Remove all barriers between you and playing/recording your instrument so you can be ready the moment musical inspiration strikes.
Musical inspiration can come at the oddest of times — and the easier it is to slip into music-making mode, the better your chances of transforming that inspiration into something awesome.
But if you have to spend a long time plugging in power and patch cables, replacing old strings, or otherwise setting the stage for actually being able to make your music, it can be easy to lose momentum and excitement.
In my own practice, I’ve found that the more I streamline my music-making setups and processes — physically and virtually — the faster I can spontaneously transition from having an inspired idea to turning it into sound waves. It also makes me more actively engaged in music-making in general.
Here are some strategies that help me remove barriers to making music when inspiration strikes. I hope they’re helpful to you, too.
Keep your key instruments ready to play
If you’re keen to explore a new chord progression you just thought up but only have limited time or energy to do so, digging your guitar out of a cluttered closet could be a deal breaker. If the instrument is hanging on your wall or in an accessible place, the difference between five seconds and five minutes set-up time can mean the difference between making music in the moment and losing steam before you play your first note.
I put this principle into practice a few different ways. The Nord Electro I use for most gigging lives in its gig bag, with all its cables and components in a second bag nearby; if a last-minute gig opportunity presents itself, I can have my gear in hand and be out the door in minutes.
The digital piano and analog synth set-up I use at home is all wired and plugged in for listening via speakers and headphones. That way, I can flip a few switches and be playing within seconds of inspiration striking.
Be ready to record
I’ve also recently streamlined my recording set-up so I can have it up and running in about thirty seconds. I sit down, plug my audio interface and MIDI controller into my computer, put on headphones, open Apple Logic, and I’m there. Since I’ve had that set-up in place, I can’t remember a single time when I’ve been inspired to track something but felt discouraged by the time or effort needed to set everything up.
Keeping your instruments ready to play may mean regularly tuning your instrument, having your effects pedals connected and powered with cables or fresh batteries, or making sure you have a clear and uncluttered path to your drum kit. Every tiny thing you can do to reduce your set-up time can mean exponentially more energy left for music-making itself.
Use software templates
If your music-making practice is heavy on recording, producing, or software of any sort, consider building templates to cut down on your set-up time. A template is a customized configuration you can load quickly, so you have all your favorite parameters ready to go, rather than having to tediously rebuild in-program configurations every time.
When I record solo piano improvs for my Current Dissonance newsletter, for example, using a template saves me a couple minutes each time. And while that may not seem like a lot, when I have an idea in my head and feel inspired to track it, every second counts. I just open my template in Apple Logic, which has my Synthogy Ivory II Bosendorfer synth loaded to the settings I like. I also have my Universal Audio compressor, reverb, and analog tape plug-ins loaded on settings I love for this project. Even though I may tweak various parameters as I go, having everything automatically built and loaded in a way I like makes it immensely easier for me to just sit down and and focus on playing my instrument.
Set your levels
If you regularly record grooves on djembe and cajon, don’t just make sure your preamps and microphones are always set up, have your recording program’s ideal sound levels, track names, routing, and plug-ins templated ahead of time.
If you have go-to sound libraries you use when fleshing out productions for a certain project, having some of your favorites pre-loaded and saved in templated form can eliminate unnecessary setup time and get you making music more efficiently.
Different audio programs can handle templates in different ways, so experiment with your tools of choice and see what works for you. As with physical gear, every second you can eliminate when it comes to setting up can pay you back in dividends when it comes to translating your ideas into sound.
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How do you prepare your physical and virtual set-ups so you can smoothly slip into music making when inspiration strikes? Tell us in the comments below.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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