Looking to finish more tracks in 2021? Today, I’m helping you with 6 tips to help you finish more tracks this year!
Developing musical ideas, finding new sounds, and applying your creativity during the initial stages of making a song is the fun and sexy part of making music. That’s why we make music, right?
On the other hand, finishing tracks can be really hard. Once the creative dust settles and the ideas you made need to be improved, removed, or better arranged, producing music can become frustrating and tedious. However, finishing is the most important part of your track since, without it, you can’t really release your tracks and get the benefits from your hard work.
Therefore, to help you out with that, here’s what we’ll talk about today:
- Why Is It Dangerous Not to Finish Tracks?
- Techniques to Finish Tracks
Let’s dive right in!
Why Is It Dangerous Not to Finish Tracks?
Don’t get me wrong, I think every stage in the process of making music has its beauty. Nonetheless, even doing something as fun as making music has its banal moments.
The dangerous part is that if you don’t have systems put in place to help you move forward through these moments, it can be easy to put that project to the side and start another new and exciting project where you can satiate your short-term-focused brain and just do the fun parts.
Why is this “dangerous”? Because you get in a cycle of creating without actually finishing musical ideas. This may be fun, but people don’t pay money to listen to half-finished musical ideas. You like to listen to music that is complete, right? And, more importantly, if you’re not finishing your tracks, you can’t release it, which is what will move your career forward.
Now, I’m not saying that only focusing on creation is a bad thing. You could “batch” certain behaviors and tasks during a given time period to improve productivity, and I will talk more about this below. However, what I’d like to focus on is providing some simple solutions that’ll help you finish tracks in a timely manner.
The underlying motivation for these 6 tips is to control the monkey mind inside of us all. The mind that only wants easy, fun, and pleasurable things to do. The more you control that little monkey, the more your long-term oriented brain can better prioritize and execute what needs to get done.
Avoid Digital Distractions From Getting in Your Way
This one is the most simple of my tips, but is often the hardest to implement.
The variety of apps and websites that populate our mobile devices and computers are always competing for our attention. They are designed to ensure you spend as much time on the platform as possible.
However, when it’s music-making time, there is no need to have these services notifying you of news, likes, comments, etc. There is a time and place for that. So, what you should do is turn your phone on airplane mode and face its screen down on the table. Since finishing tunes can be mind consuming, these distractions can suck you from making the hard efforts you’ll need to finish tracks, so avoid them at all costs.
“Well Chad, what about my computer? Do I need to turn it on airplane mode as well?”
I’d say that it depends. My personal workflow doesn’t necessitate the use of internet when I’m producing. Everything that I need for producing (samples, frequency charts, VST plug-ins, etc.) are all downloaded onto my computer locally.
There are a couple exceptions:
- Using plug-ins that require an internet connection, especially if you’re using services like Ilok’s Cloud Connection;
- Syncing files with cloud or sharing services.
I use a few plugins that occasionally need an internet connection to function. For our Ericksii projects, since we are a duo, we use Dropbox to sync all of our data. I ensure that Dropbox is synced before I start my session, then immediately following my session I will ensure it gets synced again with the new changes.
Aside from that, 99% of the time my computer is on airplane mode to control my monkey mind from convincing me I need to watch a 30 minute video on YouTube or do some other semi-related task that is ultimately just a distraction. The problem is that once you’re distracted, it’s much harder to regain focus.
Although working disconnected could limit you, you’ll find a deeper connection with your work and your focus.
- Put your digital devices on airplane mode when working on your tracks. Your notifications can wait and your friends, most likely, wouldn’t like to interrupt you;
- If you have a hard time staying away from the internet, turn your WIFI and/or internet cable off. Don’t let temptation get in the way.
Avoid Clutter From Slowing You Down
Additionally, the physical and digital clutter in your working space matter as well.
I keep my studio clear of any clutter, distractions, or eye-grabbing material. This is just the way my mind works best. Some people, however, like messy workstations for creativity as mentioned in this post, but we are talking about long-term focus and finishing tracks here, so a clean environment would work the best, as said in the book “Hyperfocus” by Chris Bailey.
“It’s kind of curious just how much the environments that we’re inside of influence our productivity and our creativity. We’re able to focus a lot more cleanly and clearly and easily in an environment that’s clean and clear and under control as they say in an office that’s messy”
Is your computer’s desktop cluttered? Is your user library messy and unorganized? Clean things up as much as possible so you give your chaos-loving monkey mind less control.
If you think you are more creative with a messy environment, try an experiment and keep your studio messy during the creation phases, then when it’s time to move the track forward to completion, you clean up your physical and digital environment.
- Clean up your physical production environment;
- Schedule a monthly session where you organize and clean up your user library, presets, samples, etc;
- Use Apps like Hazel (Mac) or File Juggler (Windows) to automate your digital cleaning and avoid repetitive tasks.
Create an Outline of Tasks
Another way I try to control my monkey mind is by utilizing an outline. I use 2 types of outlines:
I create a macro-outline that highlights each major phase of finishing the song (i.e. musical idea creation, sound design, arrangement, mixing, mastering, marketing, etc.), as well as a micro-outline that identifies the next 3 to 5 things that need to be done today (i.e. create a unique clap, finish the breakdown arrangement, turn the sub bass up 2 dB, etc.).
The benefit of taking notes is that it clears our minds and allows us to focus specifically on the most important things. There’s no messing around with what we don’t need to do and we avoid overworking our tracks by unnecessarily spending time on stuff that was already solved.
I used to just use pen and paper in a music journal. However, since Blake and I produce in separate environments most of the time, I wanted a way to track these things digitally and easily share them in a timely manner.
For taking notes, we started to use Notion.so. Even though there are many options such as OneNote, EverNote, Asana, etc. Leo Lauretti turned us onto using Notion.so for its many benefits (Thanks Leo!)
This image is an example of a macro outline for one of our tracks using Notion.so. The columns outline the flow of priorities. On the far left is a backlog of things to be done later. On the far right, in “Done”, are things that I have completed. At a quick glance, I can see that we have finished the breakdown and our current priority is finishing drop 2 (D2). It almost seems too simple to actually help, but I can attest that this basic outline keeps my mind focused on the right things at the right time.
- Take notes and write down micro and macro tasks for your projects. You can use a Task Manager like Notion.so or any other like OneNote, Evernote, Todoist, Ticktick, etc. This will give you clarity on what you have to do next and avoid you from wasting time on unnecessary things or overworking your track. Lastly, the more you can fill this up with tasks and sub-tasks, the better!
Recharge Your Energies
I admittedly am the worst at doing this. It is very difficult. Especially when you have the motivation and energy to keep moving forward with a song.
Nonetheless, I have implemented a 30-minute timer to remind myself to check up on what I’m doing. For example, am I following my micro-outline? Am I doing things out of order? Am I in the creation phase but working on automation and adding “bells & whistles”?
I know that feeling of being in your DAW and feeling the power of thousands of years of technological innovation and progress at your fingertips. The opportunities seem endless. Our brains love novelty and the DAW is an abyss of new things. It’s easy to get lost and once you’re lost it’s difficult to regain focus on the important things.
However, taking regular breaks gives you the space to remove yourself from the project and identify what needs to be done. Aside from the psychological benefits of regular breaks, as mentioned in this post, giving your ears a rest is a necessary requirement, especially if you are doing mixing and mastering work.
Your ears literally become desensitized to sound when you listen for too long and/or at high volume levels. It’s a physiological response that can only be remedied by listening at low levels and taking breaks.
I’ve been in the studio for so long that my ears are ringing for 48 hours, which is horrible. In these long studio sessions, I usually keep slowly turning up the volume until I have no clear concept of the stereo image, depth, levels, or perspective.
- For your next 10 sessions or so, keep track of how long you can produce until you are feeling unmotivated, making bad decisions, tinkering around too long, succumbing to distractions, etc. Mark down the time and take the average of your sessions to determine an ideal length of time for your studio sessions. It’s tedious and boring but in the long run, it’ll add to your toolbox of production skills.
Save Presets, Effect Racks, Samples, Etc.
This is more of a long term/life long strategy, but it helps a lot either way: When you create a cool preset, effect rack, etc, save it to your user library. The more you do this, the less time you’ll need to finish a similar process next time and the easier it will be to finish more tunes.
We didn’t do this for the first 2 years of making music primarily because we knew that what we were making wasn’t very good. However, as we put more and more hours in the studio and started to develop an ear for higher quality sounds, we started saving the building blocks of those sounds, whether they be in the VST or the processing chain that follows.
Created a killer snare that you might want to use again? Bounce the audio and save it to your user library.
Actually, I don’t like reusing exact sounds that I created and used in previous songs, so I will more often than not still adjust parameters to create a unique sound, but, at least, most of the work is done which helps with moving the song forward and not spending too much time on sound design.
If you’re an Ableton user as we are, here is a good video showing basic saving functions:
If you’re an FL Studio user as we are, here is a good video showing basic saving functions:
- Go through old projects and identify sounds, samples, effects that you like and save them to your user library. You never know, but they could become an intricate part of your newest track and can speed up the process you’re currently working on. For example, instead of always rebuilding your master chain, why not use it from a preset you made?
Make the Most Out of Batching
We are all familiar with batching. We (should) do it when we go to the grocery store. Instead of going to the grocery store every day to grab one or two items, we tend to wait until our grocery needs reach a tolerable upper limit, then visit the store and grab everything that we need.
This saves time because instead of wasting time and money on commuting to the store, shopping, checking out, returning home, and unloading the groceries 7 times a week, we batch our trips and just do it once.
As it relates to music production, for the next month, focus on only creating musical ideas (chord progressions, sound design, etc.). Then, for the following month, only focus on finishing those musical ideas that you’ve created. This could be beneficial because it avoids task-switching between creation, mixing, mastering, marketing, etc, which, again, can make your finishing process faster and more straightforward since you’d be a lot more used to the activities you’ll have to do to finish each song.
That happens because task-switching has a cost. Every time you switch tasks your brain has to adjust to the new task at hand, which requires energy and takes time for you to adapt your mind to it. Here is a short video explaining batching to help you contextualize the idea and hopefully see its value:
You can schedule batching periods on a month-to-month, week-to-week, day-to-day basis, or use a combination of them all. Additionally, you can apply batching to other areas of your life, such as checking email, marketing, cleaning your house, etc. This will in turn free up more time for you to make more music and finish more songs
Think about your music creation process, from start to finish, and list things that you could batch:
- Brainstorming new ideas? Brainstorm several ideas in one week, and only work on arranging them the next week;
- Have to master 3 tracks? Schedule a time to master them all at once;
- Exporting stems for mixing projects? Export for multiple projects at once. This task, for example, could be a great task for a moment you’re not inspired to create;
- Doing an extra 10-20% with your drums so they don’t sound too similar to other tracks? Do it for 4-5 tracks at once;
- Schedule messaging app times and only answer to your friends in that designed period of the day to avoid distraction. The same could work for emails.
I Want to Hear From You Now!
Thank you for your attention and time! Hopefully the post provided some value to you.
We are still deep in the journey of learning how to make better music and I think experimenting with these ideas and giving them a shot will deepen your understanding of how you work best and moving you closer to finishing more tracks this year!
Which of these ideas will you experiment with first?
Is there anything else you do to help you finish more tracks?
Let us know in the comments below!