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

I’m A Thinker – Collaboration with 1st Graders

I had the great pleasure to collaborate with these 1st graders to write a song about thinking. In this hyper-speed age we live in, it’s remarkable to get this great reminder to slow down… from 1st grades no less!

This video shows the first part of the song.

And here’s the chorus:

“I’m a thinker, yes that’s me
I observe the things I see
I imagine and I wonder
About my community

I’m a thinker, yes it’s true
You might be a thinker too
We find answers and solutions
Because that’s what thinkers do”

A Musical Valentine from Freshmade Music…

I put this video together for Valentine’s Day. I’m playing a piece I wrote called “My Hand In Yours”. There are lots of great ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and there’s no reason to limit it to February 14th! No matter what day it is, I hope you always get whatever you wish for, whether it’s roses, chocolate, a chance to hold someone’s hand – or just some peaceful time to yourself.



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

Country and Western

blues brothers
“ELWOOD: What kind of music do you usually have here?
CLAIRE: Oh, we have both kinds — country and western.”
– The Blues Brothers, 1980 written by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis

I like all kinds of music including, country, western, pop, jazz, classical, and world – the list goes on. I listen to lots of music too that I may or may not like; largely pop music if my kids are in the car. Maybe I should be more totalitarian about their listening habits and play more Miles Davis, Mozart and Motown? In any case, whenever I’m listening to anything, I don’t really turn off my music analyzer muscle, and this was the case when Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song”  was on the radio yesterday. I’m not prepared to make an argument for whether it’s good or bad – that’s for you to decide – but I can tell you my opinion; one of the musical reasons why this song has become popular. And I’m also going to reference A-ha’s “Take On Me” .

To me, the biggest reason why “Heartbeat Song” is popular is because of the way the beat changes between a fast, frenetic feel during the verse, and a slow, epic beat during the chorus. I think dramatic changes like this one are very compelling to pop music listeners. I think listeners generally find music interesting anytime there is a part of a song that “kicks in” or where there is a smooth feel-change that feels natural, and gets your attention; that makes you want to dance or dance in a different way than the section of the song before it.

During the verse, the words bounce along like it’s bubblegum pop, although in this case, the music is actually playing against the words. Whereas the words show worry, concern and stress, the beat just keeps moving along.

“Pins and needles on my tongue,
Anticipating what’s to come”

The drums during these verses are very simple, with the kick on 1 and 3, the snare on 2 and 4 – the drums are hitting every quarter note here. There is a rhythm part played by a guitar or synth – or maybe doubled that is playing 8th notes. The verse has a very quick, driving feel. The pre-chorus has an interesting transitional feel to it. It’s a broken beat that forecasts some of the drama to come, but it doesn’t get too epic.

Then we get to the chorus. The beat here is in ½ time, as compared to the verse. If this section were experienced by itself, this could be the climax of a ballad. The feel here is very epic – Clarkson is singing in a higher part of her register, and the words are meant to be… heartfelt.

“This is my hearbeat song and I’m gonna play it, been song long, I forgot how to turn it up up up up all night long….”

Which brings me to A-ha’s “Take On Me”. This song employs this same technique in the chorus, just in a smaller dose.

In the beginning of the song, the whole feel is quite fast, again bouncing along. The chorus has the same feel, and momentum moves forward until you get to the line
“I’ll be gone….” For these 4 bars, there is a brief respite of ½ time, right before singer A-ha singer Morten Harket sing’s his falsetto high note. In the music video, it’s the moment when the animated hand breaks the third wall and motions for our blond protagonist to enter into comic book world. This all doesn’t happen as a coincidence… To me, this is one of the attractions of the song and even provides one of the reasons why this was a breakout hit for A-ha in 1985.