We here at Producer Confidential know your pain. You’ve got a bunch of tracks sitting on your laptop or hard drives that you know you should finish but can’t seem to get them over the line. We’ve all been there. And in years of experience making music we’ve developed a few tips and tricks that will help you shine up that loop into a finished track.
In the first two articles in this series (the creative part, and the technical part), we focused on the different stages of production and some tricks for getting through those. In this article, we’re looking at some ways you can think about the creative process and external motivators that can give you that extra push. So let’s get those ideas off your hard drive and out into the world.
You’ve got to look at your track record on finishing beats. If you’re knocking them out of the park regularly, then this article’s not for you. But if that isn’t you, maybe a bit of external pressure would be helpful. Peer pressure is normally a bad thing. Often it’s some dick trying to get you to do something against your better judgment. But using a bit of peer pressure to get your songs over the line gets a pass.
There are a few ways you can do this. You could tell people they’ll be able to hear your track by a certain date –think of a listening party or some other private event. Kanye is currently doing this with his album Donda. Although he’s also delayed the album several times now. Ye see, even the Great Kazoo struggles to finish tracks.
You could also collaborate with another musician, singer, or producer. Or, if you’ve got the budget, hiring a mixing or mastering engineer and setting a deadline with them will give you pressure and a date to work towards. There’s nothing like committing to someone else’s time to provide the added pressure you need to get things finished. You can make all the arbitrary deadlines you want for yourself, but I don’t know too many creative people who are good at sticking to them. Instead, make that the deadline external for an added boost.
Stop buying new gear. Every musician and producer I know is guilty of this. You’re working on something and come up against a stumbling block – a problem that could be solved with a new plugin, or a new keyboard, or another shiny new thing. So you think to yourself, “I can’t finish it until I get X piece of gear.” And you give yourself an out for not completing the track. Or worse, you buy the gear or plugin and get distracted experimenting with it, and then it’s a week, a month, a year later. You’re no closer to finishing your track, and you’re also poorer to boot.
In “It Might Get Loud” –a documentary about guitar innovators– Jack White hammers two nails into a piece of wood, ties a string between them, before proceeding to coax some weird and wonderful sounds out of that string. The documentary is about guitar players famous for their effects pedals, so the point is clear; you don’t need all the gear in the world to make music. Creativity beats technology any day; your ingenuity alone is what limits you.
Stop buying gear to finish tracks. Instead, buy new gear as a reward after you’ve finished a track. The benefits are twofold. You don’t get distracted by a shiny new thing when you should be working on a track, and two, you reward yourself for finishing your tracks. Maybe that new piece of gear will help you start a new track. Or it could spark ideas for how to improve an existing track further. But don’t let the allure of shiny objects be an excuse or distract you from your goal. You’ve got all the tools you need You just need to figure out how to make them work for you.
So you have a ton of unfinished tracks on your machine? You could let them sit there forever, but that takes mental space. Instead, take action and either finish them, archive them or delete them. There’s nothing like a bit of a clear-out to help clear your mind and give you the headspace for more important things. And it’s got the added benefit of forcing you to make decisions about what’s worth developing, keeping, or throwing away.
Take some time and sit down and figure out which tracks are worth keeping and which should go to the great trashcan in the sky. If you really can’t bring yourself to throw things away, then archive the tracks on a drive and store it away. Either way, declutter your digital space to only the tracks you’re going to spend your time on so you can focus your energy on those.
In general, you will be better at making tracks in the future than you are today. So trust that the future version of you is a better producer and can come up with better ideas. If you really think you’ve already peaked, then we don’t have any articles which will help you –maybe try PsychologyToday. You will be a better producer in the future, and finishing more tracks is the way to make that happen. Which leads us nicely to…
Perfectionism is the enemy of finishing beats. And worse than that, it’ll probably stop you from getting better as a producer. Instead of making lots of tracks and getting better with each one, you get stuck in a loop of trying to perfect one track.
Making lots of track allows you to experiment with different ideas and try new sounds and approaches. If you spend too much time making one track perfect, you’re not exposing yourself to the different ideas that will help you improve as a producer. Each track you finish is an opportunity to learn something new about producing music. And it’s got the added benefit of helping you care less about each individual track.
The only way to make the perfect track is to make lots and lots of tracks. With each track, you’ll get closer and closer to making something you, or someone else, thinks is perfect. So finishing tracks should be your go-to for getting better as a producer. You can always go back and improve your tracks later as your skills improve. But you should be going back to improve complete tracks and not using perfectionism as an excuse for leaving your ideas unfinished.
And finally, if you still need a bit of a push here’s an inspirational quote from Ryback.
For more from us here at Producer Confidential on how to finish your tracks check out Part 1 the creative bit and Part 2 the technical bit. And if all else fails, take a break, go outside and enjoy the breeze. It’s music, not maths; there isn’t a solution for every problem.
If you’re an ace finisher but struggle to start, check out 5 tips to start a beat when you’re not inspired. Or check out some of the Producer Confidential Productions Stacks. They’re packed full of delicious producery goodness, made with love by us here at Producer Confidential HQ