How to COMPLETE unfinished productions and tracks

There is nothing quite like the guilt and burden of unfinished tracks.

By Eimear O SullivanContributing Author

Article photo - How to COMPLETE unfinished productions and tracks

The mere thought of opening up a giant, half finished track in your DAW and wading your way through it is nothing short of tedious and grim. AND every time you do try to finish it, you either don’t know where to start, or you spend hours and hours making infinite little changes, yet, you have still somehow not managed to finish it. Here are some tried and tested tips to help you COMPLETE unfinished productions and tracks

 

1. Leave your DAW

Export the track as is. Leave your studio/workstation (as in leave the premises) and go somewhere else to listen to the track. When you are unable to make changes,your mind is entirely more focused and tuned in to actually listening to the music. This allows you to pick up on a lot more as your instincts kick in - allowing you to really become aware of what works and what doesn’t. 

This tactic is especially helpful for unfinished sections, as your mind and ears give very strong cues as to where they are expecting (or where they would like) the track to go next. Make specific notes of all these using whatever means you have - in a notebook,on your phone (Google Drive is always useful as you can access it from anywhere on any device) so you don’t forget anything and have something solid to work with.

2. Organise and Color Code

This might seem obvious, but before you leap back in to make these changes, make sure everything is grouped, organised and color coded (see example below) - it will make everything so much easier. Also, a handy trick is to remove the silent sections in the individual tracks/stems, as doing so will make the sections of the track a lot clearer, as with just a glance you can tell what comes in where.



Article photo - How to COMPLETE unfinished productions and tracks

Color coding Ableton

3. Take things away

Before you start adding to the mess, if there was anything you thought should be removed, do this first. Delete any instrument or element that your gut feeling told you was just not suited to the flow of the track. Not only is this an easier and more manageable task then adding elements - it also makes everything far less chaotic, and is a nice, easy place to begin what can seem to be a difficult and arduous task. 

Also, if you start adding new instruments and samples on top of elements that weren’t really working in the first place, you will be creating more work for yourself in addition to losing the ability to gauge if the new element is actually adding anything to the track or not.

 

4. Do one specific thing at a time

Once you have removed of all that needed to be removed, pick ONE specific element at a time to work on from your list of notes. Tackle each element in manageable bits - for example instead of assigning yourself a general goal such as ‘fix the drums’ break it down to something more concrete such as ‘adjust the kick’s timing’or ‘try another snare sample’.

This way, you won’t get overwhelmed, and each short session will be constructive.  Complete the selected step, stop for a minute or two and move on to the next one. Set yourself a maximum time limit for each - this way you won’t waste hours and hours on infinite ideas and changes.

 

5. Being accountable

So, in the end, how does any of this ensure that you actually complete the track? How do you know when it is really finished? 

The answer you don’t - but being accountable to some external factor will not only speed your workflow up, but it will force you to let go. 

What has forced me to finish many tracks over the years is the fact that I have to perform them live. There is nothing that speeds up the process of finishing a track quite like the stark reality of performing it live. This makes you accept that it may not be perfect; but as long as the core elements that make it a good track are there to keep the listener engaged alongside keeping your message intact - it is time to let go.

Aside from doing it live - there are other ways to hold yourself accountable. On the smaller end, things like announcing a release date on social media, or getting other people to listen to it while you are in the room (this way the track cannot be unfinished and half done as that would feel excruciating and haven't you put yourself through enough already). Additionally, if you are hiring  someone to mix or master the track, then contact them to organise a date for you to send the track over. This means that someone else is relying on you so you HAVE to have it ready by that time.


These are just some ways to COMPLETE unfinished tracks and productions. If you have anything to add let us know in the comments.

About Eimear O Sullivan

Eimear Ann O Sullivan is a multi-genre music producer, audio engineer and vocalist. After receiving a Masters in Music Technology from the CIT Cork School of Music, she went on to operate as a producer under the name Blakkheart. Her releases have received critical acclaim from Ireland's biggest music publications, such as District Magazine and Nialler9, alongside receiving heavy commercial radio airplay. She currently works in Cork recording studio Flashpoint CC. Previous clients of hers include the likes of Comedy Central’s Dragony Aunt star Candy Warhol, rapper Darce and Outsider YP. (Photo credit @Fabian Boros)

Contact Eimear O Sullivan at eimear.o.sullivan@musicngear.com

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