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.

Inspiration is like fresh bread. When straight out of the oven ― even if it's not made from the best ingredients ― it'll taste pretty amazing. But if left around for a few hours, it'll be a little less flavorful. By the next day it's pretty stale, and after a week it's inedible. The longer you wait to capture your ideas, the more details they lose. For this book, I'd regularly take a note to write about a subject that could yield decent results. But if I wrote the passage the second I had the inspiration, it would flow out of me in full, coherent detail. I've found this to be the case with nearly every song I've ever worked on as well. Learning to capture an idea as it perspires is the most effective way to get the most from your inspiration. Every moment wasted wiring a DAW or preparing a recorder can be small details of what your brain is trying to exude that can be lost forever.

One of the most overlooked skills of creativity is retention. It’s assumed that if there’s a voice memo app on your phone and you remember to record your song ideas, you’re a master of retention. Contrary to that assumption, mastering a few good practices can help make your output more potent and less stressful. When being creative, the most valuable asset is your ideas, but they’re worthless if you don’t remember them. Getting in good habits of retention not only makes sure you never lose your inspired moments, but it also helps make your creativity more potent. Unless you figure out how to remember the inspiration that’s trying to get out of you effectively, that opportunity may never rear its head again so that idea may never come to full fruition.

When you're trying to remember ideas instead of retaining them properly, your mind is always trying to keep track of them. When your mind knows you've outsourced a way to keep track of parts of your life, it's able to focus elsewhere. It's been proven countless times if you're storing ideas effectively, your brain frees up space it uses to remember them, allowing you to focus on new ideas that expedite development of what you're working on. If you feel cluttered in your thoughts, dumping the ideas from your mind can be an extremely effective way to gain clarity on your next move. Much in the way you check off items on your to-do list, putting the thoughts in your mind down on a list allows your mind to get past old ideas and devote brain power to new ones. It’s sadly common that unless we experience the benefits of regularly retaining ideas, we don’t believe they exist.

Thankfully, since music costs so much to make, most of the ways you get better at retention cost little to no money and take very little time to implement. Along with the benefits being extremely worthwhile, practicing how to retain is time well spent.

Perfection And Perspiring

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it”

― Salvador Dali

 Author Kurt Vonnegut once said he feels like "an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth" when he writes. The beginning for any creator is an outline or broad strokes, not the consideration and nuance you'll hopefully apply later on. Skip the thoughts of subtleties like syncopation, whether you should use an upstroke versus a downstroke, an accent or apply vibrato. Instead, focus on an idea when it's flowing and leave the details for less inspired moments.

While rules are meant to be broken, the most effective way to deal with the demoing process is to perspire, then edit. There are very few unanimous truths for creators, but one is that if good ideas are pouring out of your brain, capture them as fast as you can, not stopping until the inspiration well runs dry. Inspiration can come fast, so worrying if an element is perfect or even good enough can kill it fast. When first expelling an idea, we need to rid ourselves of thoughts of perfection or other judgments and only evaluate them after our inspiration has passed. Editing can slow the process by shifting the brain into a whole other headspace that can deplete this inspired perspiration. This is not to discount that if you realize the verse is better at half its length, you shouldn't make that edit in the moment, but make sure it's not at the expense of any inspiration that may be currently in your head that'll be far less obvious at a later date. Don't wonder where the song is going, just feel it and leave the contemplation for later.

Figure Out Where You’re Creative To Make It An Environment To Capture Ideas

“I've never been a very prolific person, so when creativity flows, it flows. I find myself scribbling on little notepads and pieces of loose paper, which results in a very small portion of my writings to ever show up in true form.” ― Kurt Cobain

Despite recording studios being the place designed to capture musical ideas, in many of them it takes far too much effort to get those ideas down as they're happening. When I'm working on a song, I always have a live microphone I can put into record at the end of a DAW file if I need to remember ideas or grab a bit of inspiration. If need be, I'll write down anything else I can remember in the notes app on my iPhone. Producer Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Shania Twain) would keep a cassette voice recorder in the control room so he could retain ideas as fast as he could since the trouble of getting ideas into the tape machine could take far too long. Thankfully, we all now have a voice recorder on our phone that can retain our best ideas easily. Many producers have a "scrap" MIDI track or another recorder always rolling in case someone has a fantastic idea for this same reason.

Many artists have great ideas while going to bed at night, so they employ a way of capturing them. Grimes keeps pen and paper by her bedside, whereas Ezra Kire of Morning Glory takes it a step further by keeping a pen tied to his nightstand along with a notebook under his pillow. Others are flooded with inspiration in the morning, so they do morning journaling each day where they write down stream of consciousness thoughts that they review the next day to see what they can find to apply to their work.

Always Be Rolling

There's a piece of recording engineer wisdom that you never let a performer do a "practice take" that isn’t being recorded. Instead, you record them, even if they're warming up, since if they do a great take and you didn't record it, all of a sudden you're the worst person in the world, even if they told you not to record it. As an engineer, you may tell a musician they're practicing, but you're actually recording each take they do in case a great moment happens. This also goes for when you’re recording yourself; in an age where storage costs are next to nothing, making sure you’re always recording is essential to capturing your most inspired moments.

Good Note Taking      

“The faintest ink is better than the best memory” ― Chinese proverb

Listening back to your songs can be an amazing thrill, but forgetting to write down every tiny little detail you hear that could be accentuated, diminished, changed and so on means these ideas may be forgotten and your song may never reach its peak. Writing illegible notes that are hard to decipher later on can cause you to miss a crucial detail you hear for years to come that you kick yourself over every time you listen.

As a producer, I need to take notes on songs, mixes or other ideas every day of my life. In some weeks I'll take notes on over 40 songs. A lot of this time is spent in inconvenient environments such as hopping subways and buses across New York City. Needless to say, it can be hard to concentrate and even harder to take notes. Because of this, I have strict rules to make sure I never lose any thoughts that come to me while hearing these mixes. Whenever I'm listening to a song I'm working on, I must have a note app open to take clear notes that I'll remember later. If an idea is coming at me fast, I'll open Music Memos or Voice Memos on my phone to record a note, no matter how crazy I look singing a part on the L Train. I know I must never lose inspiration since it may never come back.

Being A Good Librarian

Many songwriters write riffs and melody ideas but never bring them to full demo form. Collecting ideas as you have them is commonly done in iTunes or folders on a computer. Sadly, when I work with songwriters on drafting their songs, their riffs and beats are scattered across numerous devices and labeled horribly, so the songwriter can never seem to find them. There are a few easy practices that can help to sort these ideas:

·       Label files with more than just “Voice Memo 19” - instead, put a descriptive name like “Creepy Song for Neon Demon opening scene Key of E, 148 BPM”. Tempos or emotions can be great descriptors, as well as the key.

·       When you're too tired to create, take time to make folders and organize these demos by tagging them to review so your mind can incubate them.

·       Date files if you'll remember a time when you wrote them when trying to find them. If you'll remember the place you wrote them later, tag a file with that as well. I find dates are better since you can often remember what you were doing on a certain date compared to version 7.

Spreadsheets - Rivers Cuomo of Weezer uses spreadsheets to keep track of riffs, lyrics and song title ideas so he can figure out what fits together later. Since titles of songs are limited in information, spreadsheets can allow you to add more information that'll help you sort through your ideas.

Inboxing And Sorting - David Allen’s life-changing book Getting Things Done says that you should have an inbox that you capture ideas in to later file them in their proper place. When I work with musicians on their record, their iPhones are commonly cluttered messes of hundreds of voice memos with their ideas. This lack of order costs tons of time in lost and unsorted ideas. To make matters worse, they also have Garageband demos as well as more developed Pro Tools demos scattered in different places. Instead of this clutter, I sort all of these files to iTunes with playlists that file ideas by category. Having playlists for each song, final demos, riff ideas, etc. can make your creative time far more effective.

Commonplacing Notebooks

I'm not one to celebrate the past, but one of the lost traditions of creative minds was to keep a commonplacing notebook. These notebooks are a place where you retain quotations and other points of inspiration throughout your life. Essentially, anything you feel resonance with that may be worthy of further thought or development should be retained in one of these books. As you add these inspirational thoughts, you review them from time to time to put thoughts together to make epiphanies. John Locke, the economist and political theorist, was one of the first people to push this practice and later had notebooks manufactured to mimic the way he employed them in his creative pursuits.

 Composer Aaron Copeland said, "Most composers have a notebook where they put down germinal ideas that occur to them thinking, ‘well, we'll work on that later.’ You can't pick the moment when you'll have ideas. It picks you, and you might be completely absorbed in another piece of work. You put the ideas down where you can find them later when you need to look for ideas, and they don't come easily." This summation of why this type of retention is important couldn't be summed up better.

In the modern age, this can be a note in your phone, a Google Doc or, for the twee folks, a Moleskine notebook where you keep track of what inspires you creatively. Later reviewing what inspires you is one of the clearest routes possible to inspiration that'll put your mind into an incubation state that can continually reward your music. I think about how much less I'd know about creativity if I hadn’t had my mind opened by watching Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain for the first time, which I wrote down in a small memo pad I carried in my pocket.

Checklists Retain What You Don’t Want To Forget

Atul Gawande wrote a life-changing book called The Checklist Manifesto that talks about saving lives with medical procedures that compensate for our inability to remember crucial systems that insure processes don’t fail us. Although this book is written about medicine, its application to the creative process is broad and rewarding. Gawande says Rivers Cuomo of Weezer has developed checklists of considerations of songwriting tools. Many musicians notice they commonly forget details and considerations in the development of their song. In order to make sure they evaluate these considerations each time, they will employ a checklist at the end of their process to make sure no stone is left unturned. If you find yourself forgetting these details, employing a checklist can ensure they don't get skipped.

I make lists in an app called Checklist+ for remembering to listen to my mixes on different devices and with different perspectives, such as being sure I listened on three sets of speakers and listened for various elements. This ensures I don't skip crucial perspectives needed to make my mixes great and eventually become habits I don’t forget. If you find yourself forgetting to consider your work in ways that are helpful, consider making a checklist so you can make these reflections.

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.