August 15, 2012

Where Does Your Creative Time Go?

This week, as we wait for all of our ID Fest and DJ Expo content to come home, I am hard at work figuring out how to bridge the gap. There’s been so much going on, including the impending launch of our new forum, upcoming giveaways and contests, and new products in the pipe. With all of this stuff happening, I find my own creative output slowing to a crawl.

Let alone the fact that there’s a new World of Warcraft expansion about a month away…

Yes, I am one of  those people who play WoW. Yes, it eats up some time I could be creating. However, it also helps me blow off steam when I am trying to conjure up music to show off a product. There was definitely a time when I would say it ate up too much of my time, but I was also avoiding a terrible case of writer’s block… and a case of “bad relationship.” In the end, the bad relationship went away, and so did the writer’s block. World of Warcraft, however, stuck around, just in shorter increments of play time. On the other hand, with an expansion coming, I can already tell you there is a lower creative output period ahead of me. I find myself trying to prepare for it by getting as much done as possible in the time leading up to the “big day” when myself and every other nerd in Azeroth race towards Pandaria and try to see everything and kill each other. Release day is always fun, so long as the servers stay up. It is to be hoped that the release of “Mists of Pandaria” is no different. I am quite sure my creative lull will be worthwhile in its way.

People like to judge WoW players, and I am sure many of you are no different. This is likely because of a certain type of player who pees in a bottle, has no friends,and subsides off of Mountain Dew and Hot Pockets. There are, however, plenty of us who play (some even playing with our girlfriends), and have whole other lives on the actual planet Earth. The reason I am talking about this, however, is not because I am dying to confess my nerdiest of nerdy gaming habits, but because I wanted to talk about the different ways we all throw our time out the window. We all have our bad habits. Some people blow their time on other video games, be they console or computer based. Some people have the distracted habit of shopping for the gear they decide would end their creative woes when they should be writing/recording. Some people blow time on Facebook. Some people lose whole afternoons to trying to find some treasure trove of free plugins to illegally download and then not actually use.  I think that last one is the worst form of G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), because not only is the would be songwriter/sound designer/producer/ whatever wasting their valuable time, but they are stealing and likely hampering future creative efforts by further disconnecting themselves from the instruments that make up their musical palette. This opinion takes root in the idea I harbor that in order to really learn to use something, one has to be invested in it. I rarely see plugin hoarders make good use of their arsenal. Regardless of one’s particular vice, there are plenty of ways to waste the time one could or perhaps should be using to create.

I don’t really think that doing something else is necessarily a total waste of time. I know sometimes I can be inspired to record something by things that happen in WoW, be they sound effects, weird interactions in the world, or whatever. I also have always loved video game music, which was what drew me to electronic music in the first place. I even get some of my more productive music listening done while I play, and listening is as much a part of making music as making it. I certainly won’t write off time spent with loved ones as wasted time spent away from music. So, there are varying degrees of negative, non-musical activity. Is it in the eye of the beholder though? I have worked with more than one person who shrugged at my love of my favorite game and made some judgmental remark. I have no real shame over it, because at the end of the day, music straddles the thin line between personal and professional, depending on if I am writing for equipment demos or not. I think the question is more personal than that, and that most individuals can typically sort out for themselves whether or not there is something “better” they should be doing, or if their recreation time is positive.

I believe there are others who face more detrimental distractions when they sit down to make music. Steven Pressfield, who wrote an inspirational book called “The War On Art” based on some of the philosophies he used to “go pro” in the years leading up to writing “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” has always been worth a bit of inspiration on that front. He believes a “pro” sits down and devotes time to the art of creating (whatever their medium) every day. Whether inspiration comes or doesn’t, he encourages you to simply make “something.” I think this is solid advice. Even if you can’t get the kick drum right, or the melody seems tired, just keep going and finish it. That’s how I operate at least. Most likely, after the first week of WoW expansion has passed, I will probably get back to exactly that. Eventually something catches fire and I always end up finishing out tracks and playing games less within a fairly short amount of time.

In my mind, the most important thing is to find a time of day when you can sit down without distraction and just work. I find that, when my schedule isn’t pulling me in 10 directions at once, I am most often “creatively fertile” in the time right after my workout, or during the early morning hours when I have just woken up. I highly recommend trying either. The first is good because exercise is a great time to isolate yourself and get your brain in a place to work. Listening to inspiring tunes and getting the body free of stress is a great way to clear the path for some melody to surface in your brain that leads to positive creative fruit. Similarly, a great thing about working in the early hours is that these can often be the hours of least distraction. The dude/lady at work who drives you crazy hasn’t pissed you off yet, and you are still free of the other distractions of the day. A lot of us try to come home and knock things out, but making dinner, watching that show your girlfriend wants to watch together, or going out with those friends who had “bad days” can quickly eat this time or leave you walking into the studio exhausted and inspiration free.

It has often been said that the best way to accomplish things in any creative discipline is to be a bit boring. To that end, I wonder if having a video game or some other nerdy habit isn’t a total positive. If one has the habit of staying in most nights and playing a game or watching an endless amount of Dr. Who episodes or some other such nerdy down time, it seems like they would be far more often able to meet inspiration in the studio than the folks who tend to go clubbing all the time. Don’t even get me started on just how useless I think drinking is, or any other habitual substance use is. Most people I know who smoke anything or hallucinate for the purpose of “finding inspiration” tend to accomplish little more than consuming regrettable calories or finding their way to the bottom of a bag of chips. I think it’s safe to say there are several levels of distraction, and that the individual determines the value or waste of that time.

So what about you? Do you find that you have a number of time sinks that keep you from creating? Do they hold you up, or do they give you much needed rest from over thinking your efforts in the studio? Do your extra-curricular activities inform the music that you make or is it truly a completely negative activity? Should you change, or should you let yourself off the hook?

As for me, I will be killing people in battlegrounds all over the Internet in about a month’s time. Don’t judge, it’s pretty damn fun.