Turning your Loser Songs into Winners
We all have them
Maybe they were 8 bar loops that you took to the arrangement stage. Or maybe you didn’t even get that far. Either way, something about your idea just isn’t sitting right with you so you send it to purgatory, or worse yet, the trash bin.
I used to be the same, but I have reformed.
Just like finishing songs is a habit that gets stronger the more you do it, the same goes for recovering songs. If you haven’t built up your instinct & listening skills, you may recognize something is not quite right, but you won’t know what. Recognizing this is something I get pretty deep into in the Producer’s Playground but I wanted to share some tips with non-members as well.
I’ve had many songs that had taken a bad turn somewhere & made me want to trash the whole idea, but I found that with practice, I could recover 90% of them and turn some of them into favorites. So far, out of around 70 songs, there are only 2 that I haven’t yet been able to recover. I DO get closer with each revision though. You’re not polishing shit here, you are removing the crap to expose the gems.
You might love most things about your song except perhaps a lead sound or a stab or whatever. That is simply about understanding the subtleties of the sound you are going for, but most the time, the problem is deeper.
Songs are a lot like building structures. If you haven’t got a good foundation, everything you build on top or it will often be enhancing the mistake, not improving your song.
In order to improve something that is not working, you have to deconstruct it to it’s basic groove & tone. If you didn’t get this right in the beginning, this is probably the basis of your problem. Maybe it’s too simple & lacks subtleties. Maybe everything sounds to straight & quantized & can use some human swing. Maybe the groove is fine, but the sounds don’t work well with eachother. It could be that everything sounds too clean & pristine & can use a bit of grit. Then again, it could have to do with how the drums and bass are playing off each other.
All of these things can be determined by muting all the tracks that aren’t essential & listening to the part of the track that makes you want to dance, or nod your head.
If you find that you can bring the foundation of the song to life, often the extra layers won’t require too many changes to fit back into place, but you need the basic groove to be solid. Kicks, snare, Clap, hi hats, percussion & bass should all add just enough to sound like one whole. Start with your kick & add 1 element at a time. Each of these elements should make the groove more & more infectious & danceable. If you add an element that loses the feeling, you want to first try to change that is being played.
Maybe there are too many notes, or maybe there are too many things happening at a certain time & you need to free up that space. Usually simply tweaks will bring back the groove. If it doesn’t, you probably want to change the sound, or ditch it.
Keep adding 1 element at a time & making sure each part continues to add to your song. The difference between a good tune & a bad one is usually more subtle than you would think.
Once your groove is locked into place. Continue adding the secondary elements and listen to how it effects the essential parts. If something is lost, try changing the timing or the new part, simplifying reducing an EQ frequency that isn’t needed or ditching the sound. Don’t get precious. Each part either works or it doesn’t. You’ll know when you hear it.
Practice makes perfect
Although this process might not be easy at first, when your brain starts solving common issues in your songs, it will start to become instinctual. You will also build up your confidence when in these situations, because you know you’ve worked through it before.
Personally, when working on a song & I get stuck, I usually will feel the down cycle for 2-3 days before something clicks again & I find my way out, but if I keep pressing on, I almost always end up with something I’m happy with. Don’t let a couple of bummer days discourage you. Many peak performers know that the feeling we like to call flow, typically follows a feeling of frustration. It’s all part of the process.
Happy music making & may all your songs be winners!