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When nothing sounds good, your favourite album sounds terrible, you struggle to create anything to satisfy your ear, how do you kick your brain back into gear?

I've gone through periods like this. It can be a downward spiral. I overcompensate or become cynical. Then sometimes I hear something and my brain goes: "Ahhh! Thank you! I love this sound!" and I think I'm back on track; only to be told that I've gone in completely the wrong direction. ...and then the cynicism grows stronger.

How do you keep your ears keen and objective?

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9 Answers 9

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Here's a list of some of my items. You also have to understand the value in the other things you're doing, so I try to keep things as productive as I can so that way I don't feel it was a waste of time. Even if it's not actually creating something. Sometimes what you're actually doing is creating inspiration, experience or knowledge.

  • Take a break or a nap, meditate about things other than the work at hand. Sometimes a step away from things are just what the doctor ordered.

  • Spend some time answering business emails, drumming up new business and doing all the stuff you hate doing. It'll make you appreciate the creative aspect a little more every time and you're likely to get back on with it a lot sooner. Maybe do that dreaded website update or update all your profiles on all those various work related forums and websites with your latest information.

  • Read a book, watch a movie or especially some behind the scenes material (ALL of the additional content videos on the deluxe re-release of THX-1138 are extremely inspiring. Especially the history of Zoetrope and the Walter Murch stuff). Even watching non-audio related behind the scenes stuff can be inspirational. There's a lot to learn from the work ethics or techniques and perspectives of the Editing and CG side of the industry. After that you can now use this time to learn some new techniques and try out new strategies and methods of working. Force yourself to work in new ways and experiment. Watch some youtube videos of people demo'ing your favorite gear and try it out yourself. Maybe even apply the same techniques to a different piece of gear to see if you can get the same results. Sometimes you find something new in the process.

  • Create your own sound library. Go buy $20 worth of food or items from the hardware store or the local discount Dollar store, set up some mics and experiment. Record and document the types of sounds you get. Experiment a lot with different materials and ways of making sound with it. Record different items on different tracks so you don't lose track of what is what. Name the track after the material, then manually write down the track number/name and the action you're performing. Drop a memory location every time you perform a new type of action. Then go back and listen to it and find as many ways of describing the sound you're hearing (Soft, Abrasive, Crunchy, Brittle, Impact Metallic, Bowed, Chirping, Chiseled, Grinding, Etc), and write that down. Then go and chop it all up, name the files after the actual item and action and then metatag it with all your descriptors.

  • Get out the field recorder, buy a bag of balloons, grab a safety pin and walk around to different locations and make some impulse responses to use later on. Create a library out of those, then experiment with them in your favorite IR/Convolution reverb plug-in and see what types of results you get. Also try using other types of files instead of just Impulse Responses. That coin stamping impact from some sfx library might make for a very interesting Impulse Response. Maybe make a sound library out of the weird results you get.

  • Maybe take a movie that has a really interesting sound design sequence and load it up into your DAW and try and re-create it from scratch. That way you have an objective goal of how things are supposed to sound and you can be less critical of a fresh and original creation and you can ascertain whether you're reaching your intended goal because you know how it's supposed to sound in the end. You'll learn a lot in this process as well as improving your speed and technique.

  • Try making something (like a whole song with different instrument parts) out of only using one particular type of sound. Like an entire song using only the signal generator in pro tools or just sounds you can make with your voice. Start processing and mangling things so much that you have a kick drum, a snare, high hats, etc. You'll really learn the true versatility of sounds when you limit yourself to only a specific source material and develop techniques to force it to be what you want. All that information and practice and new techniques will come in very handy later on when you have to do things on a deadline and have less time to experiment creatively.

Even if you don't make anything productive with any of this (sure, it can go a bit slow at times and it's easy to give up), at least it's time well spent learning new tricks to pull out of your bag later on.

Oh, and sometimes Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies can help with a bit of inspiration as well.

Hope that helps!

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I second taking a nap. –  Dave Matney Feb 14 '11 at 14:26
    
Oblique Strategies can be excellent. Here's the "Sound Design" version: gamesounddesign.com/Sound-Design-Strategies.html –  Sonsey Feb 14 '11 at 18:20

I think sex is a great solution

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have a break.

take a walk. climb a mountain. go stand by a lake or sea. get some sleep. reflect on things.

been there so many times :/

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Familiarity breeds contempt

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What seems to help me a lot in these kind of situations is to call or meet a friend for a coffee, and actually start to talk to him about the project i am on. I found that when i try to explain something to someone that is totally clueless about the project and the particular field, most of the times i am actually seeing the correct answer that was in front of me!

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I take a walk and listen to other things, and then return refreshed and with a fresh viewpoint to listen to my project.

Also, as a quick handling, much like some painters use a shrinking glass eyepiece to view their painting in a different way, I swivel around in my aeron chair and listen to my song or mix from behind me and it usually snaps my preconceptions about it.

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Totally what i was thinking! I've found that the "listen from the doorway" trick helps a lot, too. –  Roger Middenway Feb 11 '11 at 23:28
    
Turning off your monitors (display of course, not the studio monitors) and listening without seeing your DAW etc helps as well. –  Daan Hendriks Feb 12 '11 at 18:57

make the worst sounding thing in the world. take a break, change a habit you have in your life that is old.

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Go out for lunch, get some air.

Buy a new album, surf on youtube for a couple of hours.

Find a new plugin or synth or instrument, find some inspiration in something you haven't heard before.

Pick up your kids early, go back to work after they sleep.

Make your studio nice and comfortable, light a candle.

Try to make just one good sound before you end your day, and come back the next day and listen to it.

Sometimes creative work is just painfully slow, at other times good sounds come easy.

If you are going in the completely wrong direction, then take another direction. Try to ask what they want from you. If you don't understand what they want, then ask them to use different words.

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I remember hearing that Albert Einstein, after running into a "math-block", would turn to playing his violin for a short break. Some folks have said that engaging the opposite hemisphere of the brain and giving the other side a rest helped the genius clear his mind.

Maybe try Sudoku for a while?

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Opposite hemisphere of the brain? –  Utopia Feb 11 '11 at 22:15
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Einstein apparently also did a lot of walking –  user49 Mar 3 '11 at 2:52

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