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5 tips on how to finish tracks

When you get stuck and about to give up

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I keep getting stuck in drafts and can’t finish tracks. I do some basic arrangement, then I do some tweaks over and over again, but it seems I physically can’t finish tracks, you know? Then I start a new project and it happens again, I get stuck and eventually give up on the track completely. Do you have some tips on how to finish tracks?

Simon Stone

Simon, I’m sure every music producer out there feels your pain! Indeed, getting stuck on unfinished tracks is probably one of the most common issues, I see people write about it all the time. Luckily, I know few tips that might help.

Aim for results

First of all, ask yourself: do you really set your goal to finish the track? I know some producers who enjoy the process more than results, they can tweak synthesizers for hours and days! And that’s totally fine, as long as you enjoy it and not worrying too much if this work will be ever released or not. However, if you’re not happy with this, then stop playing around with the synths, presets, samples, and stuff. Change your mindset, and aim for the results.

Embrace the limits

Can you draw a picture? The good answer should be the question “what picture?”, but what if I tell you to draw just some picture, with no more details — could you? I bet not. Same happens with music production. Having no limitations you can create anything, but most likely it turns into nothing. It’s like if you would sit with a blank paper trying to write a novel, having no ideas behind it. You should create a context of what and where will be happening.

Now let’s say you’d like to make a 138 BPM track, with no triples or swings, just a straight driving bassline, with a key bass note at D#m, with long progressions and not many breakdowns, with a strong lead what will be revealed in the main breakdown, with a mysterious female vocal samples, and heavy atmospheric pads. Now we have a more specific talk, right? Such boundaries don’t limit your creativity but helps and guide you through the process to the final result.

Looking at the description above, these are exactly the limits I’ve set myself when I made Enuma Elish:

Get inspired

One more reason why you probably get stuck is because you get bored. It especially can be true if you go the same route over and over again, copy-pasting presets from one project to another one. Don’t forget why do you write music in the first place, you should be very excited about every project you working on.

How to build up a track

I realized that the tracks of mine that I like the most were made in one breath when you completely immersed into it. Try to get inspired by whatever inspires you to feel that excitement again.

Keep it simple, do it quickly

Try to make it as simple as possible: get idea → write it down → arrange a track → finalize the project. Stop thinking «maybe I should change or add something else?», and don’t “marinate” your ideas for months, just let it go. Don’t overthink, write music quickly. Remember, one finished track worth more than hundred of drafts because you gain experience and growth.

Less is more

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This post is a part of the “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as music production, sound design, performance, management, marketing, and career advice in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2 comments
Danieldjdbatts

Fantastic article Daniel, simple yet very sound advice, thank you

olivier Lenfant

My routine to produce complete tracks:

Kick and bass

I usually dedicate a full session of about 2-3 hours making sure that both elements work well together.

Percussions

Here I have a basic set up and a specific order when write the percussions:

  • On kick hat
  • Off beat short hat
  • Snare
  • Clap center
  • Claps wide
  • White noise snare
  • Mid range perc loop
  • Double time hats
  • Running hats
  • Top range perc loop
  • Main off beat High Hat
  • Eventually i add Rides

1st Draft Arrangement

The reason i go straight to arrangement from there is to get a general idea to what i want the track to sound like and all the variations i want to have. Note that i might actually change few things by the end of it but it is a good starting point. I also start colour coding and grouping everything ( always keeping the same colours for every single track) and start organizing my send effects (2-3 different size reverbs Ambience, Room, Plate or Hall, 3 different delays 1/8 mono delay, 1/8d ping pong and 1/4d ping pong and a transient shaper if some sounds lack punch)

Effects

It helps me develop the feel of the track and also it is a fairly fast process and i find it easier to delete things than trying to add stuff when you have been listening to the track a long time. Here again i do a lot of basic stuff.

  • SC Down sweep
  • 2 x Down sweep
  • 2 UpRisers (made with synth)
  • 2 Impacts
  • Crash and reverse crash
  • Reverse vocals

Stabs

As one of my good friend said it is better to give yourself choices so i record approximately 20 different types of stabs with a variation of applied affects.

The Melodies

This is what people will remember so i dedicate a full session again to be sure that this is really what i want. I usually make of 4-5 different drafts for each main part and see which ones work best. The key here is the have layers that work well together. I also make sure that i have a hook and a hook is what all major artists do and do extremely well. It could be a short ½ bar melody at the end of a phrase, a vocal, a weird effect...

The Pads

I would normally have a low pad, a weird pad and a silk pad in order to have feel, movement and energy.

The Transitions

I am now linking the sections together and doing all my automations.

Mix down and mastering

That’s the part that usually takes forever as you try to sort out all sorts of conflicts, decide stereo placement and look how to gain dbs without affecting dynamics so much.

I am by no mean a pro and do not consider myself as a brilliant producer but i have had to make a Live for friend’s party and had to build more tracks in a very limited amount of time that i had been doing in the last few years together so i came up with that idea and created reflexes which is now helping me very much creating track faster and mainly complete tracks. Just to mention i also became a daddy in the meantime so my production time was even more limited. As a result i wrote 11 full tracks in 4 weeks only working evening from 21h to 2am. This is my personal solution and everyone should be looking in finding the routine that works for them.

Olivier Lenfant aka N-kore

Daniel Lesden

Wow, massive thanks for your insights Olivier!

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