I don't know who coined the expression, limitation breeds creativity, but it's a phrase that has always stuck with me any time I'm trying to be creative. It might have started with my high school hippy art teacher who always gave us one crayon or colored pencil and a single sheet of paper. Either she thought a still life drawing in only maroon was cool, or the school's art department had some serious financial issues. The only results I found about this phrase online that holds any merit is a quote from Orson Welles, that read "absence of limitations was the enemy of art." I believe this statement to be true. I'm most creative when I set boundaries that should be overcome uniquely.
So, I decided to apply this mantra to the art of dawless jamming. Keeping myself from being paralyzed by too many choices, I set up physical, financial, and time limitations. Below is a quick list of those limitations, along with some examples.
Physical Space – I wanted a workspace that wasn't too big, was free from clutter, and easy to move around. I decided to build a two-tier platform that sat on a heavy-duty keyboard stand limited to just four feet wide and two feet deep. All devices that I use in my ensemble would need to fit on this platform, which meant I had to compromise; one large or a few smaller synths?
Buy Used – I try to buy used equipment whenever possible. There are some fantastic deals on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Reverb, eBay, and your local music store. I picked up a Novation UltraNova from a guy I found on Marketplace for an amazing price. I never heard of it before seeing the post, but I realized it was a great little synth after doing some research. It had all the features of those that were much more expensive.
Buy Demo or Floor Model – Many musical instrument retailers online like Sweetwater and Musiciansfriend offer demo models at upwards of 20% off. The equipment is practically new but was used in a video or to review. Physical stores like Guitar Center also offer discounts on their floor models but be aware that many more hands have touched those instruments.
Wait for Price Drop – If you have the patience, wait for a sale or price drop. I purchase samples from Bigfishaudio, and my wish list is always full. I'll wait for a special on select sample packs; I'll often get 60-70% off. Why pay full price?
Build It Yourself – Any chance I get to create something out of wood, I'll take it. Not only does it save money, but it has more sentimental value. I already mentioned the jam stand, but I also built monitor speaker stands, a Telecaster guitar, a drumset, and even the studio shed. They might not be the highest level of craftsmanship, but I saved a ton, and they're all configured to my specifications.
Set a Timer – When I start a new song, I give myself a strict time frame so I don't muck around with a piece too long. I usually give myself no more than two hours to build the drum tracks, basslines, and motifs on the MPC. I then give myself a week to work out all the other parts on my rig before shooting a video.
Now I realize that when you set limits for yourself, the outcome isn't always perfect. However, these boundaries often force the artist into a motivational state where things are getting done. The art you create that isn't perfect is better than the art you never created at all. I guess it's a lot like" 'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," Alfred Lor Tennyson.
Brian Lundgren is a marketing professional, musician, and family man living in the Southeast region of Massachusetts.