End Writers’ Block

In my  years online , I’ve discovered there are a lot of artists with this problem. I don’t have this problem and in the 10 or so years i’ve been making music seriously , I never have suffered from this. I’ve talked about the methods I use when i’ve posted on message boards / forums , and i’ve been totally surprised with the comments other artists have made , saying that it was encouraging and really helped them break out of a rut.

When I lived on the Isle of Man , I knew a musician who had an awesome setup. He had the hugest P.A. speakers and a great PC , lots of plugins etc….. but when i asked him about his music , he only had 2 or 3 tracks and the one he was working on had taken him months , and , to be honest , there was nothing special about it to justify spending so much time on it. I just couldn’t understand why he didnt shelve the track ( even just for a few weeks ) and work on something else. The equipment he had was a playground to me , who at the time , had very little equipment , and a set of those tiny rubbish triangle pc speakers with zero bass. It shocked me how someone with all the tools could be so underwhelmed and so lacking in imagination , with no hunger , no drive , no real spark.

I think part of the problem with writers block is an issue with that ” spark ” , and how to get it firing up again , and I hope that by the time you’ve finished reading this , you’ll be chompin at the bit , and ready to sink your teeth into this.

Think about it logically. Inspiration is a by-product. It needs something to kick it into gear……..a catalyst.

Randomize Randomize

Here’s something i’ve done. When you fire up a VST synth , if it has a randomise button , click it.  I should add that its advisable to place a brickwall limiter after it in the signal path , just in case you deafen yourself with feedback. Now , I know there are some snobs out there who’ll read this with disdain , while quaffing their champagne and peering down their nose through their monacle …….. and will think that its necessary to slave over a hot vst for hours , meticulously programming every parameter to the nth degree , but , the only thing that matters is the end result. No-one cares about how you arrived at the end result .  Either the track has killer sounds and rocks the kasbah , or it blows goats. I know how to program a synth , way back since i used to draw meticulously detailed recreations of yamaha CS80’s and sequential circuits six-traks and prophet 5’s , but this is one of the best ways of getting some really unusual sounds to use as a starting point , and also a great way of finding out the how deep the rabbithole goes………just what the VST is capable of.

Experiment with Effects

There are a ton of 3 oscillator synths out there , and although there are a few that have a special oscillator sound . or a unique approach to synthesis , they pretty much all do the same thing. They all have Filter , resonance , ADSR , LFO , pitch , finetune etc…… , so , even though they may all look very different , they are pretty much the same under the hood , so its not necessary to have every single VST synth under the sun. The difference lies in the effects you employ , and this is where you can have the most fun. Experiment with effects you’ve never used before. Find out how a compressor works for instance.  Have a ” What does this button do ? ” mentality


Ok. This part is the one that people tend to admire when i explain how i work. I have a folder on my hard drive called ” 2ndMOUSE work pool ” . Within this folder there are hundreds of song files , all of varying levels of completion , suckiness , brilliance , and even dare i say it , flashes of genius ( the crowd gasps !! )

I’ve developed a system where I put numbers after the track name , which denote how i should approach each track. For my system its

1. just a four bar pattern / riff

2. somewhere between a four bar pattern and half a track

3. half a track

4. track structure “finished” , but needs some alterations

5. track structure finished , but needs mix alterations

6. Track complete. Done and dusted.

Now , when you sit down in front of your pc and face that empty screen , if you haven’t got an existing track to work with , just experiment with your craziest , wildest ideas and fill up that Work Pool.

Don’t worry about finishing the ideas unless they are really awesome. Work on it for about 30 minutes then save it , forget about it , and start another either straightaway , or next time you want to make music. The idea is to get a lot of  options and become almost like a bee , pollenizing one flower after another…….a 15 minute burst here , a 30 minute blitz on one part like a beat or bassline , then forget about it. The next time you open it , you’ll think ” i’d forgot about this…….this sounds pretty good , and i know exactly where to go with it right now “……….work on it till you feel the attention beginning to wane , or your ears getting tired of that particular set of sounds , then open another

I can see at a glance where a track is at , without loading it , just because of the number system . If I really like one and i think it has potential , i’ll put a dollar sign or an asterisk after the number also.

Currently , I’m working on 33 tracks , simultaneously , and I have a never-ending supply of ideas , simply because I’ve built up this “work pool ” and i’m many steps ahead of myself. Therein lies the key ……… staying ahead of yourself. I released an album only a few months ago , and already i have material for another 2 or 3 that i’m working on , and I always keep to this kind of ratio so that I always have plenty to work on , and im not stumped when i face my monitor.


However , it all starts with that initial hunger and pure love of sound and what it does , how it reacts with other sounds. I can listen to a sound and just “know” what to do with it as every sound almost has a DNA , and as i discover more and more about the mystery of music , and how it relates to fibonacci numbers , the golden mean , Phi etc…. , it just becomes more of a mystery to me. Sometimes people listen , but don’t actually hear , because they’ve grown accustomed to something and have learned to tune it out as white noise. Its vital that you rediscover the joy of listening again. If you still don’t feel that hunger , then deprive yourself of sound completely for a while until it returns. Put a lock on your studio door and give the key to someone.  We always want what we can’t have.

Some people sing ” luck be a lady tonight “…….others talk to their car like its a lady , and in the war they painted women on the sides of their fighter planes. When machinery breaks down , you’ll often hear someone say ” c’mon girl !! ”  , and i’ve learned to think of inspiration being a lady. I treat her with respect and make the most of her when she is around , and enjoy her company.


I hope this helps you. All i know is that I have never once had writers block in well over ten years , so , I must be doing something right. However as always

” I haven’t arrived , but i’ve most definitely left. “

EL Torino

New track up called ” EL Torino “. Again , because I have such a huge backlog ( read conveyor belt ) of tracks that are at various stages of completion , this is an old track thats laid around for a long time. In a folder , that i’ve named ” Work Pool ” , I have a number system………..1 , is a single pattern……2 , is quarter-finished………3 , is half finished……….4 , is finished but the mix and production need looked at , and 5 , is complete and is for tracks i’m completely happy with. There are hundreds ;  to the point that I can work on about 100 tracks at any given time , and I work on them until the inspiration dries up in that particular session , and then it could be a week , a month or a year until I pick up the baton again.

” EL Torino ” is one such track , and was half-finished for a long time , possibly 8 years or more , but i’ve learned after 10 years at least of doing this , that inspiration is full of surprises. If Inspiration was personified  , I’d envisage it as a lady , who sometimes won’t talk to you and is dry , while at other times is playful , teasing and flirtatious. Inspiration is always exciting and spontaneous. Its a spark…..a catalyst that ignites the imagination.

What I was trying to convey with ” EL Torino ” was a vision of a deserted mexican ghost town , where the bell on the little church was ringing because of the wind that carved up the dust-devils and blew the dust and the tumbleweeds in the near distance. Then , add to that , the haunting sound of those desert guitars and the old lady dressed in black , with her impossibly lined face , watching you as you slowly walk through her little town . I basically trawled through years of memories , most from my childhood , hearing the sounds in the old spaghetti westerns , and the feelings associated with those sounds , trying to evoke a track that contained it all.

Until today , it was actually called ” Differential 2 ” , because I’ll often call my tracks the first thing that comes into my head , simply to get them saved before the PC crashes. It was renamed ” EL Torino ” just today , 5 minutes before I uploaded it . It was almost called EL Paso till i remembered it was the name of a mexican food supplier , so I knew EL had to be part of the name because it was mexican and that was what I’d envisaged from the outset.

The little melodic synth riff was actually centre-stage when the track started its final , but when the bassline , which exudes a certain mexican flavour , and then the guitars , worked their way into the track note by note  , it started to take more and more of a back seat , but even before that , there were 2 or 3 entirely different melodies which i completely scrapped , because , again , i’ve learned that ” ya can’t polish a turd ” , and if the idea makes me think ” meh………” , I scrap it immediately rather than working and working at it and trying to drag something sublime out of something that just isn’t there. Its important for me to feel something from what I’m making , otherwise there’s no point.

If you’d like to hear the track , here it is

EL Torino

Make it Go: The Launchpad as Monome (Part 1 – Startup and MLR) (via Machinae Soundscapes)

Make it Go:  The Launchpad as Monome (Part 1 - Startup and MLR) So, you’ve finally got yourself a launchpad.  You’ve installed the drivers and the ‘Launchpad Edition’ of Ableton Live. . . . And you are totally underwhelmed. The clip launching is nice but that’s not what you got it for, is it?  You want to slice clips, make drones, and step sequence monome style. Well, you can.  And, contrary to the instructions that come with the Launchpad would have you believe, you don’t have to spend a dime on Max4Live, or … Read More

via Machinae Soundscapes


New track called ” TripSwitch “ uploaded today and I thought it’d be cool to explore my reasoning behind it , and what I was trying to achieve by making it.

Probably my earliest musical memory was of christmas , i think…….and I’m sure I was in a pram , so I mustn’t have been more than 4 years old. I remember a song that was playing in the town centre , with all the people hustling and bustling and the words were ” I’d like to teach the world to sing , in perfect harmony “. I’ve never found out who sings it , but i have a feeling it was the seekers / new seekers. There was something about the combination of the christmas tree lights and those words in the ears of a 4 year old boy that was magical , and maybe something i’ve been subconsciously trying to recreate ever since. The message in the words was a good message , but there was something more that i have never been able to put my finger on……..and i’ve managed to drag it out in a few tracks.

” UsuryVille “ is another track that had the same retro , almost kitsch kinda new seekers vibe. When you think of the Flintstones theme tune , or the Star trek ( original ) theme tune , or any of those late 50s , early 60s shows , they just had this sound that was so optimistic , almost naive. I really dont know what to call it. It feels like an itch I cant scratch. Part of TripSwitch was about that feeling and there is a Mellotron choir sound towards the end of the track that for me , typifies what I was trying to get at , trying to scratch….

The rest of the track was about the sample ( I uh….had to bypass the computer. The magnetic field erased the program……….When we reach 20,000 megahertz…..we throw this switch , and a powerful magnetic field vibrates these forks at a precise frequency ” ) , which I have no idea about where it comes from , and would be grateful if someone could identify it , and the beat , which was supposed to sound relentless , and sorta trance-inducing.

The whole idea was that of man starting to play God , messing around with things they dont really understand ( although they say they do ) , cloning human cells , smashing atoms in particle accelerators , grafting an ear onto a mouses back in the name of scientific endeavour , and i guess I was hoping there is a failsafe , or a tripswitch if things go awry.

This all connects to the feeling I had , looking at the christmas tree as a small boy , listening to the naively optimistic words of the angels singing ” I’d like to teach the world to sing , in perfect harmony “. To me , they were angels , and i wonder where that naive optimism went…….. that 50’s vibe where  an advert for toothpaste was frivolous and innocent .

Probably sounds incredibly silly to you , but im thinking out loud , finding catharsis , scratching the itch if you like……..trying to discover what compels me to make the music i make.

Maybe I try to recover my innocence …….. Maybe this track is about Humanitys loss of innocence.

I hope we can recover it.

Countdown to Launch . . . . .

2ndMOUSE is going live very very soon.
I’m both massively excited and equally terrified , moreso because of all the horror stories about the possibility of things going pear-shaped and standing in front of a bemused crowd just wanting to crawl under a rock if the technology goes belly up in the middle of a live set.

As soon as i get this baby , in a few weeks , i’m gonna jump right in and play play play.

Its called a Novation Launchpad , and although , ideally , i’d love a Monome or a JazzMutant Lemur , they are really pricey and the Launchpad will serve my purposes adequately for now at least , plus , I’m a sucker for flashing lights and that’ll look the part to the audience.

I’d never really contemplated playing live , because , to say my tracks are complicated , is an understatement. There’s a ton of processing going on behind the scenes……a bit like a swan…..all serene and calm on the surface , but paddling like blazes beneath the surface.

I’m not the kinda person who could just stand on stage and press play , and look like i’m checking my emails on stage , so i’ve always said that if I do this , I want it to be authentic…….a performance.
It’ll take a few gigs under my belt before I feel completely comfortable with it , but i’m just really excited about getting out there and engaging with the fans on that primal level , learning how my music is received in a live concept , and just getting my hands dirty.

Also considering getting a load of T-shirts printed , with the 2ndMOUSE logo on , but its all budget related so it may not happen initially.

There’ll be projections going on too , and it’ll all be promoted by Botanic Media / Cupboard Love Records and everything , at last , is starting to slot into some kind of order to me now.

All in all , very exciting times ahead !!