creatively I wasn’t in the best place at that time. In late 2015 I finally started working on some new solo material and collabs with various people potentially shaping up to be a possible EP for Vision Recordings. In a way I wanted this new album to be a statement of a new, improved, grown-up Mefjus. That conscious decision led me to just put solo songs on this 17 track record and even master it myself. It might sound contradictory, but through the support and friendship of many around me, this album became 100% me.

“My Manifest” – Mefjus 


Pushing the limits to innovate 

In society, we notice highly creative people and that’s a top skill in many jobs. Why? Because those people have the potential to push the limits of an idea. In music, they push the genders’ barriers or are able to use some old techniques in a brand new way, for example. These creative minds see further and explore 100% of the potential of an idea by experimenting. They are not afraid to be different and they offer something new. In 2020 it’s difficult to create something that doesn’t exist. But difficult does not mean impossible: contrarily, when things feel unattainable, that’s when you’re just getting started.

HEINZ REICH: Does this still exist today? The possibility of creating things that have never been heard before?

MARCUS INTALEX: It’s not as exciting as it was. It’s obviously going to go through cycles, and you can’t keep inventing and being at the forefront all the time. You can’t be that good all the time. And I’ve always known that it goes up and down. Any successful drum & bass tune will have to come from the dance floor. It will not get heard if certain DJs aren’t playing it. People would not know what it is because nobody is playing it. So the first and foremost thing is arranging it and making it appeal to the dance floor.

Redbull Music academy with Marcus Intalex (2003)


These words from 2003 teach us that, back in the days it was about making people dance; otherwise the tracks wouldn’t have been played at raves and events and the records wouldn’t have been really known, to the detriment of innovative novelty or “ambient/home drum & bass”. Fortunately, thanks to the advance of technologies and social networks, the scene has evolved, hearing newer and more experimental material on the dancefloor and letting new creative drum & bass artists express themselves fully.

Back in the days (the late ’90s), Ed Rush & Dillija were considered as “bass scientists” because they were always pushing the new technologies & the bass sounds forward, even if at that time the ways of producing in terms of technologies were limited. As drum & bass often works in cycles, every now and then new generations explore untapped sonic territories. From the hornish rollers, to the deep bass, we are now witnessing the sounds of futuristic tech-neuro with artists like Gyrofield, Buunshin, The Caracal Project, Missin, or Imanu to only name a few. 


Creativity during lockdowns

As we all experience it, 2020 can be a tough time to be highly creative. In spite of that, being on lockdown can give you more time to produce and to experiment. It gives you more time for yourself, to develop new skills, and improve techniques. But being socially restricted, not knowing when you will be performing, not hearing the crowd’s reactions, and music on a proper sound system can be a burden to stimulate your creative thinking.

“A lot of producers find it really uninspiring because there is no meaning to what they are making. Your are making club-based music without being able to express it in clubs”

Sam Binga & Hyroglific, Foreign concept in the Critical Music SWU.FM November 2020


Consequently, producing during this long period of lockdown can be hard: the source of inspiration you get from the outside world and from social interactions are fundamental to get inspired. Creating by knowing these tracks can’t be played and tested on the dancefloor can be a real burden.  Some artists keep creating the same way as before the virus hit, others struggle. I must say, it depends on your environment, your needs, your situation (financially,  mental health, etc.), and on your ability to stay focused and strong. As explained, highs and lows are inevitable but you need to take advantage of this situation and keep your head up. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel! 

 

« Clubs give birth to anthem » 

Andy C (XOYO podcast)


This historic context forces us to review our way of producing and adapt ourselves to the situation; opening up new fields. This scheme could actually expand your creativity, even if the process is long and difficult. Thereby, some artists have started to produce more ambient music, soulful vibes, and liquid tunes, some more “drum&bass for home”. We may wonder whether they would have created that kind of drum & bass if the current situation hasn’t occurred! Maybe yes, maybe not. But the thing to remember here is that they see further than what they did before. Music and musicians constantly evolve according to the social atmosphere and their mindset, so is creativity.

 

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RESSOURCES

If you are a music producer in search of creativity, here are some resources you may love.


1.THE ABLETON BOOK: Making Music Creative Strategie

“This book is a collection of solutions to common roadblocks in the creative process, with a specific emphasis on solving musical problems,
making progress, and finishing what you start. This book won’t teach you how to use a compressor program, a synthesizer, or make a great-sounding kick drum.”

>START READING HERE

2. TALKS & PODCASTS

Here is a non-exhaustive list of drum&bass podcasts and conversations with your favorite artists & broadcasters (Calibre, Andy C, Kyrist, Charli Brix, DRS, Dave Jenkins, Workforce, Bryan Gee, etc). 
From funny podcasts to more serious ones, you can now learn the different aspects of the drum&bass world and have a 360° view of our underground scene.
Dealing with topics like the rave culture, racism, the representation of women in the scene, communication, branding, label management, mixdown techniques, artworks, the story behind artists and imprints, or even creativity.