If you’re making your own music, finishing your tracks may be the most frustrating thing you’ve had to do.
It’s something countless creators struggle with, and artists the world over have the nightmare of managing to get things created.
I’ve collected some advice on the topic, but before we dive into it all – be aware that not all of these techniques will work for everyone. We all produce and create in different ways, so what works for you may not work for someone else.
This post was taken directly from one of the units in my Successful Self Releasing course – it’s full of similar information and processes.
Mike Monday makes a very good point in his “Start Now Finish Fast” material, that one of the most important things you can do for your music career is to finish lots of music.
The more you manage to finish, the more you’ll see yourself improve and progress. This progress becomes motivation to do even more. As you do more, you’ll improve the quality and so even if you make lots of bad stuff to begin with, the fact that you’re finishing tracks means you’re getting better, and once you get better, you’ll feel better about the whole thing!
Allow your mood to dictate how and when you produce. You may find days when you struggle to create anything. Use those days for admin, update your site, collect loops or organise your music collection.
On those days where you feel creative, run with it. Make, make, make. Do ten loops, fifty loops, just work on creation of sounds and worry less about fine- tuning or arrangement. When you’re feeling less creative, you can tackle the arrangement and mix-downs.
Listen to your favourite tracks from an analytical point of view. How do they build up and break down tracks? How do they finish things? What structure do they use?
Can you take these tracks and use them as a template. Don’t re-create them, but use them as a guide for when to introduce elements and for how long – allow that to dictate your structure so you can concentrate on sound creation.
Don’t feel bad abandoning a track that you’re not feeling. Any track you abandon isn’t lost it’s learned from.
Any track you discard can be salvaged. Take any loops or sounds you have created and render them down. Save the MIDI sequences, render out the drums, and stick them in a folder on your computer somewhere. Then if you want to bring in elements, just go see what works.
You can also use these parts to effectively remix your own work – try working in a different style but with the same elements.
Set yourself some goals and try to stick to them. Maybe you want to make a track in a week, or finish your synth lines by tomorrow night. Force yourself to stick to it and see if you can overcome your urge to set it all aside or start something fresh.
In fact, why not set yourself an unrealistic goal. Pump out an idea and a track in 10 minutes. What does that do to the way you produce? How does that change the way you create ideas?
There’s no shame in posting a work in progress (WIP) to somewhere like Soundcloud and sharing it with some friends. You could even upload it privately and send the link to some close producer-friends and see if they’ll give you a bit of feedback. I have a few friends i know will always help me out with this sort of thing, and even if it’s not their style, they can often give me a different viewpoint.
Take some time away from the track. Go for a run, a cycle or sleep on it.
Return to the track with pen and paper, and play it without looking at the screen. See how you feel about it – you may find things you didn’t notice, and don’t be afraid to write everything down.
This might be a case of changing your work environment slightly with some lights, candles or a new picture on the wall. Maybe shove your desk over to the other side of the room.
It may be more drastic, like taking your laptop out to the park, with you on a train ride, or on holiday. See how the different environment affects your mood, your production methods, and the way you want to create.
Your lack of progress or finishing ability may be down to distractions. Turn the internet off, get away from your browser. Forget Facebook, Twitter, email etc.
I used to know a producer who would go down to his basement to make tracks, because he knew he got no signal on his phone down there, and without that and the internet, he was free to concentrate completely on the music he was making.
Don’t go wild with buying new gear, but often a new piece of kit or software can trigger some brand new ideas.
There’s a point where too many VSTs or synths, keyboards and kit is a bad thing, but if you’ve had the same setup for a while, why not try something new.
Hardware like an APC, or Ableton Push could trigger (pun intended!) some new ideas or if you’re software-based, then a new VST could be what you need.
I’d also recommend finding some obscure tutorials for the kit that you do have. Do you use Massive synth a lot? Why not see if there’s some new sounds you can create for it, or follow some tutorials on how to use it in a different way.
When you know the gear you have inside-out, it’s often quite liberating during the creation process.
Don’t be scared of chopping your track up and changing it drastically.
Try working at a completely different tempo, or throwing away the central elements in favour of something new. Go wild.
Brian Eno was a big believer in studio limitations. He discusses things like
only using black keys on the keyboard, not being able to repeat any phrases, only using one particular sound and so on. You can come up with your own limitations, or consider some of his. Check out his RBMA lecture for more ideas.
As a web designer, I often go to talks on print-design, music, motion graphics, video and so on. My reasoning is that I feel it’s healthy to look outside your primary field of work for inspiration.
Often I leave talks inspired in ways I had never imagined, and regularly “port” ideas from one medium over to my design work.
Doing this with music could mean finding a different genre, a different discipline, a different setup (orchestral anyone?), going to the opera, a gig, visiting a record store to browse old vinyl, or looking at other fields of art for your inspiration.
This may seem like an obvious one, but for me this is a great help. I spend hours and hours trawling Soundcloud. I start with artists I love, or people I follow, and I just go deeper and deeper down the Soundcloud rabbit-hole.
What tracks do my favourite artists like or repost? What about labels that released tracks I’m in to? Who follows them, and who do they follow in turn?
The longer you spend doing this, the more you’ll stumble across. I’ve found some of my favourite artists this way, and it continues to inspire me.
That inspiration gives me the energy I need to get tracks finished.
Put your ego aside, and stop thinking about whether anybody else thinks the track is good. Do it in your own way.
Stop worrying about how it might be received, or if a label will sign it. Assume that it won’t be signed or even listened to by anyone else. How will you finish it now?
Remember that there’s no rush. Creative things cannot be rushed or forced.
If you can change the way you think about your music production, you may be able to trigger a new phase of production or creativity.
They say that “art” is never finished. Understand that you can’t finish every track. It is OK to discard a track, never to be resurrected. Fatboy Slim apparently said he finishes around 1 in 10 of his tracks.
Realise that good ideas often finish themselves. They appear fast, and if you can catch the momentum, they may often be done and dusted in a few hours. Allow this to happen naturally.
Remember that anything you discard is not strictly lost, but learned from. You have the experience from working on it, however brief, and it’s enriched your future production, whether or not you are aware. The more you do ( finished or un finished), the more you learn, the better you get.
Dennis DeSantis wrote a book, which was published by Ableton called
“Making Music. 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers” I highly recommend picking up a copy. Not only is it a beautiful book for your shelf, it’s genuinely useful for those who produce electronic (and other) music. It will give you loads of exercise and ways to think about what you’re doing.
If you’re really still struggling, and things like motivation, focus, stress and finishing tracks are a major issue for you, then Mike Monday runs a 6-month course called “Start Now Finish Fast” which you may find useful.
I know I’ve mentioned it a few times now – I’ve taken it myself and can vouch for the quality, but I don’t get commission, referrals or anything from recommending, other than the knowledge that you might find it helpful.
Getting songs and tracks finished is going to be different for everyone, so try to figure out what works for you and run with it.
All of this advice came from one of the units in my Successful Self Releasing course – it’s full of similar information and processes.
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