Our minds are constantly under the influence of our environment. Our surroundings unavoidably have a major impact on our creative output. Most of us are familiar with the trial-and-error process by which we come to understand how we produce our best work. Long days and nights spent hitting wall after wall lead us to believe it’s impossible, or that we aren’t good enough, when the only thing that might not be working is the space we’re in.
For a long time I’d given up when I hit a creative wall. Why isn’t this lyric working with this melody as well as it did in my head? When will this feeling return to me so I can keep writing this idea I had last week?
So often we want things to happen fast and well. I hit this point of searching for fresh input, and all I receive is what I’ve leaned on before for new ideas.
At times I get lucky, and a trusted tool can lead me somewhere new, but more often what I need is a change of scenery.
I love my room. It’s a space I’ve crafted over time with a focus on passion and efficiency. But I’ve lived in the same apartment for close to five years, and there are seasons where I get frustrated looking at the same things for days on end. None of us desire to be in a place where there are intentional obstacles to keep us from our art, but if we never change and grow we’ll be forced to make the same work over and over again.
It’s ideal to have a comfortable place to express yourself. That’s probably my favorite part about living and creating in the same place. Success is as simple as waking up and putting time into my craft. The more accessible I make instruments, songwriting tools and recording equipment the more likely I am to pursue them endlessly.
The task of creating a perfect space is never done because no matter how great you make it, you need new things. Our minds thrive on discovery. It doesn’t have to be drastic.
Simply placing a few plants around my room and getting an oil diffuser introduced new sights and scents. I’m not telling you that a plant in your window will get you a Grammy, but it might just be enough to point you in the right direction.
Sometimes drastic changes can be necessary.
I had a corner of my room dedicated to a hamper and folded, clean clothes that couldn’t fit in my closet, so I found room in my closet for the hamper, donated tons of clothes and constructed a pseudo vocal booth in the corner of my room. I lined sound treatment panels with smart lights and tracking vocals became an even more enjoyable experience for me. I looked for opportunities to experiment and record vocals because I was excited to do so.
As with most things we love, it’s also possible to grow weary of them if we over indulge. Stepping outside of my own space is refreshing. I look forward to putting myself into new environments to see how I perform. I’m always in control in my own space so it’s nice to let that go once in a while to see what happens. I’ll step away from something I’m working on to contribute to a friend’s work by writing, playing or even just talking through different ideas in their space.
Though the rooms and buildings we entrust to our creative spaces are important, one of the best ways you can improve your environment is to work with other people. I place a high importance on my time alone, but bringing ideas to a trusted collaborator has always proven to be fruitful.
I schedule time to write with friends whom I admire, even if we just write for fun and practice. I even try to fly to Nashville multiple times a year to spend time and work with one of my closest friends because not only do I get to flood myself with the energy of a different city, I get to work with someone who I feel comfortable bouncing dumb ideas off of.
The people we surround ourselves with can hold just as much power on our environment as the place itself.
Nothing we do is a perfect science. We constantly search for ourselves through expression. Satisfaction comes few and far between, but we can control more than we sometimes allow ourselves. Almost any space can be molded into our perfect home—it’s where we fail, succeed and learn more about the weird stuff we do.
James Rock is a songwriter, producer, and musician currently living in Troy. Headshot by Kiki Vassilakis.