91 Things to Boost Your Creativity (aka 91 ridiculous ways to kill time)

Sometimes your creativity kicker just stops kicking. When your mind is empty and you’re pounding your head against a wall of uninspired bulldust, it might be time to take a break and give yourself permission to do something else. While you might have a couple ideas of something else that you know you want to do, here’s 91 other things you can do to stop choking your creative mind:

  1. Build something awesome
  2. Turn off your phone and go for a long, long walk
  3. See how many dogs in your neighborhood you can get barking at once
  4. Go for a color walk and try to find an object in every color inside or outside of your home
    Bonus points: Make sure your colored objects are something naturally occurring, like a plant or animal
  5. Challenge a random pedestrian to a dance-off
  6. Challenge a driver at a stop light to a dance-off
  7. Learn a new instrument like the drums, guitar, or piano (no affiliate)
  8. Teach yourself a new skill
  9. Teach someone else a new skill
  10. Prepare a GTFO bag
  11. Work on your everyday carry EDC kit
  12. Learn how to and practice walking like a ninja
  13. Show up at your friend’s house without telling anyone
    Bonus points: Make it a friend that lives at least 3 hours away from you
  14. Track down a friend you haven’t had contact with in years
  15. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in the past 12 months
  16. Call your Mother / Father / Sister / Brother
  17. Call your Grandma / Grandpa
    Bonus points: show up at your grandparents’ house without telling them
  18. Ask your family for their favorite stories about other family members
  19. Ask your parents for hilarious stories about yourself/your siblings as toddlers/children
  20. Start a rhyming text battle with someone
  21. Start a rhyming battle with a random stranger
  22. Give someone $20-$50 without them noticing (don’t forget to use your ninja skills)
  23. Ask homeless people to tell you their best stories
  24. Go through your closet and donate crap you don’t need
  25. Go through your house and donate crap you never use
    Bonus points: Try to sell some of these things to neighbors and/or strangers
  26. Play bigger and better
  27. Set up a Fiverr or Etsy account
  28. Create a 5-20 page children’s storybook, including illustrations
  29. Go to the library and try to find the most ridiculous book cover ever
  30. Go to the bookstore and try to find the most and least expensive book in the store
    Bonus points: Try to haggle with a manager to increase the price of the least expensive book, and / or lower the price of the most expensive book
  31. Read up on the latest psychological discoveries
  32. Sell your body to science
  33. Take a nap and DO NOT SET A TIMER
  34. Write a motivational speech for someone you know is having a hard time
  35. Research the details of a religion you’re not familiar with
  36. Rewrite 7 alternate endings for your favorite book series / TV show / movie / video game
    Bonus points: Tell someone who hasn’t gotten to the end of the story your alternate ending. When they see / read the real ending, you will get to laugh and laugh and laugh…
  37. Go to your local university’s free speech zone and ask students to tell you the most interesting thing they learned that day
  38. Make a plan to build a new habit
  39. Replay a game from your childhood
  40. Start a blog or Youtube channel
  41. Make a stop motion animated video
  42. Write a 3-5 page script and send it in to your local News Station
    Bonus points: Challenge them to actually use the script in their newscast
  43. Offer to babysit for a friend so they can have an epic date night
  44. Plan and run an epic date night for your friends who don’t have kids
    Bonus points: Set up the date between two of your friends who aren’t dating
  45. Go door-to-door and collect donations for a charity
  46. Call your mayor and ask him about the city’s plans for prosperity in the event of a nuclear fallout
  47. Download a free-to-play Steam game and play uninterrupted for at least 30 minutes
  48. Talk like a pirate for the rest of the day…
  49. … after making a customized paper pirate hat
  50. Learn a new language
  51. Make a friend from a foreign country
  52. Research and listen to music from a foreign country
    Bonus points: Ask your new foreign friend for their favorite band
  53. Listen to music from a genre that you can’t stand for at least an hour
  54. Try to write a song in a genre you can’t stand
  55. Learn some really long words
  56. Ask a guy to teach you some manly skill (like changing your oil)
  57. Ask a girl to teach you some womanly skill (like folding bedsheets)
  58. Play your instrument upside down
  59. Invent a new board game
  60. Invent a new card game
  61. Invent a cardboard game
  62. Build a snowman
    Bonus points: Build a snowman without any snow
  63. Read a comic book
  64. Write / draw a short comic
  65. Write / draw a satire
  66. Do a drawing tutorial
  67. Watch a kid’s movie and consider its political meaning
  68. Daydream about the perfect kids movie
  69. Daydream about the perfect video game
  70. Investigate career paths that you could take with your hobbies
  71. Plan a global adventure
  72. Take the lyrics of 2-12 songs and mash 3-7 word phrases into one song
    Bonus points: Mash genres together (aka metal mashed with dubstep, pop, and country)
  73. Take the characters of one story and imagine what would happen if you plopped them into another story
  74. Imagine how your favorite story would have been different if the villain was the hero and vice versa
  75. Learn a martial art
  76. Research a single year in history
  77. Browse random articles on Wikipedia
  78. Create alter egos for yourself and your family / friends
  79. Read a self-help book for something you don’t need help with
  80. Make a thank you / birthday card from scratch
  81. Create a scavenger hunt for someone
  82. Make a plushie for yourself, and a matching one for a friend
    Bonus points: Personalize the plushies so they reflect your personalities
  83. Genre-mash movies (Western + Superhero + Mecha)
  84. Watch an anime
  85. Write uninterrupted in a journal
  86. Make paper airplanes and see how far you can get one to fly
  87. Make the most delicious paleo (insert any other diet) meal you can with items already in your fridge / kitchen
  88. Sign up for a free trial of a game (Runescape, World of Warcraft; something of the like)
  89. Go to the park and see if you can Disney Princess a squirrel into your hand
  90. Play on a kid’s playground (when kids aren’t on it, of course)
  91. Come up with a list of 91 things to do with your best friend / significant other / brother / whoever

That’s it. 91 ways to beat your creative block and come up with awesome ideas. Have any more suggestions? Let ’em rip in the comments!

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How to Make MIDI Strings Sound More Realistic

Unless you’re paying $200 for MIDI sounds, chances are good that your free MIDI sounds are… awful. This is especially true of strings – violins, violas, cellos, double bass; if it can be played with a bow and was free, the MIDI version doesn’t sound that great.

That being said, there are ways to help make your MIDI strings sound a little bit less pathetic and a little more realistic in your mix. This guide won’t make your stock Garageband strings sound like a real violinist actually played them, but it (hopefully) will make your stock sounds a little more bearable.


On Velocity and Quantization

Just like with MIDI drums, to make your MIDI strings sound most realistic, you shouldn’t just keep all your notes’ velocities at the same level. (In Garageband I think the preset is 98.) Varying your velocities within about plus/minus 15 steps is a safe place to keep it so that you get variation, but it still maintains a similar intensity.

The key to improving the realism of your MIDI string sounds is to humanize them – so you change the velocity, and you change the quantization. You don’t want to quantize your notes so that they begin right on the beat – about 80-95% is a good place to stay.

One of the hard things with strings and quantization is that the samples don’t always start playing right at the beginning of your MIDI note. To just keep your strings in time with all the other instruments, you may have to pull their start time a little bit back from the beat you want them to play on.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.33.25 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.33.47 AMIn the first picture the notes are all aligned right with the beat. But if the sound doesn’t start right away, it can make your strings sound sloppy. Like the second picture, try pulling your notes back so that the sound starts right on the beat to help keep your recording tight.


Use Different Instruments and Split Up Tracks

If you can find some decent free MIDI sounds of each individual instrument in your string section (check out resources for some links!), you’re already light years ahead of Garageband’s stock. Use a different MIDI instrument for each of your instruments – violin, viola, cello, and double bass are the standard string section.

Even if you’re just got some stock “Orchestral Strings” instrument, try to have a unique track for each of those instruments, and keep notes that would fit for each instrument unique to that track. Just because you don’t have a specific MIDI sound for each instrument doesn’t mean you can split them up that way! Here’s a very generalized range that you can use to guide your track splits:

  • Violins can start as low as G3, and go as high as the spectrum allows
  • Violas can start as low as G1 and go to about D5
  • Cellos start as low as C2 and go as high as A4
  • Double basses are anything lower than G1

Those notes are by no means scientific or definite – they’re just a starter’s guide. I tend to have each instrument playing 3 octaves, with their lowest octave playing in the same range the instrument that’s lower than them, and their highest octave playing in the same range as the instrument higher than them.

For example: Violin would play C4-C6, Viola would play C3-C5, Cello would play C2-C4, Double bass would play C0-C2.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.53.03 AMThe tiny little letters on the keys on the left help me determine where to keep my notes.


Layer Your Sounds

If you’ve got computer power to spare, one of the simplest ways to make a strings track sound more realistic is to layer sounds. Play duplicate tracks (same notes) with different instruments.

For example, say you’ve got a violin part, and you’re using an instrument that has just the violin. To give it more oomph, you can copy/paste the notes into a new track, and use the Smart Strings instrument. Bam! Sound improved.


Modulation and Mixing

One of the awesome things about Garageband’s Smart Strings is that by turning on the modulation, you can change the kinds of sounds that play. You can get staccato, pizzicato, and legato all out of one track instead of needing to have different MIDI tracks specifically for the different ways to play.

Play with the modulation on your different instruments to see if you can get any extra sounds out of your MIDI.Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.57.12 AMA short little guide for playing the Smart Strings with Musical Typing:

  • 3 is legato – smooth, blends together, good for long notes
  • 4 is a staccato – short, jerky notes played by the bow, this is a shafting sound
  • 5 is another staccato – same as above, slightly different technique
  • 6 is a pizzicato – short, plucked notes
  • 7 is another legato – same as 3, more or less
  • 8 is another staccato – similar to 4 and 5

Mixing is the last key thing you can do to get your strings to sound more realistic. First off, do your panning well. Give each of your MIDI strings its place in the stereo field.

Finally, feel free to EQ those suckers. It’ll help clean up the sound, at the very least!


These are the things I have found take my crappy sounding strings and make them more palatable and authentic. The vice of MIDI (it sounds terrible compared to the real thing) is also its blessing – it’s a different sound than you’ll get from a real instrument. Use that to whatever ends you will.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

3 Methods for Recording a Song at Home

Your brain works in a unique and individual way. Your mind follows a logic that many other people do not understand. If your methods of sitting down and actually recording keep you content and creatively inspired, then that’s how you should be recording. But most people don’t know what processes are conducive to their own productivity. That’s how I want to help you today.

I am going to outline 3 different logical methods / processes that you can use to record a song today. If you’re sufficiently motivated and inspired, you might even be able to finish a rough draft by the time you should be in bed. Give each of them a whirl, and hopefully you’ll find something useful – even if that’s just three methods you know don’t help you.


1. Compositional Recording

I hear songs playing in my head, and I’ve found that the best way to get them from my head to the computer is to figure out each part of the song section by section. What do the first 8 bars of the intro sound like? I reproduce that until I’ve got the basics of the music recorded, and then move on.

When I say “the basics of the music,” I mean three things:

  1. The groove on the drums/bass. I don’t have to have a perfect drum beat/bass line, but the groove in my head is fundamentally represented.
  2. The basic rhythm and notes on all the instruments. If I’m hearing a breakdown, I focus on rhythm; if I’m hearing a chorus, I focus on the notes. Sometimes I end up with more of a musical skeleton, sometimes it’s closer to a proper composition. As long as I can hear the song in my head through the notes, it’s good enough.
  3. General lyrical/melodic content. Even if I don’t have all the best articulation, all I’m looking for as I record piece by piece is to understand the basic form of the song in my head.

Once I’ve got a firm understanding of how the song goes, I can take the pieces and arrange them, cut them, mix them up etc. Then I re-record all the different pieces, filling in the melodic/rhythmic/stylistic gaps that are inevitable in recording section by section.

This method is most effective if a) you use loops, b) you use MIDI, c) you don’t have perfect pitch and want to get the song out of your head before you forget it.


2. Record from the Bottom Up (Or Vice Versa)

This is pretty much the most common way anyone has ever recorded in a professional setting. You record the song from the ground up: drums first, bass, other rhythm instruments (guitars, pianos, strings), melodic instruments (vocals, guitars, strings), and you finally end with the icing on the cake: any tiny fills, licks, transitions etc. that you want to color your tune.

If you’re a one-man band at home, this is a good way to record songs, especially in the case that you’re not a drummer first, and a bassist/guitarist/vocalist second. Drummers are really good at staying in time with a metronome, but most other instruments play more in time when they can play to a solid drum pattern. I’m not trying to bash non-drummers and bassists, but in my experience guitarists, pianists, vocalists etc. are all great at following the rhythm laid down by drum’n’bass. They’re not so great at leading the rhythm.

If you used process 1. to get ideas down, you might want to re-record all of the pieces in this fashion so that it sounds coherent instead of mashed together. This is just cleaning up the brilliance you came up with by recording section by section! 🙂

Alternately, to spur your creativity you can do this process backwards: melody first, upper rhythm instruments, bass, then drums. You’ll still probably want to add the musical icing to the cake at the end, though. That makes the whole song sound much cleaner and coherent.

This recording process is great if you write your music and have a firm understanding of your song already and want to put it in MP3 form.


3. Go Old School and Record the Whole Band at Once

Back in the days of the gramophone (and more recently with the turntable), if you wanted to record a song with multiple instruments, you got your ensemble together and recorded the whole shindig in a couple takes. While you can make that all nice and complex and get a fancy interface that you can plug all the instruments into, you can also take one (1) omnidirectional mic (the Blue Snowball isn’t a bad choice), place it in a place where it can easily hear all the instruments, plug it into your computer and press record.

If that isn’t about as simple as recording gets, I don’t know what simple means.

There are several drawbacks to this process: if you don’t play with other people, you can’t ask them to come out and record with you. (It’s super important to your growth as a musician to play with other people! Do it as often as you can!) Also, it can be hard as heck to get the mic placed well so that you hear all the parts clearly and concisely, especially if you have more than four or five instruments playing (including vocals).

That being said, it’s a great way to record a song quickly and effectively!


So there you have it – 3 ways to record a song at home. They’re all effective, but definitely have their merits and setbacks. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

3 Tips for Getting the Best Sound Out of MIDI Drums

I have never had the opportunity to record an acoustic drum set. If I want drums in my songs, I have no choice but to use loops or some sort of MIDI instrument. In terms of sound, neither of those options are bad! I prefer MIDI drums because I have more complete control over the final sound. If you don’t have access to real drums or a skilled drummer, arranging a MIDI sequence is no sin – it’s making good use of the resources at your command.

Here’s my 3 cents for getting good sound from your MIDI kit.


1. Mix and Match Sets

If you don’t have third-party drum sounds, then the best way to get the sound you want out of MIDI drums is to mix up the different sounds from the presets in your digital audio workstation DAW. In Garageband that means you have to have multiple tracks for each preset you want, which can get tedious. (As you’ll see in tip 2, this can be used to your advantage.)Garageband MIDI DrumsBecause my computer is old as the hills, when I mix and match I tend to do a cymbals track and a body track to save on computing power. I might use the Heavy set for my cymbals, and the Portland set for the bass, snare, toms, and so on. If mixed and EQ-ed well, these stock MIDI drums can sound more than decent.

2. EQ and Mix Parts as Separately as Possible

As mentioned, having multiple tracks for each part of your drum is rough on your computer, but great for solid mixing. Think about it: if you were recording acoustic drums, you’d have mics everywhere. Each mic would lead to an individual track in your DAW, and could be tweaked individually.

Use panning to help create a realistic feel for your drums as well.
Use panning to help create a realistic sound from your MIDI.

In the sample above we can see again how ancient my computer is, because I still don’t have all the mics that would be on an acoustic set as its own individual track! The point remains, though: you can get the cleanest sound from the bass drum if you’re just mixing and EQing one sound. Repeat for each drumhead, and you’ve got MIDI that sounds good and is clear in the mix.

One way to remove the problem of having too many tracks would be bussing, or running separately mixed and EQed tracks through one track. I still haven’t figured out how to do this in Garageband, but if you’re doing it in another DAW, it’s a great way to save visual space on your screen, put sounds together, and mix/EQ all of those tracks together so they sound unified. (For more about buss mixing, check this video out.)

If you don’t know where to start in mixing your drums, this article here has a good foundation that you can build upon.

As I said, I usually only use two tracks. Rather than individually crafting a sonic space for each drum, I do it en masse by EQing the bass, snare, and toms in the same track. (Same for cymbals.) It’s not as clear and it doesn’t sound quite as good, but it works for maintaining my sanity and getting a decent sound.

3. Humanize Your Hits

The goal in working with MIDI instruments is to get them to sound as human as possible – that is, to sound like a real person could have played it on a nice kit. That being said, if it sounds good, it doesn’t matter whether or not a human could have played it.

But if you don’t want to sound like your drums are being played by a machine, then there’s 3 things to keep in mind.

  1. Humans have four limbs. Any drum pattern you make can’t realistically have more than 4 hits. If you’re having trouble imagining what is and isn’t humanly possible on the drums, head on to Youtube and spend half an hour watching drum tutorials.
  2. Humans don’t have perfect rhythm. When you make a MIDI track, you can quantize each note to fit the metronome perfectly. Don’t. Drummers are awesome, but even the best don’t have 100% accuracy. Quantize to 80-90% to maintain quality rhythm and humanness.
  3. Humans can’t play with the same precise power consistently. Velocity is MIDI language for power – you can set it anywhere from 0-127 in the editor. Many DAWs have a “randomize” function for velocity. No surprise, Garageband doesn’t have this function – if you want to vary and humanize your velocities, you have to go through note by note.

Personally when I’m arranging sequences, I vary velocities in my first bar, and copy+paste the notes into the next bar, and rearrange them there to fit my groove. That way each bar has some variation, even if it’s not perfectly random. Another way to is to randomly select a whole bunch of notes in the song, and lower or raise all of their velocities at once. Repeat that a couple times, and you’ve got a pretty decent randomization without literally moving each note.

That’s all I’ve found to get your MIDI drums sounding like you recorded an acoustic set.


As always, this is about doing what you can with what you have. If you have Superior Drummer 2.0 (or better, access to real drums and a real drummer) then by all means, use your resources. They will sound fantastic. For the rest of us mortals, we’ll just be here tweaking EQ to get our MIDI to sound as awesome as possible. Will it sound as good as Superior Drummer? Not even a little bit. Will it be better than wishing we had Superior Drummer? Absolutely!

I’m no expert, but if you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Mixing Basics – Start Your Journey on the Long Road

Mixing is the subjective process of taking raw audio and polishing it.

That’s all it is, all it has to be. Sure, there’s plenty of schools of thought that tell you what “polished” sounds like, but it’s all subjective to the ear of the beholder. As my music/mixes demonstrate, I’m still learning how to polish my songs in a way that is more in line with popular music. That’s right, I’m no expert.

But I’ve learned enough to share something useful, and that’s what I offer you today: a foundation to mixing.


Mixing is Finding Balance

Using your subjective listeners on either side of your head, your job as a mixer is simply to balance all of your recorded tracks so that you can hear each one clearly. Be careful not to fatigue your ears though – take many breaks, and mix at low volumes. Your ears are your most important tool as a mixer, so don’t overwhelm them or exhaust them if you can help it.

That being said, the fastest, simplest way to balance sound is by adjusting the volume levels on your tracks, and adjusting your panning.Volume Levels and Panning KnobsBalance your volumes so that you can hear everything clearly, and create a stereo field by balancing the panning to the Left and Right. A stereo field is just the space in a recording – if you’ve ever been to a symphonic performance you’ve experience something similar to a stereo field.

Violins are set to your far left, cellos and basses to your far right, with 2nd violins and violas in the middle. The different angles that the orchestra is placed at creates space in the sound – you don’t hear percussion from the right, because they’re in the back. Panning artificially creates that sense of each instrument having it’s own space.

You don’t have to pan to balance volume well, but if you use panning you need to consider how it impacts the balance of the volume and vice versa. Listen carefully to determine what sounds best, and most balanced.


Balance Using EQ

Equalization is a delicate thing to balance, and to be honest, I really struggle with it. That being said, here are three principles I use to guide me when I EQ:

  • I cut frequencies rather than boost them. If I want to hear more bass, rather than pulling up the curve near the bass frequencies, I’ll pull the curve down in the mids.
  • I try to clean up my frequencies. Use a HighPass or a LowPass (or a HighShelf/LowShelf) plugin to cut off frequencies that your instrument doesn’t need to be singing in.

    I put a LowPass on my bass so that I don't have unnecessary treble frequencies cluttering up the high range.
    I put a LowPass plugin on my bass so that I don’t have unnecessary treble frequencies cluttering up the high range.
  • Each instrument has its own little frequency zone. Bass is in the bottom, rhythm guitars are the low half of the mids, lead guitars are the higher half of the mids, vocals are in the top. Drums are tricky, as they fit into all of those. Equalizing each part of the drum individually is helpful to keep them clear.

Here’s some links to more specific numbers and guides for using EQ:


Balance Using Compression

Compression is all about taming your recording’s dynamics. Most compressors take your loudest sounds, and reduce their volume to the level of your softest sounds. This makes your recording’s volume more consistent, but also squashes your sound.

Compression is very common in pop music, but not in orchestral soundtracks. After all, if you want to go from a soft, tender moment to a huge action scene, the change from soft violins to blaring brass won’t be noticeable if it’s all an equal volume. I have elected to rarely use compression to maintain the dynamics in my songs. When I do use it, I always am careful not to overdo it and play around with ALL the settings.

The trick to successful compression is to tweak until it sounds good and well balanced. Remember, balance is your goal – if compression helps you reach that goal, then use it! But just because you have a dynamic track doesn’t mean that it needs compression.

If you want a more comprehensive discussion of compression, check out this article from The Garageband Guide.


Hope you found this article useful! I’ve found all of my most useful information on mixing came from this guy, so check him out if you want to zoom down the road to great mixing. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to justanotherhalfling@gmail.com as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!