Creativity is a funny thing. In any medium, having no limitations but your own ability and imagination can be equally inspiring and intimidating. On the rare occasion that inspiration strikes and you happen to be prepared to follow that thought to its completion, the results can be both exciting and surprising, but more often than not, creative output you can be proud of comes from hours and hours of practice, grinding away, or “showing up for work.”
Sometimes creative projects don’t pan out at all. Perhaps life events wrestle away your attention, a client backs out of a project, or maybe you simply lose interest in an idea. No matter what the reason, it’s all too easy to brush that creative nugget under the rug and forget it ever existed. I will admit to being guilty of this—my stockpile of untitled audio snippets and synth sounds continues to grow—but I recently uncovered a project I had all but forgotten about and felt compelled to share.
I often find it helpful to remind myself that just because a project isn’t “finished” doesn’t mean the work wasn’t worth something. No, this project was never completed as it was originally intended, but I still put in time and creative energy and that alone has value. I’d like to share my creations and process here for two reasons; firstly, to mentally shift this project from my “unfinished” pile to my “finished” one, and secondly, to offer a glimpse behind the curtain of a final product. If you also sometimes struggle with finishing creative projects, I hope that this will help as a reminder that the creative process is usually more like navigating a maze than following a straight line.
A few years ago, right before moving to New York, I was approached by a previous coworker of mine to score an animation he was working on. The concept behind the animation involved a Dungeons & Dragons style quest which could only be resolved by the most epic of epic dance battles. Wizards, elves, and paladins getting down to 80s inspired synth pop? Of course I said yes.
Unfortunately, though I finished a final draft for the music, the animator had to abandon the project and the animation was never completed. As I waited to see if he might pick up the project again down the road, the music I had created sat on my hard drive and started to fade from my memory as life took over in New York. Here is that final draft, perhaps not as polished as it might have been had the animation taken shape, but nevertheless finished enough to share.
To get to that final draft, I presented the animator with four possible stylistic starting points that I came up with after listening to his reference tracks and speaking with him about his planned narrative. The tracks that follow are these four, rough samples. Boss Battle was an attempt at emulating video game style battle music, Disco-ish was inspired by a funky groove I had heard in a song by Sia, Wacky went for a more zany “Adventure Time” quest vibe, and 80s—the seed for the final draft—focused on musical tropes and sounds from the 1980s.
In truth, getting to those four musical snippets took a fair amount of time and experimentation. I played around with a variety of grooves, bass lines, and synth sounds before I found the base themes for the samples I showed the animator. The tracks below are these first creative stabs, ideas in motion, exported as I left them three years ago, unpolished and unedited. Though these did not make my final cut, you might notice that elements of some made their way into the four options above.
This is generally how I approach creating for a prompt. This “shotgun approach” may seem slightly inefficient, but I find I get to my best results by trying a lot of different possibilities in a short amount of time and narrowing down the options from there. Often times, elements of one idea will complement another and will ultimately lead to a more complete final product.
As I write this, I am noticing that I haven’t come up with many specific creative prompts for myself in some time. I’m very good at opening up creatively when the work is for or with someone else, but I sometimes fall short when that work is purely for myself, on my own time. Looking back, this project clearly pushed me to produce a lot of creative results and that, I think, was largely driven by the clear, final goal.
It’s easy to fiddle around and create cool creative seeds, but to have the beginning of an idea without a final destination makes navigating the creative maze a difficult prospect and only adds to that ever growing list of files named “cool_idea_3.file”. I’m glad to call this tune “finished” despite it not having served its intended purpose as a score. If nothing else, pulling this out of my archive has helped remind me how I function best creatively, that goals and deadlines are important in creative work, and that I am capable of creating; I simply need to continue practicing the act.