Production 212: Five Things to Do When You Hit the Wall

Prod212 Logo 2014 webby Dave Foxx

Whatever you do with your day, be it writing, voicing, producing, jocking or doing counted cross-stitch, you will eventually hit that certain barren space. That place where it seems like you’ve completely run out of gas, no more creative juice to fuel the fire, no vision to build a castle in the air, just… nothing. There are reasons for that little bald spot on the tire of your imagination, but creativity is not one of them. You have the goods. You just displayed them a week ago with that brilliant concert promo.

There are a few things that could be off for you at the moment. A long night watching the game at Hooters with the guys, perhaps you have a little one at home who kept you up most of the night, maybe… you’ve been hitting that one combination of ideas a lot lately and it’s feeling a bit stale. It could be something as simple as being a little upset over that jerk who cut you off on the way in this morning… OK, maybe a LOT upset. The reason could be any one of a thousand different things, but everyone goes through it. There’s no shame in it. You just need to get your brain in the right frame of mind again, synapses firing, ideas merging and creativity flowing. So, what do you do?

Here’s a list of five things you could do and with them, a few cautions to go with them when you’re trying to get your groove on.

1. Do something else that requires your complete attention. If I have the time, this is my favorite solution for creative constipation. If you’ve a long-time reader, you know that I am a pilot and LOVE to fly. The thing about flying airplanes is, when you’re in the cockpit, you should be doing one thing and one thing ONLY; flying the damned plane. Every serious situation pilots get into always starts with inattention to detail. Most details are extremely simple to correct when they first go awry, but when you leave a detail to take care of itself, things can quickly escalate to something very dangerous. If you pay close attention, you will have countless hours of flying enjoyment. After you land the plane, turn back to your work. It is really amazing how quickly your creative dead zone evaporates. Not a pilot? No problem! Try driving your car to a part of town you don’t know. Program your DVR, or organize your photo library, or if you want to keep it work related, organize your sound effects library. (BONUS: you’ll find effects you’ve long since forgotten.)

2. Strike up a friendship with someone who does not exist. If you’re fortunate enough to have a very strongly defined target audience, find a picture of what you think your target person looks like and stick it up on the wall. Have conversations with this person. Explain why you’re doing certain things to this person. Get into some deep philosophical discussions with him or her. Try to get into his or her head. You will be astonished how smart this person is. The insights into your audience you will gain will be impressive. I know, this sounds like a recipe to a big breakfast of “crazy” that your friends and loved ones will caution you against eating. Just don’t ever take him or her out of the studio. Drinks after work should NOT happen. This just gives you permission to talk to yourself. Try not to do it when other people are around.

3. Listen to audio from the Soundstage and grab an idea. OK, this is not a license to steal promos or sweepers. The whole concept of this website and sound forum is “share an idea, take an idea.” Ideas are our stock and trade and Radio And Production is set up to be an open marketplace for them, not for cash, but trading in kind. I have long maintained that there is no such thing as a bad idea… some are just better than others. And an idea is really all you need to get past your swamp of mediocrity. Drop that bad boy in your well and start pumping. You’re all but guaranteed a gusher.

4. Dig into your archives and listen to some old production. While this can be a little embarrassing for some, it’s usually pretty instructive too. Your ideas have probably always been good, but your execution was, shall we say… lacking? Here’s your chance to take that great idea and do it right this time.

5. Do some acoustic doodling or experiment with sound. This is very often the mother lode of creative invention, at least for me. Back in the day before digital audio workstations, I used to grab a sound effect or three and push them through an external effects box like the SPX90, all while futzing with every control I could. Admittedly, the results were most often far from pleasing to the ear, but as in any creative endeavor, the key is not the final rendition, but all the gyrations you go through to get there. Like the old saying goes, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Every little idea creates a dozen or more other ideas, each of which will give you even more. Just hearing what you push out of the monitors will put you in a mindset where the possibilities begin to multiply like a crazed number-cruncher taking WAY too many stimulants with his Red Bull.

Well, I promised you five ideas, but ended up giving you six, if you’re paying attention. When I started writing this column, I was running on fumes, creatively. In writing it’s very often a useful tool to simply make a list and then expand on each item. After having mined these five ideas, I can feel my creative juice sparking away in the back of my brain. I’m back!

So, add write a column to your list of things to do.

I did also say I’d warn you about a few things you should avoid, but I’m going to boil all those down into one point: Don’t let your distraction become a distraction. Basically, all of these ideas take you out of wherever you normally sit, either physically or mentally, so you can hit the reset button on your brain and give it time to reboot. Honestly, you could do just about anything and it would work as long as you’re not brooding over your brain not firing on all cylinders. For example, you could go spend some time on Facebook. I know… it’s the world champion time-suck. If you decide you want to go watch some cute kittens or find some inspirational sayings, go for it, but set a time limit. You really don’t want to be on any social media for more than 20 minutes. (An arbitrary number, I know, but it feels about right.) Flying a Cessna 172 is not very time efficient, so even though it really works well, it’s not usually very practical. Instead, go with the “organize your sound effects library” idea and again, limit yourself by keeping it to one letter of the alphabet. It will always be there, so you don’t have to finish it today.

One last bit of advice: If anyone asks what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, just tell them, “Research.” You don’t need to explain it any more than that, trust me. That’s one of the best parts about your new friend whose picture is hanging on your wall. They’ll never ask… or tell.

My audio on the Soundstage this month is (drumroll please) 2 promos for Z100 Jingle Ball. It’s always a big challenge to keep the momentum going when you have so many stars in one lineup. If the number was four, or even five, I’d just put ‘em all in there with shorter hooks, but 15 artists makes for one really long promo. Instead, I do 5 versions, each featuring hooks from 3 different artists, then the rest just get their names mentioned. Each of the 5 versions are rotated across the sponsors (18 this year) and then rotated according to the sales schedule. (TMI? Probably) Anyway… I have two of them for you.

Have a great month! Next time we chat… Thanksgiving leftovers! YUM!

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