Limitation is liberation!
“Begränsningar befriar” in Swedish.
…It’s a saying I’ve been coming back to when thinking about creative strategies. How self-imposed boundaries can actually help me get creative work done.
The last two years a lot of my creative energy has gone into making videos combining my interest for teaching, photography, graphic design and music. Very rewarding and challenging. Actually making music (as in composing something with a beginning, middle and ending) has stood aside.
The other week I was talking to @erase about video formats. He suggested I make videos shorter to even fit with the Instagram limit of 60 seconds. At this point I have not tried to fit one of my tutorials in that short format, but his words gave birth to an idea… and a creative strategy.
The Sixty Second Song
This far a creative strategy to:
- Limit performance anxiety
- Practice finishing
- Work on song writing and production
If you’d like to join me… apart from setting a deadline (I’m aiming for every Monday) this is my framework.
- More than an eight bar beat, but less than 60 seconds
- Progression & Variation
- Beginning, Middle and End
… plus a personal rule (in my case: lyrics/vocals)
OK. A lot of background… What I really wanted to know is what type of creative strategies you use to get stuff done.
This is the result from the first two weeks:
Let me say this … your beautiful musical ideas and lyrics should play longer then 60 seconds
I have a whip with rusty nails attached to its ends.
I hit myself on my back when I mess up.
So I think twice about any new ideas or weird experiments.
Guess you could call this a self imposed limitation.
I was kind of thinking about this when everyone was going nuts about the Samples from Mars ‘everything’ sale. It was amazing to get so many samples for so cheap, but then I thought about how having that many samples means you kind of lean on them, and that means you are are influenced by someone else’s tastes and tendencies directly during the creative process. It also made me remember Matthew Herbert’s manifesto and the way he generates or captures all the sounds he uses by himself. At that point I decided that I would delete all the samples from my machines (well, classic drum machines aside) and only use samples I’ve recorded myself.
Love this idea of 60 second songs.
I think deadlines are the best motivator to finish anything, we need gentle pressure and some of us a lot more.
I digg your creative musical execution in those 2 videos, great job.
The videos are a bit overproduced in a way that they distract from the music (IMHO). This is not the case when you explain things in a tutorial or infomercial, then the videos shine!
I’ve always struggled with sheer potential when it comes to making electronic music. The number of instruments, patches, samples, and sounds available is overwhelming, and means I tend to get paralysed by endless possibility.
This tends to result in procrastination (browsing/tagging/organising samples & patches, updating/installing/uninstalling plugins, tweaking a sound endlessly until it takes away all my momentum and I’m not having fun anymore).
I’ve found that it helps to impose limitations on myself - things like - “I will only use one instrument”, “I only have 2 hours to make something”, “I won’t use a DAW” etc.
As @CarlMikaelBjork says, “limitation is creative liberation”.
What are some of the ways you deliberately use limitation in your workflow to help you create?
Do you have any other tips for someone who struggles with this stuff?
I’m hoping to learn from people who have stared into the abyss of potentiality and lived to tell the tale.
I understand your frustration with the digital wasteland. It can be overwhelming even with self imposed limitations. I am no zen master but I think it may help to view things from a different perspective. Computers can make things perfect. At first, this perfection seemed impressive and awe inspiring. Lots of current pop/edm/radio-friendly music is edited to perfection. But I find most of the stuff I made in a computer to be relatively stale and predictable. My most interesting music happens when I improvise and let go of any attempt to make “perfect” music. The most beautiful things in nature have a certain level of imperfection. And that is what makes them beautiful.
This resonates. I love it. Thank you.
I think a good approach is to think about what you actually want out of making music &
think about the things you don’t like doing & enjoy doing.
For example, if you want to make full polished songs for the public MORE than just wanting to have fun - this would produce different limitation needs. & if you don’t enjoy making your own sounds - you wouldn’t want to put the limitation on yourself to always make your own sounds.
Personally I make music for fun. I love learning about everything that has to do with music production & I feel good when I finish a song that is really well made, but enjoying myself & progressing in music production (skills & knowledge) is most important to me.
I didn’t feel right when I used sounds made by other people & I’ve never used an already made loop. I also hate scrolling thru sounds looking for that “perfect” sound. So a creative limitation I put on myself is to make my own sounds & only use samples from vinyl, cassette, field recordings, found sounds & sounds I made myself.
I wanted to gain skills more than I wanted to make an amazing song. So instead of arranging my songs, I would make everything live & record myself jamming. Song done. At first I made a lot of shit, but I got better & better. Plus it’s a lot of fun & I enjoy working that way.
Once I feel I’ve gotten pretty good at something, THAT’s when I allow myself to use crutches, not the other way around. When I first got into music production I didn’t allow myself to use a sequencer. To be honest prior to getting into music production I didn’t even know there WAS such a thing, I thought people made electronic music just like people that play an instrument like playing the guitar or drums. I wanted to be able to play sounds in time, myself, like you would an instrument. Once I got pretty good at finger drumming & keeping in time, gaining those skills, I begun allowing myself to use sequencers.
This is all very relatable on a personal level.
I’m finding it much easier these days to get to “my” sound and create more music now that I’m using the Digitone as my core device, with a Circruit Mono Station for some additional analog mojo.
Over the years, I’ve gone from DAW based production (way too many options) to MPC Live + other devices (still way too many options, plus an over-reliance on samples) to finally settling on the Digitone + Circuit Mono Station as my current live setup.
I can’t fall back anymore on huge sample libraries, but I also can’t get distracted anymore by them either.
By synthesizing every sound within 8 voices/4 tracks on the Digitone, plus another 1 or 2 analog voices on the paraphonic Mono Station, I find this structure focuses the mind wonderfully so I can concentrate on creating musical ideas with just these two linked synthesizer/sequencer devices.
My live performances have taken on a lively, more organic musical quality that I don’t think I really had prior to getting a Digitone and focusing on THAT as my core device.
I easily get anal and intellectual about it and then if im lucky enough i remember that I should listen to some Gescom like Skull Snap or even better, Minidisc which restarts mine overthinking brain so i can start all over again, freshly fresh.
This is a good idea. You can work on making your breakdown and drop with a mini intro and outro. All under 60 seconds.
Everyone should remember to listen to Skull Snap more often. Or Minidisc. Or A1-D1. Or Key Nell. Or ISS:SA… I just realised that it’s 8ish years since Skull Snap…
I know some people who play great shows, abusing cheap gear. That always inspires me. They know less than me about the tech, they don’t even use half the potential of their machines, but they just do it, as our corporate overlords would say. eg: playing two Casios, Terry Riley-ish modal improv through a crusty Zoom bass pedal. Gorgeous. Absolute GAS-killer.
anyway, my self-imposed limitation is to use only my OT and Roland SoundCanvas rompler for a while. I am absolutely certain that it is more than enough.
I like this approach.
Focusing on what I want / feel like / enjoy is something I don’t do often enough when I sit down to make music. It’s more common for me to focus on what I think I should be doing.
At the end of the day, if the approach isn’t fun, then what’s the point? It sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but it can be hard to see when you’re in the moment.
I guess what we’re talking about is self-awareness and mindfulness in musicmaking.
So did I. It took me a while to realise that this isn’t typically the case, and even longer for me to not regard sequencers etc. as cheating in some way.
And I bet that by focusing on those two, you’re learning to master them, instead of skimming across the surface of dozens of plugins & machines.
I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was to buy too much stuff too early on. One of my first purchases was the Arturia V Collection, which is an amazing set of tools, but waaaaaaaaay too much for a beginner to use without collapsing under the weight of all that potential.
I lacked the discipline to focus on just one of those instruments at a time, and as a result I haven’t spent enough time with any one for it to become an extension of myself.
Like you, I find myself gravitating away from the DAW entirely. Elektron machines (DT and Rytm) have helped me realise the errors of my ways, and they’re helping me to embrace the joys of going DAWless and working with limitation.
Had forgotten about this thread. But AI (my second 60 second song) made it onto an EP I released last fall.
…and I made a bunch of collab remixes of it here:
Ljudvägg, Elin Piel, Simon the Magpie, Loljud and more.
Making the 60s version was a great way to get a sketch in place quickly. And a very useful start when I wanted to turn it into a full song.
So, @SoundRider… If you still want something longer. It’s available now.
I keep meaning to do something similar (maybe with something like my SY22) but keep getting distracted. I need to pair them in a longterm, semi permanent setup, I think.
Some real good stuff has been made with the soundcanvas:
Got a similar thing going on with my setup now - OT, JV2080, Grandmother, and a couple of FX pedals. Feels focused!