This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

The Possibility Of Possibility

 Science has observed that creativity is inspired by "the possibility of possibility." When you see others coming up with creative ideas you'd never think of, you're suddenly inspired by what's possible for you to do. Take, for example, a study showing that people are more creative if they listen to standup comedy before doing a creative endeavor. Standup comedy is one of the ultimate forms of creativity since it commonly strings together connections that others haven't thought of to make us laugh through a fast-paced exposure of the possibility of connecting thoughts to form a new work. For artists and directors working in visual mediums, music is often the catalyst for a vision of what’s possible, just as musicians often take inspiration from visual works.

 The same goes for why taking a walk helps us be more creative. Seeing all the different stimuli in the world makes your brain aware of the possibility of possibility. This exposure allows your brain to free associate to make new connections. Our brains are given a constant dose of possibility when we observe the various wonders of the world and see the many ways someone has been creative. I find that if I watch an experimental movie or see an inspiring piece of art, I'll have a much easier time creating. Getting your creative juices flowing is about giving it the nutrient of what’s possible. If you feed yourself with a nutritious bit of small inspiration beforehand, the ideas will come to you more easily.

 The possibility of possibility gets even bigger. Whenever a new genre or movement happens in music, you'll see numerous musicians come to it at the same time. The same goes for technology, which is why we see clusters of inventors doing the same innovations at the same time. As we see what’s possible from one creator, a handful of others get inspired by the same creator and expand upon their idea. In music we hear new heights emotions can be taken to and figure out how to expand upon them with our own emotional tools.

Reverse Engineering (Also Known As Learning Cover Songs)

In hardware or software development, it's illegal to reverse engineer another person's work. For the Luddites out there, if you open up computer code to learn how an engineer made a piece of technology and then do a few tweaks to it, you're breaking the law. Designers are taught in school that they can grab the color scheme from another work in Photoshop and tons of other tools to reverse engineer the way a design was put together. Everyone with even a cursory knowledge of music is always happy to point out that The Beatles started as a cover band.

The way we figure out how to express ourselves emotionally is examining other songs that have given us a similar emotion, then figuring out what can be applied to the new song we’re going to make. Covering songs can be fun, but deconstructing and observing what makes them tick is some of the best research you can do.

This also works for the songs you don't like. Whenever you hear a song that doesn't sound right to you, you should figure out how you'd fix it. This can help inspire you on the tools that'll develop your own songs. Inspiration is learning tools that allow you to be fluent in expression, and this technique is one of the fastest ways to gain fluency in these tools. While this is cursory knowledge for most artists, it can be overlooked that you should continually reverse engineer what makes your favorite songs tick so you can figure out how to express your intent with the tools your favorite artists use.

Creative Fan Fiction

One of my favorite exercises is to get an album by a band I love and open a blank session on my computer. I listen to a verse and then write what I imagine the chorus might be before hearing theirs. I may listen to one song and then mess around to figure out what I'd do for the next song on the album. Hearing the difference between theirs and mine usually inspires a totally different idea that I can later apply elsewhere.

The group Spoon says after singer Britt Daniel makes a demo, they'll think about what filter they can apply to the idea. They may consider what Dr. Dre or Elvis Costello would do with a song to parse how to apply that influence to a song that isn’t a direction that the inspirational artist would normally do. Inspiration is commonly finding an influence you admire to figure out how to apply what you enjoy about them to your own compositions. While this practice is mistaken as imitation, if you pull from a wide variety of influences in all of your songs you end up with a collage that resembles who you are. If you're choosing properly, it'll be choices that augment your emotional intent.

Inspiration From Collaboration

When you hear stories of the most classic rock bands, pop stars or even Daft Punk, you'll hear talk of how important it was to listen to music with their collaborators. The discussion of what they find inspiring and how it can be brought into their intent is one of the best ways to do resonant work. This collaborative research is now often pushed to the wayside with tight budgets and limited time. Today, artists don't schedule the time to communally listen to the records they love to bring the parts of music they enjoy from others into their own music.

This research not only gets everyone on the same page, but hearing the different ideas collaborators extract from the music you're using for inspiration leads to great epiphanies. Finding collaborators to discuss mutual inspiration points with can reward you with insight that leads to huge artistic breakthroughs. In my time producing records, collaborative research and the discussion of what each person hears can exponentially increase the resonance as each collaborator brings different observations and expertise.

Find Inspiration Inside Your Own Work

Inspiration can even come from what's already in your song. Rick Rubin says Eminem often finds his cadences from rhythms already in the song, "He hears internal rhythms in tracks ... his phrasing is glued to the music that if small details are changed, it ruins the interaction." Listening to what's already in a song to find ways to change up existing melodies and rhythms can help reinforce hooks inherent in the song. This goes for listening to your past work as well. Hearing how you didn't do something right and figuring out how to improve upon it in the future is often the genesis of ideas that are in line with our intent.

Inspiration On Display

“Collect books, even if you don't plan on reading them right away.

Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

― John Waters

A common trait among creators is to have some of your favorite creations on display to be reminded of them. It's common to keep books on a bookshelf where you most often look to be reminded of the ideas inside them. The same can go for posters, vinyl and other physical media for music. Maintaining playlists of the music you've enjoyed can be employed to remind yourself of where you've found inspiration. Having a reminder of those you respect in sight keeps them on your mind to remember what you should consider in your work.

Shaking Up Inspiration

A lot of the research I talk about here is very deliberate and nerdy, but there are far more fun ways to gain inspiration. Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards allow you to draw a card that you agree to pursue the intent of in advance. These cards contain instructions like, "don't be afraid of clichés," "simple subtraction" and "abandon normal instruments." These cards are meant to give you a random way to leave your comfort zone with imaginative prompts to find new inspiration.

There are tons of ways to shake up inspiration outside the normal methods we are commonly told. David Bowie would write chords on a chalkboard and point to them at odd times for musicians to change chords. He’d later take the best bits to work into songs. You can devise all sorts of games and exercises to get odd outcomes and find how to build them into your songs where they’re emotionally appropriate.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.