Coming up with ideas is easy, finishing a track is a challenge. I think you’d agree with that. Usually I hear from people that they have no problem coming up with ideas but they just can’t seem to finish tracks. After a while they simply give up… So what can you do to push through the barrier and finally start finish more songs?
Spend less time in the loop.
Especially in a DAW like Ableton or software like Maschine we tend to start working in loop mode. I like working that way, because you can experiment with pieces that work well together or find complementary patterns. But – what works well in a loop doesn’t always translate to the final arrangement. And when I move from loop to arrangement I often find myself deleting a lot things that don’t work in the context of the song. This in turn, means I wasted a lot of time to get something perfect, but in the end it doesn’t work for the final product. So I have to re-write parts or come up with completely new ones.
Don’t get me wrong, its great to work in loop mode in the beginning. But get the core of the track right in loop mode, then try moving into arrangement and build accompanying parts there, so you get a better feel how they flow into each other throughout the song. It will result in a much more organic beat. I’m sure there’s a bunch of you who already work this way, but if you find yourself with a massive folder full of 4 bar loops and no finished beats, then give this approach a try!
Apply limits to your workflow
When you try to finish a song, then one question that will come up a lot is “When do I know I have enough parts to finish it?”. There’s no clear answer, because obviously it depends on the beat you are making. A DJ Premier type beat might just need a sample, a bass and some drum samples while a classic Kanye West type beat needs additional strings, risers, etc. But in the end it’s probably less than you think.
Most people quickly overcomplicate their track because we have so many options available! To avoid this, set yourself limits from the start. Often less parts is better and lets the core of the track or the artist shine more. Instead of working with 32 different parts that you manage to wrangle into a coherent whole, focus on 8 essential parts and make them really good. You will have less tracks and elements to worry about, meaning you can arrange, mix and master faster – hence letting you finish the track faster. My beats rarely have more than 8 tracks (not accounting for layered sounds).
Set a firm deadline
Probably the best way to finish any project is to set a deadline and tell people about it. This makes you accountable and people will ask for your progress. On the other side, having no specific deadline lets you tinker with tracks forever, putting decisions off and never actually finishing the beat you work on.
If you want to finish beats, then approach an artist and tell him that you will sent him a beat tape of 10 songs by the end of the month.
If you want to participate in a beat battle, book your place in advance and then get into preparing for it.
If you release music, go on Bandcamp and pre-release the EP or album. If people already subscribe to updates or even purchase it in advance, you will feel motivated to actually finish what you promised them.
Know when you’re done
The biggest problem with finishing is actually knowing when you are done. While you are working in your DAW you constantly tweak and tinker and it’s hard to stop and focus on the big picture. Thats why I regularly export the track and listen to it in the car, on my iPhone or on my computer – but not in the DAW!
Play through the track and just listen. If nothing jumps out, and nothing seems to be missing, congrats – you’re officially done. If you felt a certain part needs some work, make a note on a piece of paper and re-open your DAW to fix it. Repeat the process until nothing obvious needs a change.
The important thing here is that you should hear the music as a listener not engineer. Nobody cares about EQ choices and automation curves – listeners care only about the end results!
There’s no magic formula to finishing tracks. The more you do it, the better you get at it. If you never finish tracks you never get better. It doesn’t matter if the finished result is up to your standard. Simply get in the habit of finishing first and then try to get to better quality as you go.