ADN#044: Constraints Create Creativity

Artist Development
3 min readSep 24


Hey Friends -

Welcome to the Artist Development Newsletter.

Every Sunday, I send an email providing actionable tips for artists and industry on one area of the music business.

Last week, we talked about how your career will be painful.

You can re-read last week’s newsletter here if you want to refresh.

Today, we will talk about how to use constraints to create creativity.

Let’s get to it.

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Have you ever sat down to write a song, practice your instrument, post on social media, or reply to emails and did not know where to begin?

It has happened to all of us.

Sometimes, we have too many options at our disposal.

Sometimes, we have too many things we need to do that we get paralyzed and do nothing at all.

Here is a simple trick I’ve used to help when I’m not feeling creative or focused the way I need to be to do my best work.

I create constraints.

They are constraints that help me zoom in on my target.

If I’m songwriting, my target is simple.

I want to write the best song possible with my time in the day.

If I only have 2 hours of free time, I might say to myself something like:

  • The title of the song is “Luck.”
  • Write the chorus in the next 20 minutes.
  • You can only use four chords.

If you are struggling creatively or are bored with how you write, another trick would be to change the instrument you write on or the tempos you write to.

For example:

  • I’m going to write my new album on piano instead of guitar.
  • No song will be below the tempo of 100.

Plenty of other constraints you can put on your songwriting will help you zoom in and focus your attention on crafting the best song you can.

  • Only write in a particular key.
  • Don’t use a specific go-to word or phrase.

And the list goes on…

The same concept can be applied to anything else you struggle to bring your entire focus to.

Having a hard time practicing your instrument?

Don’t give yourself the option to do it whenever you’ve got free time.

You’ll always find something else to do.

Set an alert in your calendar for the same time every day and show up.

Don’t make the calendar block an hour if you won’t show up.

Start by setting a constraint that you ONLY GET TO practice for 15 minutes a day until you’ve done it seven days in a row.

Then, give yourself another 15 minutes the following week.

Constraints allow you to appreciate your time, options, and focus.

Do you feel the need to post on social media daily but struggle to develop ideas?

Set aside one time a week for all your social media ideas.

“I schedule my social media between 9 am & 11 am on Saturdays.”

Then, put a constraint on top of your constraint.

“Between 9 am & 11 am, when I schedule my social media for the week ahead, I’m only going to post about these three things.”

  • New Music
  • Tour
  • Fans

Now you know WHEN you will knock out your social media and WHAT it will be about.

All you have left to do is be creative.

You can apply constraints to anything, and it will provide a level of focus like you’ve never experienced before.

Have 100 unread emails?

Only respond to the ones that meet specific criteria.

  • Are from someone you know.
  • Are from someone you don’t know.
  • They were sent in the last 24 hours.
  • They were sent before the last 24 hours.

Let constraints create creativity.

Let constraints create action.

Let constraints create more opportunities for yourself by focusing your mind on a set of parameters that are of your own making.

Remember, constraints are there to help you when you have too many options at your disposal.

If you know exactly what you want to write or do, do it.

No constraints are needed.

But remember, constraints are there when you need them, and constraints create creativity.

See you next Sunday!

Neil Mason

Artist Development

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