Everything ever made by any human being is simply an organization or reordering of that which is already inherently possible within the universe. No one says “bippidy boppidy boo, here’s an iphone.” Somebody figured out how to get this rock out of the earth, melt it down and combine it with this other rock, shape it like this, put this other sort of thing we found in the earth over the top of it, shoot this piece of metal from the earth up into the sky…etc After enough of this, you push send, and your friend in Moscow gets a text message from you.
Creativity then is simply learning how to mess with that which already exists and hopefully make something new out of it. In the western musical scales, we only have 12 notes to work with. Then you generally only have like 16 beats in a standard bar (plus the odd tuplet now and then) that anybody uses to make any rhythms out of. So with 12 notes and a handful places to place those notes in rhythm, you get pretty much every song you’ve ever heard.
Creativity becomes a little less daunting when you start narrowing the parameters like that. To be creative in music, you don’t have to just blindly come up with a sound out of nothing. There’s been loads of people who have come before you who have done things like invent instruments and temper some scales for you. They have figured out how to play chords on those instruments, and made books for you to learn those chords. People have categorized certain “genres” of music by certain tones, instrumentation and other stylistic distinctions, and lots of people have crafted languages for you to communicate with. So you really have a lot of the work done for you already. You just get to mess around with combining all of that stuff into something that moves you.
As a creative person then, a lot of the work is simply wading through the things in your hands and saying no to the things that don’t fit the work that you are trying to do. It’s like the old Michelangelo story about how he said that all he did to make the great masterpiece David was simply to cut away all that was not David. He didn’t have to conjure up the human form out of nothing. That already existed. The stone already existed. The tools for cutting already existed. His main job was to simply say no to things that didn’t belong there in that stone.
If you feel like you want to up the creativity of your craft, maybe learn how to say no a little more. That lyric that has been used a thousand times by other people…maybe say no to the present form of that, and let it morph into something else. That same chord progression that you heard in those 1,400 other songs… What if you said no to that for this song and experimented with other sounds until finally one pops up that is worth not saying “no” to.
Crafting… Creating… You don’t have to actually make something up out of thin air. Just throw stuff that already exists at the work and if it doesn’t stick, let it fall to the ground. Now and then something might stick though, and after enough “no’s”, something beautiful might emerge.