Seven Steps of Creativity

Creativity can seem elusive. For some people, it’s loaded with fear and superstition. The fear is that just by asking, trying to look the muse directly in the eye, we risk scaring the muse away!

With a little bit of faith in my heart and my fingers firmly crossed, I took some time to examine my creative process. I was somewhat surprised to learn that I go through a similar process each time I complete something creative. In my examination, I broke my creative process down into steps. Here are:

My 7 Steps of Creativity are: the spark, organization, the brainstorm, assessment, execution, revisions, declaring it done.

I realize that there are likely tons of really great ways to approach creativity effectively and there is probably no real magic to the way I personally approach creativity. This just happens to be mine.

I notice that I don’t always use each of these steps in order — sometimes I skip around a little bit, but I do touch on each one at some point. I’ve outlined a brief explanation of each of the 7 Steps below and I’m including some tips on how I try to optimize each one.

How can you use these steps and how can they benefit you? For me, I use this process for writing articles, producing music tracks, writing songs, and collaborating with other creative folks. This process may be helpful for you if you’re working on a large project that you need to tackle but seems daunting, or if you’re trying to figure out the best way to start a project — perhaps you’ve got a temporary case of writer’s block ? And why don’t we just assume that all writer’s block is temporary?

1. The Spark

The Spark is that kernel of an idea that seems to magically enter into your head. Sometimes the spark comes quickly, in the shower or when you’re driving — hopefully not when you’re trying to do both! But sometimes you have to will it into existence. Either way, you want to be ready when your great inspiration arrives. Here’s what I recommend:

Optimize Tip: Create your space

The idea here is that you want to open the creative space in your mind for the spark to come. A free mind is an inviting environment for creative ideas.

Do whatever you need to do, both mentally and physically to make sure your mind is free of distractions. When I have a lingering bill, phone call or email to write, then I take care of it, especially if it means it will free up more room in my brain to be creative. I can be easily distracted from checking my email and checking into social media, so I create some guidelines for myself.

I don’t like to begin work until I have an organized work space. If it would help you to have a clean work area, then set aside some time or put an action plan together about how and when you’re going to clean your space. And if you have to, find somewhere else to work, like your local coffee shop.

A note of caution here — if you find that the “create your space” step is taking more time than you expected (“Oh, my 5th grade class photo… I wonder where Desmond is?”) than be careful that you’re not using this as a reason to procrastinate.

2. Organization

When I was just starting out composing music for film and TV, I would have a tendency to jump the gun and start making stuff way too early in the process — right after getting the spark — without having nearly enough information. I would make a number of assumptions and then be prepared to deliver music based on these assumptions to my clients. As you might imagine, many of my assumptions would be wrong, my music wouldn’t be quite right, and in the very beginning, my ego was a bit bruised. If I had been a little more patient and just asked questions and listened to the answers, I would have been in a much better position.

Optimize Tip: Gather information by research or listening

Answer who, what, where and when. This is when you’re the project manager; where you identify what you’re doing, how you’re going to do it, who’s responsible for what, what your deadlines are and whether there are any additional resources that you’re going to need. If you’re working with clients, this is the part where you listen to how they understand the project, you ask lots of questions, and you clarify whatever you need to. For many creative projects, it’s often clear in somebody’s head what creative solution will work — if you’re working for that creative person, you want to make sure you get the full creative download on what they’re expecting, so it becomes clear in your head too.

While capturing all of these details may sound stifling, most creative folks thrive on having a structure so they know exactly what they’re working on. I personally love knowing what my deadline is, who my target audience is, who I’m working with, who will be reviewing my work, and what the parameters are for the project.

3. The Brainstorm

The point of the brainstorm section is to get lots of ideas together so that you can choose the best ones. Sometimes my first idea is good, but I’ve noticed that I can push myself to see “What else can I do?” or “How else can I solve this?” In situations where I’ve come up with multiple ideas, I’ve often taken elements from a few different ideas to find the winning solution.

Optimize Tip: Allow yourself to create without judgement

Sometimes when I’m writing a piece of music, I may write three really quick sketches knowing that I’ll assess them at a later time, and honestly not really worry about whether they’re good. This is the time for creating content, not judging it. It’s critical in this stage to turn your editor off so that you can freely express your ideas without the little voice inside you constantly saying “no, that sucks” or “people are never going to like this.”

4. Assessment

This is when you can let the editor in and freely judge the brainstormed ideas. For me, I really appreciate starting the assessment process after I’ve had some space from the initial brainstorming session, whether it’s overnight or after I’ve taken a brief break from creating. This way, I can try to have a fresh perspective, and I can try not to be emotionally attached to any one idea.

Quick note — while the assessment step may take place here, and it may take place again, later in the process.

Optimize Tip: Try to be your own fair, balanced critic

The sooner you can be honest with yourself, the better. If you really like something you’ve created, and you’ve gotten positive feedback from folks who understand what you’re doing, there’s a good chance that some group of folks out in the world will like it too. But if I create something, look at it a few days later, and I’m not in love with it? I give myself permission to to step away and start again, especially if I don’t know how to make changes so that I’ll love it. Sometimes the quicker that you can judge that something won’t work can save valuable creative time to focus on the ideas that you think are worth pursuing. Besides, I always keep all my work — even the discarded ideas because sometime those so-so ideas get revised and turn into great projects.

5. Execution

Optimize Tip: Create fast and cheap prototypes

You want some way to be able to really quickly assess the viability of your idea. Sometimes you can only see a dramatic flaw from a mockup that you can’t see on paper. I record demos and listen. I audition instruments and see how they’re working together. If it’s appropriate, I get feedback from trusted sources. Again, it’s often helpful to allow yourself to experiment, fail and revise in this step.

Optimize Tip: Try 3–5 versions

Put together 5 beginnings. Create 3 endings — quickly, but don’t polish them yet. You want to put only enough energy in to see whether your project is working. If it isn’t, create some more. If it is, and all it needs is polish, then that’s fantastic!

(At this point, I often go back to #4 Assessment)

6. Revisions

If you have an inkling in your gut that you should change a small part of your project, do it and see if you like it better. In the majority of these situations, a small change might take a little more time to fix, but is totally worth it in the end.

Optimize Tip: Revisions can make or break the project

Sometimes it’s easy to blast through the initial creation phase of a project, but I notice that I slow down for the analysis portion. I often find that analyzing projects to figure out how to improve them can take much more time, and can be a much more delicate process. Very often a few very small changes can make a big difference in a project. When I’m working on a music track, I try to listen to reference tracks to make sure I’m getting the mix that I’m trying for. During the brainstorming and execution steps, I may make broad strokes. In this revision step I’m more conscious of working carefully and more skillfully.

7. Completion — Declare it Done

Sometimes you have an external deadline when you have to turn in your work, so that whatever you’re working on can go to the next step. And sometimes, creatively you need a break — you’d like to wrap it up and start something else.

Optimize Tip: Try to get it finished “enough”

There are times when I’ve finished a project because I’ve run out of time. In fact this can sometimes be a blessing. There are projects that come together very quickly — 90% is finished in a day or two, then I take 3 days to try to polish the last 10% (See the Revisions Step above). Be careful with how long you take to complete the final polish. When you think a project might be done — get some feedback if you need to, take a deep breath, do one last check, then pitch it, send it, ship it — whatever needs to happen. Then move on to the next project (and perhaps start again at step #1!).

Creating something can be a pretty messy process. In my mind, I come up with an idea, work on it, then it’s finished. But when I stopped to examine my process, I realized there is a lot more to it. I also realized that I don’t generally bring superstition and fear into my creative process when I’m mindful of following the 7 Steps of Creativity.

If you have any interesting tips to share about your creative process, or if you have any questions or feedback about these 7 Steps, I’d love to hear from you. I’m always fascinated to learn about how other folks approach their creative process. I’m especially interested to see how other folks start and finish creative projects. Go make stuff!

Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. For 15 years, Jerome has created music for advertising, apps, and kid’s video games. Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows on NBC. ABC and Fox. Jerome also creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio. You can learn more at

My Job’s Most Important Skill

The most important skill in my job is listening, though perhaps not the way you may be thinking if you know me. I run an independent audio production studio called Freshmade Music, so I rely on my ears for my job. What I’m referring to here is listening to what other humans are saying. I’m talking about communication; really understanding what my clients and potential clients are looking for, where we can bounce ideas back and forth so that not only do I understand what they’re saying – and here’s the kicker – they trust me. Because if you’re in a business relationship of any kind, and you’re really listening and understanding what your role is, and you’re able to deliver and excel effectively in your role, you begin to gain trust. This is especially important fast-paced environments, like the industries I work on, when I’m creating music for advertising, apps, games and TV.

I’ll explain more. But first we have to talk about burritos. My daughter really likes burritos, so we order them to-go from her favorite taqueria once a week. She really likes what she likes, but she really doesn’t like what she doesn’t like. Who doesn’t? I don’t blame her.  When she wasn’t really old enough to place her own order, I’d order for her. Sometimes I would place our order too quickly while trying to keep the rest of my family’s order together in my head and screw up her order. I’d either forget to specify which kind of beans she wanted, or forget to tell the restaurant that she wanted the regular size, not the smaller kids size, because she likes to eat half today and save the other half for another meal. How would the taqueria know that? They wouldn’t! There were times when she got the wrong order, and she would get upset. Mean Daddy. (As I said, it was my fault – at least like 90% of the time). Where was the error? Was this a bad burrito? No. Was this suddenly a bad restaurant? No. This was quite simply a communication breakdown. I didn’t stop and take the appropriate amount of time that I needed to place the order correctly, thus she didn’t receive what she wanted.

Here’s another example, this one from my work experience. When I was just starting out, a client explained the germ of an idea to me. At this early point, I was so excited! I immediately committed my first error when I assumed that the most important thing I could do was to prove to them that I could read their mind and show them how great my music was. Good intention, but wrong decision. What I didn’t understand in this early project, is that I failed to slow down and take in enough information to even begin producing music that the client might like. I should have asked more questions about genre, music function, target audience, instrumentation, and more. This in turn would have sparked a more in-depth conversation with my client. But no, I just started creating music that I thought was perfect, and thought that the client would just love it. Well… that early experience was eye-opening. I couldn’t believe that my client didn’t like the cool music I put together! But I quickly realized, the music was fine; it just wasn’t the right music. More importantly, I hadn’t taken time to communicate with my client, so we weren’t really collaborating yet. I didn’t have any buy-in.

It took me a few more projects to realize that if you have full buy-in from them team you’re working with, especially in a creative industry like mine, you’re much more likely to stay on the team for more iterations and to see the project through to its end. Luckily my client was patient and stuck with me. My first draft wasn’t for naught – this track led to a very productive conversation with the client and she allowed me to submit more music that was much closer to what we both thought would work, and after a few tweaks my final music was approved.

Do you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share? Please share them with me at

Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. For 15 years, Jerome has created music for advertising, apps, kid’s video games and has placed his music in major TV shows like Gordon Ramsey’s “The F-Word” and “The Bachelor”. Jerome also creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio. You can learn more at

Faders – Career Ideas: 5 Tips for Creative People Who Excel at Multiple Things

Over the last few years I’ve attended a couple audio and music industry conferences where I’ve participated in panels discussing careers and networking. Here is a question that has come up a few times…

Allen (who’s name I have changed) asks: “I’m a musician, engineer, producer, sound designer and songwriter. I’ve had a job assisting an engineer for a couple years, but I’m not sure I want to keep doing it. I think it might take a couple more years until I’m sitting in the engineer chair, but I don’t know if I want to wait that long. I think I may want to do something that feels more creative. What should I do? How can I do all of those things?”

My answer… yes and maybe! My favorite analogy is that of a mixing board with faders. In Allen’s case, there are 5 things that he wants to do – and let’s assume he does them all well. First things first – we need to take a step back and recognize that he’s done something well enough to convince someone else to pay him to be an engineering assistant, and presumably he’s paying his bills with a job, that is at least related to what he wants to do. Good job, Allen!

With our fader analogy, we’re going to assign each of the things Allen wants to do to a fader. Our goal is to bring up all the faders, and make it sound good. Sometimes Allen might bring a few faders up and leave a few down. It’s possible that he never has them all up at the same time. Right now, you could say that the engineering “fader” is mostly all the way up, and all the others are down – but as Allen has expressed, this is not exactly what he wants to do.

Would it be possible for Allen to bring the producing fader up a bit? Can Allen focus more on producing during the evening and weekends, while he keeps his current job? Does he have after-hours access to the studio? Can he bring artists or other projects in during these times?

What about some of Allen’s other interests? Does he have buddies that he’s in a band with, and can he bring them into the studio? Does he have friends making records elsewhere? Do any of them need songs or musicians? That could cover being a musician, engineer, producer and songwriter.

While Allen might be impatient to make a career switch, we should recognize that his experience as an engineer will be an asset to any other project he enters into. Also, it’s important to note, that since Allen is already otherwise making his living, it’s not essential that he make money from these other activities right away. It’s more important to build his network, credits and track record. For example, it would likely be better for Allen to have produced, engineered and mixed three of his friends bands – and for those to sound awesome, then for him to hold out for too much money and not have produced anyone, thus not having anything for prospective clients to check out.

Which is not to say that Allen should work totally for free (ever!), even for friends. In this era of KickStarter and PledgeMusic, it’s possible for a band to raise some amount of money. Perhaps someone in the band can trade you for professional services like helping to put together a website or helping with PR.

While you may not share Allen’s specific skill set, hopefully you can see what I mean with the fader analogy. I have many creative friends who do quite a few different things really well. Some have decided to focus on one career path and then switch somewhere along the line; others have figured out a way to be more multi-disciplined. Please let me know if you have any comments or have an ideas that have worked for you.

Here are my 5 Tips for Creative People Who Excel at Multiple Things:
1. Pay your rent. You need to be able to cover living expenses, food, etc. If this means taking a day job – do it. For the vast majority of us, we’re much more functional creative humans if we don’t have to worry about day-to-day expenses and where we’re going to sleep at night. Also, make sure you have a solid plan of how to push your creative self forward if it ends up being on the evenings and weekends. Taking care of yourself first isn’t an original idea; it’s basically taken from “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. To learn more about that, check out:

2. Become a master. Start with one skill that you’re already good at and try to master it. Get help from someone who already does this better than you, whether it’s a formal teacher, a mentor or some learning materials.

3. Choose wisely. There are lots of parts of the recording, audio and music industries that don’t pay the bills, and they can be extremely competitive. Some of these areas feel like a lottery (in fact your chances might be better in some lotteries!). If there is a specific area of the industry that you’re serious about pursuing, make sure you are realistic about your chances, and make alternate plans in case your dream doesn’t bring money in, or doesn’t bring in money right away.

4. Plan for the long game. If you’re planning to be a full-time creative person, especially if you’re living in an expensive creative city, I recommend start with 2 years of living expenses and assuming that you will earn $0 from your creative work.

5. Be flexible. Sometimes a job in your industry that ends up bringing you financial gain or recognition is not the area that you set out to work in. If you end up with a specialty, don’t fight it!

Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter and audio producer. He’s also an educator, engineer, writer and professional musician! He usually has only one of his faders all the way up! He is best known as the composer for the Happy Tree Friends. Since 2005, Jerome has scored the music for this animated Internet sensation, recognized as the most-viewed web series of all time, with over 2 billion video views. You can learn more about him at

West Coast Songwriters Conference

General’s Quarter’s, Fort Mason
San Francisco, California

September 26 & 27

For more information:

I’ll be moderating 2 events at this year’s West Coast Songwriter’s conference.

The first is a speed-networking event with the guests and attendees of the event. This should be a fun and chaotic way to meet and network with tons of folks in a short period of time.

The second is a panel “Streaming Unraveled”. We’re discussing where the music industry is in regards to streaming and distributing music. We’re going to showcase some of the the powerful tools that artists and songwriters can use to get their music out, reach their crowd, and get onto the path of making some money.

Five Tips To Help You Reach Deadline Zen

Deadlines: Inspiration or Impediment?

As a creative professional, I rely on deadlines as motivation and inspiration. Sometimes they can be a bright shimmer of heavenly light, beaming angelically from the end of the day Friday. Other times, they are a hot, scary, stress-inducing firebrand, pushing you to sprint, not walk; a motivational kick in the… pants! Either way, since deadlines are inevitable, I’ve come to see them as a tool.

“I am one of those people who thrive on deadlines, nothing brings on inspiration more readily than desperation.” – Harry Shearer

DSC_0385Some Context
I’m a composer for TV, video games and cartoons. I generally deliver a finished music file that gets placed immediately into project. If it’s a TV show, it may be broadcast the day after I deliver my file. If it’s a video game, it will immediately get implemented into the game, and entered into an extensive testing process. In both of these cases, my deadlines matter – someone is waiting for me to finish my part, so the project can move forward to next step. There is both carrot and stick associated to this; I often get paid at deadline milestones, but I’m also generally concerned (afraid?) about my deadline, as I don’t want to be the source of a bottleneck.

Five Tips to Deadline Zen
I’ve put together a handful of tips that I use to keep my work on schedule. While you may not find any of these exactly revolutionary, I find it helpful to be reminded of these ideas from time to time.

1) Break down the large project into little bits. Take one first step. Make sure you understand the big picture. If you’ve had a conversation with your client or collaborator, and you know where you’re going, then you’re ready to break the work into a smaller piece, and get cracking.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

2) Make sure you’re organized. When you’re working quickly, you can’t take time to fix your process. If you find this to be an issue, take time to work through this in the future when you don’t have a deadline.

I notice when I work really fast, I can be very creative, but I have a higher likelihood of letting small details slide, and a higher likelihood of being paranoid about whether that small details might slide! If you’re organized, these small details can have a better chance of falling into place.

“The thing that would most improve my life is 27 hours in a day. I could meet all my deadlines.” – Yoko Ono

3) Choose the right people to work with. Beware of the “Toxic Collaborator”! There are folks who think they only thrive on tight deadlines, those who never meet deadlines and those who just unfortunately aren’t very organized. There is a high likelihood that you might come across these people as colleagues, team members or clients, and sometimes you just don’t have a choice. (It’s possible that you are one of these people. It’s OK! You’re working on that, right?) It’s best to know the situation up front, so you can be prepared. It may be helpful to plan ahead by putting some extra organizational tools into place or setting some internal deadlines that occur prior to the client deliverable. Sometimes these folks are very creative, and you really don’t want to stifle that creativity, but you do need to effectively manage the project so that everything happens when it needs to.

4) Know what you’re getting into. “Is it always like this?” I like to put my deadlines into perspective. There are whole industries that have built-in, always crazy, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off deadlines like nightly TV shows, technology products and the stock market. Handling these sorts of deadlines is often the whole point of the job. If you can thrive under this sort of pressure, that’s awesome – just make sure you know what you’re getting into.

5) Plan ahead. I love being involved in planning meetings at the beginning of a project, when creative, administrative and scheduling expectations are set out. This can be a great opportunity to have some input into what’s possible in regards to timing. This is the time to get the deadlines right. I prefer building in small milestones, so my clients are incrementally checking my work as we go, instead of one big reveal at the end. For instance, it can often be better to devise four small deadlines (and perhaps incremental payments associated to that) rather than one big deadline.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams

If any of these tips are interesting to you, try implementing them one at a time, if you’re aren’t already working this way. As you get back to work, I hope you’re able to reach maximum deadline Zen!

Do you have any experiences or other tips that you’d like to share about deadlines? I’d love to hear from you at

Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter and professional musician.  He is best known as the composer for the Happy Tree Friends. Since 2005, Jerome has scored the music for this animated Internet sensation, recognized as the most-viewed web series of all time, with over 2 billion video views. He has delivered his music on or ahead of his deadlines for the last 15 years. You can learn more about him at