Staying productive in the studio when you're unmotivated to create

I’ve been challenging myself to be more focused on music, and everything that goes along with it, even when I’m feeling down/not creative. It’s easy for me to resort to

  1. Watching TV
  2. Playing video games
  3. Watching synth YouTubers/reading about gear
    Which are all uninspiring, unproductive tasks that take me even further away from being ready to create. Usually takes at least a few days to pull myself out of that rut.

So now I’m trying to stay productive (not saying I need to always produce something, but keeping my mind sharp and happy by doing something mentally and spiritually stimulating), by having a bunch of auxiliary things I can do to stay in the music headspace.

-pulling out an old piece of gear that I haven’t used in a while
-finally learning to play keys better, or guitar
-sound designing without trying to compose a song
-cleaning/organizing the space
and generally trying to stay away from unproductive stuff that’s merely “music adjacent” like mindlessly browsing Sweetwater or Craigslist for new gear

What do you guys do to stay sharp and productive when you’re not feeling creative?




My main ones:

Programming: it’s such a technical way to be creative that I can trick my brain into being creative when I’m not feeling it from other things like making music / art the traditional way. By programming, I mean anything from dicking around in the Nord Modular editor to coding up some cute little sound/image things in Processing.

Playing piano: I’m not very good, but even just trying to play some songs on piano eventually leads to me coming up with something new.

Being non-musically creative: go and do something else entirely. Cooking is a good one—if you don’t know where to start (and are ok with meat/cheese/eggs!), check out Junkie XL’s carbonara recipe video. I occasionally have pickling phases too. Or beer brewing. Something where you’re able to make something without too much emotional investment.


Label stuff up.
Make spreadsheets.
Tidy up.
Record samples.
Organise files.

Part time knob twiddler, part time secretary :laughing:


Please come round to my studio on Sunday…


Agree with dazz, make patches, make samples, organize them.

I also read manuals, like for my daw or plugins. It’s worth it, found a lot of quality of life shortcuts, l learnt a bunch of stuff too.

I also just do technical practise like faffing with all the different modes of eqs, clicking all the buttons turning all the knobs just to see what comes out.

The multiband compressor in live is my new favorite plugin but I had to put in a bit of time to get my head around it.

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When I don’t feel productive I indulge other interest outside of the studio. Sometimes watching TV is what my mind wants, I don’t fight it.


I never really “feel” productive but I figured out a while back that if I just turn on a few synths and get get some drums going on the Digitakt or nanoloop real fast (or load up a project I already made), I’m definitely going to play keyboard for a few hours and probably program a few patches too. It just seems to be about the momentum, and if I think “I don’t really feel like it” then I turn a synth on and start playing just to strong-arm my brain and prove that I’m in charge. Fuck you brain. It’s an effective technique because I play keyboard almost every single day.


This is often what inspires me to turn my gear on and get to business when I’m feeling unmotivated. Love watching YouTube tutorials and performances (and listening to the sounds you all post here) when I feel like I’m in a creative rut.

Even today, I enjoyed watching @ponchy’s Analog 4 bass and pads tutorials I found on YouTube and it inspired me to turn on the box and give it a go.

Otherwise, I’ll re-organize my sample library for the hundredth time, try coming up with new Octatrack scenes or scouring YouTube for new sounds to sample. When I’m really not feeling it, I try not to force the issue – I’ll go for a walk or play with my daughter…last thing I want is for music to feel like a chore.


My adhd plays a big part in this, my meds have made it a lot easier to force myself to do the things I like, and has made simple tasks that where impossible before totally doable yet despite eating speed for breakfast everyday, I’m also in the camp of not always feeling motivated or having any clear ideas about anything, which is a bit demotivating and had lead me to fuxking around playing games/YouTube until I’ve had enough it watching other people do something I feel I could do better or just different….

I turned on my OT this morning just to try get a sample I’d recorded into flex nailed down and looping, which involves using scale per track, next thing I know my modular is on and I’ve been recording for 4 hours, then later went back this evening to listen to it and ended up spending like 2 hours in ableton warping some sections, making some interesting drums etc.

I’d say don’t sweat it, I think the world is still in a weird place and everyone is feeling weighed in emotionally. Try and just sit down with one instrument or something. I always keep my guitar against my sofa so I’ll pick it up and play whilst watching shitty tv, practice scales and trying to finger pick a fender mustang with my big uncoordinated bassist hands. Also helps me keep on top of a basic level of theory. I know what notes I’m playing, which scale and it means I can just play songs by ear and figure them out once I hear the root notes. It’s transferable to a keyboard if like me you’re not really a keys player… I used to play piano, so just knowing the basics makes me more confident in my compositions. Practice as much as possible, even if that just means learning some chords or doing a weirdo cover of a song.


When I am uninspired or without ideas to create but inspired enough to try I just try to allow myself to be playful. I will make arbitrary rules to get me to change my workflow(no cymbals, kik last, only two pieces of gear…etc) or I’ll do something on a technical level that I’ve never tried before (Run this through that, sample this twice and use inverted…etc)

Interestingly, this can end up straddling that weird place in electronic music where the lines are blurred between tech driving creation or tech driving the artist themselves.

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The key for me is having a set up just ready to go without having to spend time configuring and moving things around.

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Doing maintenance, repairs, and mods on my gear is probably the biggest one for me. I can afford to have a nicely outfitted studio by mostly buying gear that is at least partially broken, if not completely. Fortunately doing that kind of work is a long time hobby of mine.
I often rearrange things in the studio but I think that’s kind of a weird trap, at least for me. It feels more like a bad habit that wastes time.
Practicing technique is always always time well spent. Before I messed my hands up I kept a guitar in every room so that I could always at least be running through exercises (scales and all of their modes, sweep picking, tapping, whatever) because it’s all about repetition and regularity. You don’t even need to think about it, just going through the motions is better than nothing. Don’t play a “traditional” instrument? Your rhythm could always be better.
I spend a lot of time thinking about music when I’m away from my setup. I’ll just compose in my head. I almost never remember any of it later but that’s not the point. It’s just fun exercise, especially when you get stuck on something musically technical and have to work your way out of it. Yes, my job is usually boring enough that I do this all day with occasional breaks when I have to do math or keep my helpers doing their jobs.
Something I used to do that I really want to get back into is just really listening to albums. Putting something on and focusing on it without doing anything else. No talking, no reading, no phone, etc. I used to get so much more out of the listing experience than I do now and it helped me as a musician.
And he’ll, sometimes doing something non music related will be the thing that sparks your next great creative spree. A walk, a book, an afternoon skateboarding, a lecture, knocking boots, even tv. You never know.


I think the key to be productive is to have time and to be rested

If you have both and still not productive, try to challenge yourself. Write on a paper a list of constraints and try to make music with some of theses.

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Have so little time that I have to be organised. Always have a few things on the go and unfinished (I’m just learning after all) so I have a notebook by my stuff. I write in it what needs doing. Then even if there is only 10 minutes I can do a thing from the note book. Might be as simple as “turn down kick on track X” or as complex as “pattern Y could be a track…needs Z and Z’”

I’m also a programmer, and I’m learning music theory. I train >10 hrs week on bike, so there isn’t much time for downtime. I do watch a little TV most nights, and some YT over lunch at work.

But yeah, my number one tip is keep a notebook of open tasks, TODOs, so you can always pick one. (But don’t use it to beat yourself up! These are meant as starters for when you have time but no inclination,)


I do this too. I always have a list of firmware updates to do, sample libraries to clean, stuff to sell, things to bin, things to research and learn about. Usually music related but not always.
Also other forms of art usually help with feeling creative, indie cinema, modern art, a good book, listen to 6music etc.

Absolutely essential!


Imho, the biggest thing is to never stop asking questions and/ or look for tools that will present you with the most questions.

For me, curiosity sparks inspiration, so the longer the road to complete understanding, the greater potential momentum that can be obtained, etc.

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For me this is where modular shines big style

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i kinda feel the opposite, i find i’m more productive when i know i only have a few hours in the day to work on stuff after/before work. left alone for a whole day ill watch gear vids on youtube and tell myself that that was somehow “working on music”

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Not too long ago I finally got my sleep patten in check like a real grownup. I wake up around 7 which is two hours before work. Often I’ll spend a good hour, hour and a half working on music and it is by far the most rewarding time I’ve ever spent in my 25 years of producing. I’ve extended that to days like today where I chose not to go out on Friday and spent the whole morning working on music and absolutely killed shit. Now I feel accomplished and still have the whole day ahead of me.