Producing is mostly problem solving
Many new and old producers have a really difficult time looking at their own work and saying “This is done”. There is a huge paranoia that there is a gaping hole in our work that is immediately going to be spotted by our peers. This issue can lead to analysis paralysis and cause you to never finish anything you start.
Every track you show people will be a “work in progress”. You’ll never commit to saying “here it is, it’s done”. I hope this post will help you across the finish line with more confidence.
The truth is, if you haven’t written in a while, your songs may very likely have some unfinished business, but you really can’t look at things like that. Your job is not to create perfection, it’s to abandon your work when you’ve done all you can currently do.
See, your production improves in direct relationship with your experience and your listening skills. This means that unless you are willing to put yourself out there & possibly fail a few times, you will never truly begin to succeed. You’ll think that one more learned trick is going to save your song, but it’s really not the case.
You can’t improve your skills from studying somebody else’s skills unless you are also learning from doing. You also can never expect to develop your own style. Instead you’ll be chasing everybody else’s.
When is my song done?
So when is your song complete then?
The short answer is that it’s done when you say it’s done, but let me dive a bit deeper.
As you produce your own music, you start to develop a much better ear for things. You get much better at figuring out what makes other songs “tick” & learning to apply it to your own work.
Many of us go through a period where we realize our song is still missing something. The problem is that we don’t know what. Sometimes there truly is an element missings, other times the problem is in the mixing or EQing. Other times there is just too much happening and the song no longer sounds clean.
Once again, you learn this from doing. With any form of art, you can only be as good as your currently are.
So when is your song done? When you can no longer perceive any problems.
The problem solving approach
This year I have gained a decade of experience over the last 10 months by writing constantly. I’ve written, remixed or collaborated on more than 60 songs so far & still going strong. Surprisingly, I like 90% of my work quite a bit. The advantage you have when you are continuously writing is that you are building habits, skills and instincts. You can also always go back to a previous “finished” song & know immediately what you can do to make it better.
See, you don’t have to call a song done forever, you just have to abandon it when your current ear is satisfied. You can always come back. The trick is to get something as far as you can take it, then try to take it just a tad further, then let it go without getting too much emotion involved & start your next tune.
My approach as a producer now isn’t to reach some sort of perfection, but to construct something that sounds good to my ears and feels good in my body, then arrange it into a full song format & finally fix the problems.
Some of the issues I find I need to solve are:
* The song sounds muddy, what sound do I need to clean up? Do I need more high frequency content?
* This part has been going on too long without change, how can I retrigger some excitement?
* I seem to have lost the groove, what is taking away from the rhythm?
* Everything seems to be coming from the center, how can I add more movement?
* This sound isn’t cutting through, should I add EQ, compression or saturation?
* This new sound is overpowering another important sound, can I solve this with panning or EQ?
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.
Getting out of the DAW
When I feel I am getting close to completing my song, I will mix it down and listen to the song outside of my DAW. Sometimes visual cues can trick you, so I like to be 100% using my ears.
While listening, I’ll make a note of issues with the mix & the time it is happening. This is extremely useful to me, because I know exactly what I need to do to call this song done. I no longer need to overthink, I just go through my checklist.
When there are no more issues I can perceive, I call the song done & move on to the next one.
Follow my songwriting process
If you would like to follow my (mostly) daily songwriting thread on facebook, you can check it out here. It’s totally free & you can also share your own daily process. It’s helped a lot of producers stay focused and productive. I invite the same for you.
Happy music making,