How to finish a song
Struggling to step away and finish your mix when producing and songwriting? Spot the signs that your track is done.
Deciding when a song is finished is one of the hardest parts of producing and songwriting. The temptation is strong to keep sitting at the DAW, mixing away, tweaking and making tiny changes, trying to make the track perfect.
Often the ideas and loops come easy, but it’s completing a track that’s the hard part. So how do you know when the track is done? What helps you get there, short of getting someone to gently take your hands and prise them from the keyboard?
Here are a few signs to look out for, as well as some strategies to help musicians and producers finish a song and walk away victoriously.
Listen to the song multiple times with your DAW hidden, a pen and paper to hand. Jot down anything that you don’t like in the track and anything that you think is missing. Is it interesting enough? If you don’t know what else you can do with it, congratulations, your production is done.
Get someone you trust to listen to your track too. Someone impartial – not your best mate, unless they can listen with a critical ear and point out where the vocal needs to come up in the mix. Sometimes you need someone else to say: “Yes, it’s finished!”
Pressure is good
Set yourself goals. Decide how many tracks you want to produce in a month and try and stick to it. Try working towards a release date, knowing that if you miss it you’ll let down the fans waiting to hear your music.
You might find you flourish best under a deadline, and you’ll be forced to draw a line under the track and step away without dragging the process out.
Sometimes you’ve just got to let go
Most music producers believe that a song will never really be finished. There’s infinite options for every track; always a new plugin to try out.
If you’ve spent days tinkering away at the track and it doesn’t sound that different, you’re probably procrastinating without much effect. It’s time to be brave and step away from the mix.
Struggling to make a full song?
If you’re used to just making loops, you might not be used to arranging those elements into a structure to make them a full, complete song. Try stopping at three core loop ideas and then turning your attention to arranging them in a linear fashion.
Thinking of the track as a journey with signposts along the way might help you to have the confidence to declare the song finished. You’re following a map, made up of breaks and drops if you’re producing, verse and choruses if you’re songwriting.
Finishing a song is a feeling
When a song is ready, some musicians can intrinsically tell. Some producers would say a song is a piece of art that will keep growing and evolving with time and depending who is listening to it.
Lay down fewer but better tracks
Try focusing on making fewer parts and making them as good as you can, rather than endlessly adding instruments and samples to your mix. A full song doesn’t necessarily need a lot of tracks to sound great.
Listen with fresh ears
Ear fatigue is a thing. Put the song away for a couple of days. When you come back and listen again, the bits you were unsure about might have been minor irritations that now sound fine in the overall production. If you still love it, then chances are your track is ready.
Believe in your work
Self-belief is a huge part of being a musician. Try and think of a finished song as an opportunity. If you don’t finish the song, you’ll never perform it at gigs, never send it out to music streaming platforms, and you’ll never know if it’s a hit.
Enjoy the learning curve of the process and be proud that you’ve taught yourself the discipline to complete a track. But equally don’t stress too much about not finishing every song you start.
You might find that the ideas you’d had and tricks you’ve learnt will come back and be useful later in future music-making – you’ve sharpened your producing skills without even knowing it.
What mental and organisational strategies have you found that might help other musicians and producers close the DAW and declare a track finished?
Once you decide that your song is finally finished, it’s time to let everyone hear it. With RouteNote you can publish your track to all major online stores and streaming services, easily and for free. Learn more here.