HOW TO FINISH A SONG: 6 Productivity Hacks

how to finish a song

If you’re stuck finishing a track and have taken to google to search: “how to finish a song”, then you’re in the right place.

Finishing tracks is one of the biggest problems we see in producers of all skill levels and, it can be frustrating staring at your computer screen, listening to the same 8 bar loop over & over with a blank mind.

We’ve been there and more often than not it leaves you questioning yourself whether you’re good enough at producing or if you should throw in the towel. So how do you get yourself out of that creative block?

To put it simply:

You don’t.

Most of the basis of composition and structure is actually done in the first couple of hours, the rest is tweaking knobs and changing sounds. The main 2 problems we see producers having isn’t actually encountering a creative block… that’s natural.

It comes down to:

  • Not having a set goal
  • Not streamlining the production process

In this article we’re going to cover everything you need to know about streamlining the production process, so that you can capitalise and make the most out of your creative brain juices in less time and release more tracks.

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Reference Track

source: stackoverflow

When producing music it’s important to understand the benefits of having a reference track in your DAW.

Using a reference track can speed your music making up tenfold. Not only does it give you inspiration for your melodies and a reference for your mix & master but, if you use it correctly, it can give you your tune’s structure right off the bat.

To make the most out of a reference track, it’s always ideal to import a song you’ve been listening to frequently and want your music to sound like. If you don’t have anything in mind yet, take a listen to some of your production/music idols and pick out your favourite tracks.

Then import one into your workstation and start to pick out parts where the composition or rhythm changes using markers.

When trying this, you’ll want to listen to your reference track to pause it at the points where you feel the song is going to change and set a marker to what section it is you’re listening to.

So listen objectively and think, is it:

The intro?

Build-up?

Drop?

how to finish a song more easily using markers
at the top is where our markers have been set.

When doing this, it’s also helpful to be more descriptive with your markers. For instance you could write: “verse 8 bar loop, introduction of drums, trumpets & removed piano”.

By doing this, before you even begin to producing, it gives you a strong foundation of ideas and lets you know where melody, rhythm sections & FX should appear and disappear.

Which can really help prevent you from falling down the creative block rabbit hole, as they act as a prompt for you to perform a task.

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Saving Racks

Saving racks is paramount to improving your workflow and being able to pump out more quality tunes you can release.

So what do we mean by saving a rack?

If you use Ableton Live you’ll know a plugin that goes by the name of audio effect rack. For those of you who do know it, you’ll know it’s power. For those of you that don’t: it’s a plugin that allows you to collate all your processing in one neat folder.

We’ll show you:

ableton rack
audio effect rack open

If you’re using a different DAW, don’t worry, you can still follow along with what we’re going to share here.

When taking a closer look at the audio effect rack, you’ll notice that there’s a save button. (in other DAWs, just save channel strip). What this allows us to do is save the processing that we have applied to that instrument into a rack for later use.

save icon ableton

So why does that help us with finishing a song?

Well, if you take a look through your older tracks, you’ll notice that you use similar processing on certain elements of a track. For instance, in our case, we tend to use the exact same chain for our Kick Drum, Snare and Sub Bass every time.

And, once you understand how you operate, after creating a few projects or looking through your old ones, it can be extremely powerful for your workflow and creativity.

The idea behind this is that you spend less time tweaking your sounds to get them to sound good in the first place, and more time working on the arrangement and composition of your song.

By saving your racks for later use, you don’t have to open multiple plugins to get a professional sound… you open one rack and boom, your kick sounds phat as fuck.

This gives you more opportunity to be creative and therefore allows you to capitalise on your creative brain juices more, to get the most out of a session when writing.

You can also take this further and save particular compressor settings, EQ settings and loads more. It’s really important to find out how you process your sounds and get it as streamlined as possible, because a lot of time can be wasted doing this every time you open a new project.

If you work full-time or have other commitments, you’ll know how precious your time is when sitting down to create, so bite the bullet and do it. Trust us… it’s helped us go from spending a month on getting a track ready, to getting it done in a matter of days.

If you don’t want to spend the time creating racks, you can find loads of shops online that will sell you pre-made racks pretty cheap.

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Templates

In this section we’re going to explain how you can make use of another one of our tried and tested productivity hacks, to supercharge your production workflow.

Using templates is a lot like saving your racks, it makes your process a lot more streamlined and also adds in the bonus of having structure set out and instruments already there to create with.

Let’s face it, no one likes opening a fresh project to have to go through all the work to even get an idea down again, let alone make an entire track! It’s even worse if your computer’s slow and you get the spinning wheel of death every 5 seconds.

Having a template for each genre that you make can save you from this frustration and prepare you for the mental agility your brain is going to have to do when you get to writing melodies.

This video is great if you want to create your own template as it shows you a live example. If you don’t want to spend the time creating templates, PML have some great ones already made for you.

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Favourites Folder

Having a favourites folder of your favourite processing techniques, FX, samples, synths and more is a great tool for you to get into that state of flow on your tracks more rapidly.

In Ableton there’s a sidebar tool that allows you to colour code your favourite productions tools and sounds. (If you don’t own Ableton, check if your DAW offers a similar feature or, just use good old-fashioned folders.)

And, it’s extremely useful to use when it comes to writing music. We’d strongly recommend sitting down to organise this before anything. It only takes a couple of hours and once you’ve done it, you’ve got it there forever.

favourites folder ableton

This is how we’ve organised our folders if you’re a little stuck for what to categorise things in, but make it your own! Everyone is different, so make sure you set up your program how you like it.

For instance, in sampling we have our favourite kicks, snares, hats etc and they all happen to be out of 2 or 3 packs.

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Use More Presets/Separate Sound Design Sessions

We all know sound design is a bit of a dark art, and when you’re starting out with production, it can really get in the way of you completing songs. Don’t get us wrong, it’s an incredible skill to learn, but it’s actually not necessary to produce great music.

Now that doesn’t mean to say you can write sound design off completely, because you still need to know a few basics, so you can tweak presets to your liking and to fit with your style. But often it’s best to go with a preset and get the melody & composition down first.

Like we keep saying, you want to make use of your creative energy as much as possible before you hit a block. This is a huge time-saver and will do exactly that, so don’t be afraid to open up a preset… some of the best producers do this.

We’d recommend checking out PML’s selection of synth presets.

xfer serum
source: xfer records

If you’re already pretty good at sound design and you want to learn it, then that’s also cool, but we’d recommend keeping your sound design sessions and production sessions separate. They’re both extremely creative tasks and take a huge amount of time.

And…

If your goal is to finish more music more quickly, then it’s wise to stick to one task at a time (humans are pretty bad at multi-tasking).

When you separate these sessions you’ll find that the sounds you create will be much better and the compositions you come up with will follow suit. You’ll also have a load of presets you could either sell in a pack or use to save time!

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Using Samples

Using samples is sometimes necessary to finish your song and that’s completely fine.

As producers a lot of us have taught ourselves that using samples is wrong, but that’s not the case.

If you take a listen to most Hip Hop tracks or tracks in the charts, they’ll likely be using samples. It’s what you do with it that counts (no innuendo intended) and it all comes down to how you bring a new creative spin on it.

When you’re struggling for ideas in your track, it’s always good to have this as a back up. Sifting through samples and loops can spark creativity for melodies, rhythmic ideas and changes in structure.

You’ll know what we mean if you’ve ever listened to a sound and that one sound has inspired a whole track.

If you’re looking to add to your collection of loops, we recommend checking out Loopcloud for their great deals. You can try them out for free!

HOW TO FINISH A SONG: Conclusion

Producing music is great fun, but sometimes it can get overwhelming and you can get stuck. But, by putting the proper structures in place to prevent this, you can avoid those bottlenecks & head in your hand moments.

And, as a result of this, you can capitalise more on your creative energies to pump more tracks out.

Like with anything, being organised and having structure is going to improve your work rate and productivity at that thing – the same goes for music production and finishing songs.

You’ll often find that most of the melody and track writing is done in the first couple of hours of producing, so you want to ensure that you make the most out of this time, as this is where your tracks will be completed.

By using our 6 productivity hacks and utilising your time much more efficiently, you’ll end up making more finished music that you can release independently.

But don’t take our word for it, start implementing it yourself today!

Anyway…

That’s all we have time for here, so thanks for reading this far and we really hope this helps you in some way. Be sure to bookmark this page for more content and remember to keep grinding.

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