Finishing tracks: Some tips to improve your songwriting productivity
Finishing club tracks:
Of all the roadblocks musicians run into, I would say that finishing tracks sits at the top of that list (or very near the top).
You are working on your favorite producing platform and you’ve got a rocking groove going on a 16 bar loop. You are moving and grooving
but you can’t seem to get yourself past this point. Everytime you return to this track to finally get this song done, you end up just spending
hour after hour listening to the loop and pondering each sound and component and at the end of the day are no closer to that elusive finished
If this is you, realize that you are further along than you may think. Especially if after a week or so you are still liking the groove you created. Below are a few thoughts that may help get you over that hump of countless unfinished songs and on the track to more productive songwriting habits.
Don’t wait for inspiration:
Perspiration always beats waiting for inspiration.
Because energy in motion creates ‘emotion’ and emotion inspires.
In other words, allow inspiration to follow a consistent work ethic. You will find that your mind tunes in to your habitual actions and will set your music as a higher priority. This will lead to being inspired much more often. When I started writing this blog an hour ago I wasn’t in the mood. I had to push myself to just start. But now that I’ve put my writing in motion, one idea after another began to pop up and this blog pretty much started writing itself. Don’t think you have time to devote to regular music sessions? Why not take my 30 day challenge and see how it works for you.
Samples vs. Sound design:
Although there is nothing quite like creating your own unique sounds from scratch there are some things you might want to consider.
If you aren’t an expert on designing your own sounds, this process can take you from inspiration to mental exhaustion. When you are trying to bang out a tune, speed is of major importance. You don’t want to have too much time to ponder and second guess. You want to get in the flow and stay in that flow with as few distractions as possible. Many of the successful producers out there don’t seem to be great sound designers, but rather very organized and fast moving. They usually have many “go to” sounds, fx and presets.Â They often have templates ready to go as well so they have an idea how the song will be structured in advance.Â They also use sample libraries for drum hits and drumloops just to get the track moving and may change them later on. Bass can be a pretty tricky business to get right and often finding a preset and tweaking it will keep you from getting lost in sound design. As I have talked about in another blog, it’s important to separate your sound design time from your songwriting time. Trying to do both in one session can really slow you down or bring your productivity to a screeching halt.
Create your peak first:
The peak of a track is the point at which your song has the most excitement and energy. This is the point that all the other parts in your song reference and point to. This should be the hands in the air and jumping up and down moment of your song(or the part that conveys the most intense emotions).Â This is the payoff you deliver from any break downs and build up’s. If you don’t nail the peak of your track, then you don’t have a song.
Once you have your peak, you can stop adding parts to your song as more parts will begin to muddy up and drop the energy level you’ve just created. . Usually this will also be where more parts are playing at the same time. If all your parts are working together in the right way and aren’t conflicting with eachother, you are half way home.
In many cases, the peak of your song is about 3/4 of the way into your track. This isn’t a firm rule, but if you aren’t yet in the habit of finishing your tracks, you may want to follow guidelines that have worked for others until you build your own confidence in completing tracks.
If you are having difficulty creating the peak of your track and can’t seem to figure out what your track needs, a simple solution is to find other songs in the same key, match the bpm’s and play them together with your song idea(your song should be 6-10db louder than the songs you are mixing). When you hear something that grabs your attention and drives the groove forward take note of it and mimic it in your track. Sometimes it’s the sound you are going for, other times you just want the groove of the part and in some cases it sounds perfect as it is.
In it’s most basic form, the structure of a dance track is going to follow this format. If this format doesn’t work for you, simply analyse the structure of a song you would like to emulate.
Intro (8-16 bars) – Usually a simple beat that makes your track easy to mix
Bassdrop (32 bars) – Like it sounds, this is where the Bass comes in. The intro gives the DJ time to transistion from one Bassline to the next.
Breakdown/build up(4-8 bars) – This is usually where the kick drum is removed and a key melody or emotional aspect is introduced.
Meat of the song (32-64 bars) – This is where the song really comes together and sets the tone. this should make you move but not yet give you everything
Breakdown/build up 2(4-8 bars) – similar to the first breakdown but may feature elements that make it even more intense.
Peak(32-64 bars) – this is the moment everyone lets loose and the track gives you everything it’s got. Typically after 32 bars, the intensity should back off a bit like the way it was after the first breakdown.
Outro(8-16 bars) – this is similar to the intro and is there to allow the DJ to transistion to the next track without conflicts.
Besides the intro and outro, each section should have something of interest happening every 4-8 bars (crashes, atmospherics, fx etc) with new sounds being introduced throughout. To create more interest on parts that repeat, experiment with the filter, lfo’s or effects on some of the parts. Even slight changes will keep the mind interested.
Many successful producers (especially DJ’s) have a team of engineers and sound designers that can take a basic song idea and take it to the next level.
Unless you have the budget to do this,Â my suggestion would be to find a partner to work with who has skills that you are lacking and vice versa. This way when one of you burn out, the other can pick up the slack. With 2 of more people you can multiply your productivity. The power of 2 (or more) minds becomes much more than the sum of the parts.
Less is more:
When your goal is to finish a song, it’s a good idea to get a basic groove up and running and not get too nit picky about all the details quite yet. In my opinion, it’s a good idea to create your groove that will become the song and then work out the structure of the song. You can always touch up the kick or bass tone once you see how everything else is playing off of it.
Only after you’ve got the structure in place would I suggest you start putting in all the crashes, filters, atmospherics, incidentals and automation. Having your song structured will motivate you to finish the song more than an elaborate 16 bar loop will (of course if you work differently and are having success with it, by all means carry on).
Solo each part:
Nearly every part of your track should be able to stand on it’s own (in some cases, multiple sounds create 1 final sound). If you continue to feel that your track needs more and more and more, you may want to consider that the key components to your songs are not right and need to be replaced. Try not to get your ego involved here. Sometimes that sound you spent ages on just doesn’t work and a preset does. Don’t get caught up in trying to force things. Maybe that sound can be used in another tune, but for now your focus is finishing the song in front of you. This also goes for overusing effects and EQ to compensate for a lousy sound. It’s much better to mangle a sound that is already great.
Steal, then replace:
In the name of speed and keeping the process flowing. If you hear a sound that inspires you, whether it be a kick, a stab, or some atmospheric, just steal it and keep moving. you can go back later and recreate the sounds if you are paranoid of licensing issues (although most of the sounds you are stealing were already stolen from somewhere else). I’m not saying you should just steal your way to success, but in the name of finishing your track, there is no point in spending a week trying to get that perfect kick tone when you can just steal it and move on to the next stage. I feel that paranoia holds more musicians back than it ever serves. If you really feel your track is going to be successful enough to worry about being sued, you can always hire someone to recreate sounds for you later.
A couple other tips on mixing and EQ:
Make sure when you are mixing to listen to everything BUT the part you are mixing. This way you will hear conflicts and things getting buried right away.
If you only focus on the part you are mixing, often times the last part you mixed will end up being the loudest and the first parts you mixed will get buried.
When EQing, unless you are going for an extreme effect, don’t over EQ to compensate for a poor quality sound. Your song will practically mix itself if you are using the right sounds from the start. Over EQ’ing everything in sight is a sign that the content may be flawed.
Best of luck on your music making,
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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 16th, 2009 at 9:57 pm and is filed under Audio engineering, creative mindset, productivity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.