As you get going with Music Production, its likely you will find that getting ideas started is the easy part.
Finding the discipline and consistency to push that extra mile to get projects finished is certainly harder than it sounds.
At least for some of us!
Many Producers find themselves at a point where there is more than an ablums worth of material sat in their computers folders, unfinished!
Read on to discover our top tips that should help boost your productivity and your ability to finish what you start when it comes to Music Production.
First let’s explore a few steps you can take to get organised and finish off some of what you have sat around already.
Sorting Out and Finishing Old Music Production Projects, finding your Shelflife
Its almost inevitable that as a Producer you are going to build up an ‘archive’ of unfinished ideas and half finished songs.
Before long these projects will fade from your ‘recently opened files’ tab and retreat into to quiet places of your computer hard drive to live out a long and peaceful life.
But there is gold hidden away in there.
There always is!
Just look at Calibre, a great example of a prolific producer with a high quality and consistent output of great music.
If you search through his discography you will find an album series called ‘Shelflife‘.
In each album you will find collections of songs that likely started their journey being forgotten and left behind by Calibre.
Before a bit of consistent hard work brought them to being finished and published.
My point is, most of us have a few ‘Shelflifes’ sitting there unfinished, waiting for our incentive to get them finished and putting them out there for people to hear!
Let’s take a look at some simple steps you can follow to try to find yours:
Step 1 – Grab a coffee, sit down and listen to EVERYTHING
Now if you are a real music hoarder, you might need to spread this step across a few sessions.
We need to first listen to everything, don’t spend too long in one project, limit yourself to just 2 listens per file.
Don’t make any adjustments or changes to anything – just listen.
Also a valuable tip here: start from the start.
Go as far back as you can and start from the earliest time possible.
This way you are going to be completely unfamiliar with what you are listening to, its likely you haven’t heard it in a long time so you are going to have very fresh ears.
When you have listened to a project, close it, take a sip of the coffee, then mark it or move it to a folder.
If you are on a mac, use the colour tags to mark the project.
Use a few increments, something like:
🟢 Green – Amazing
🟡 Yellow – Great Potential
🟠 Orange – A lot of work to make good
🔴 Red – Hell No (was i high?)
Alternatively, these could be folders, your choice!
Step 2 – With projects identified, figure out an order of priority
Now that we have everything listened to and categorised, the next step is prioritisation.
To start off well, I would strongly advise you give high priority to projects that are close to completion and require the least amount of work or sessions.
Finishing off tracks is rewarding and you can use these endorphins to fuel your next sessions.
So now prioritise by how complete the project is, as a rough guide:
✅ 95% – You are happy with the song and it only needs a final mix
🛄 75% – There are some final tweaks to be done, but the song is almost ready for a final mix.
⚛️ 50% – The structure might not be finished, areas of the song need a rework or the track itself needs to be built into a complete track.
✴️ 25% – There is a great couple of verses done, with most of the track left to finish, or the song needs a complete rework (if this second point is the case it might not be worth your time getting into the weeds)
🆘 5-10% – There is a great 4/8/16 bar loop that has good potential but the whole song needs to be built.
Now we should have all of our projects categorised into how much you like them, then sub categorised into how close to being complete they are.
Step 3 – Create an order to start working through the projects
Now lets number the projects, in order of what we will do first.
Start with your most-complete top preference.
Then follow the order of most-complete top preference for 2 more projects.
Now its up to you to decide if you want to continue in this order, or shake things up and move some less complete projects higher up (this is a good idea!).
Now you have your work cut out for you, lets explore some tips to help improve your focus and concentration to help you get it all done!
Let Go Of Perfection
This is probably one of the top reasons why Producers don’t finish tracks.
Making Electronic Music is a detailed and complex process and most Artists are perfectionists, nothing ever feels finished!
It can be really hard for a lot of us to just let go and just get something published and put out there.
Especially when we are Producing Music.
Projects can start off with a lot of progression and energy, but then its easy to get bogged down on the details: “but the snare isn’t quite right!” or “this transition isn’t quite there yet”.
Of course, we should all aspire for perfection in our work as artists (or something close to it).
We should produce work that makes us proud and we feel we gave everything we had at the time.
But don’t get too attached to this idea of perfection.
Bare in mind that your output is very important too.
Artists from other creative fields rely on having a strong output and a consistently updated portfolio of work to be successful.
It’s no different in Music.
Put some effort into consciously observing the time you spend on your work, try to let go of those last few inches, because most of your listeners won’t even notice the difference.
If its something small thats stopping you from publishing something, try to let go!
Set Deadlines And Stick To Them
This is always something that is suggested for improving productivity.
There is a reason: it really works.
Effective time management is an essential ingredient for conquering productivity.
If you are not setting deadlines and trying your best to rigidly stick to them, then you might be missing out on a great technique for productivity (if it works for you!).
Don’t make the mistake of jumping in the deep end and mapping out the next 6 months week by week, because it’s likely not going to happen how you plan it.
Be realistic and set a deadline for just one project you want to get done first.
Make an estimation of how long it might take, based off your estimated work rat in the past.
Then add a few days breathing space
If you have no idea: try giving yourself a week to finish a song (assuming you have time for 4-5 sessions in a week).
First do an initial ‘getting ideas down’ session, a nice bit of creative vomiting to get all the music out of your brain.
Next, a cleanup session that expands this into a full structure.
Then one to iron out the details and finish the bulk of it off
Now take a 2-3 day break and, most importantly, don’t listen to the track at all.
Finally, with fresh ears, return to polish it all off.
Aim to have your final mix done, shelf it, and onto the next!
This is just a suggestion, you can work in any way that suits you.
Once you have nailed your first deadline, do it over again.
Now you are getting the hang of things, try to work a schedule into Google Calendar or something similar and watch your portfolio build up.
If you are looking for a good Time Management App to help boost your productivity, check out this great list of apps.
Create A Process Tailored To You
When it comes to getting more songs finished, there is no process that will work for everyone…
But its the act of having and following a process itself that is effective.
Also, having a definition of ‘finished’ for a track so that you see it as being ready for a spin in a DJ set or good enough to be played out.
Any great Producer has a process, consciously or not, they follow a pattern to create and produce their work. It might help to watch how an artist you really like works, observe what their process is and consider adopting steps you think might work for you.
As a general outline, a process for finishing a track could be something like this:
- Finalise full structure and outline for the track
- First mixdown and making any structural adjustments
- Take a few days break
- Final mixdown and polishing
The end goal is to have something thats finished, or at least good enough to test in a club.
Don’t stress too much about this step though, a process will naturally evolve as you grow as an artist.
Avoid Creative Stagnation
If the pandemic taught us one thing, I think its that being boxed up inside for 24 hours a day isn’t doing anyone any good.
When it all began, I thought ‘fantastic endless time at home to work on music, I’m going to produce an epic amount of work!’.
But somehow it didn’t quite go like that.
The first few months were great.
Then came the big block.
I was struggling to make new material, even losing the excitement and interest to sit down and make music.
Having the same four walls around you every day really drains you of your creative juices and productivity.
So things got put aside and I made time to get outside and exercise when I could.
It took me ages to get back to square one, but eventually I got there.
(Good food also helps!)
So make sure you do your best to avoid getting to this place of creative stagnation.
Staying inside is an easy habit to slip into and Covid seems to have forced it into everyones minds.
Make a point of getting outside every day, exercise and provide your body with good nutrition and you will optimise your creativity and, in the long run, you will definitely have a better output for it!
Discover What Boosts Your Concentration and Focus
As well as learning to understand the bad places your creativity can go to, its useful to invest in discovering what helps you knock out that extra mile.
If you are up for some experimenting, try working through this checklist and give each a try to see if it helps to boost your focus:
- Make time for exercise
- Improve Your Sleep
- Spend time in nature
- Give meditation a try
- Vary your diet
- Take regular breaks
- Drink Caffeine
- Try supplements
We are all different, so something that works for me might not work for you…
But hopefully there is something here that can help you get some projects finished.
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