I've been keeping Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategy cards handy in the studio.  Basically, each card is printed with a prompt, an aphorism or a single word. Pulling a card from the deck is intended to suggest an angle of attack or to introduce a random, contingent notion to help work through any creative block. And they work. Not because the cards unfailingly supply the correct solution each time, but because the card's content is usually enough to shift your thinking into a lateral path towards the right, if not the only, solution. For those of you who aren't familiar with the cards, there's a website that will tell you all you want to know.

Here's an example of how I used the deck: I was having trouble getting the right mood on a lead vocal. Without fully realizing it I had locked onto the idea that my vocal should mimic the frustration, anger and dissatisfaction reflected in the lyrics of a song about the soul of a man condemned to Hell. I was twisting myself in knots trying to make the performance sound like it was being delivered from the depths of hell itself. I wanted that cocktail of emotions. But I was vexed because the results sounded forced and histrionic. So I pulled a card from the deck. It read "Disconnect from desire." I tried the vocal again, this time focusing on hitting the notes without being overly concerned about the emotional affect of my delivery. It worked. It wouldn't work for every song, but it was just the prompt I needed in this critical situation.