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Over the last little while I’ve been studying – mostly myself and my habits, and reading/watching/listening to a whole stack of teachings to improve my creative output. I was feeling stuck and I wanted to know why – why did it feel like the more experience I got, the harder it was to finish music?

I found a lot of answers, too many to share at once and too many for me to implement without some kind of reinforcement. So I thought I’d start sharing them in bitesize pieces – to help myself as much as everyone else. I want to cover more holistic creative issues that aren’t spoken about enough. The world doesn’t need any more sound design tutorials!

I started asking people what their biggest obstacles were last week. I made some Facebook polls and the results were pretty much inline with my own experience. Finishing music was the biggest problem by far, so I’m starting there. If reading isn’t your vibe – watch the video!

#1 – Structure The Song ASAP

We all start each song in our own way – you might start at the drop, or the hook, chorus, intro etc. Whatever idea you’re cooking up just run with it until you’ve got something you like. It’s usually an 8 or 16 bar loop.

When your idea is there, you need to stop tweaking the high-mids on your third snare layer, zoom out, and focus on the WHOLE SONG.

Structure it out right now or risk getting stuck and abandoning this idea like the rest of them.

The simplest way to approach this step is with a reference track. Find one you like – a similar genre to your project, drag it into your DAW and copy the structure – eg. 16 bar intro, 16 bar build, 32 bar drop, etc. Use basic elements from your existing loop and built out the bare bones of a full song. You can now listen all the way through and ideas will present themselves to you. The song will tell you what it needs – just fill in the gaps like a jigsaw puzzle.

Another good idea is grabbing an exercise book and taking notes on the structure of 10 songs in your genre. You’ll not only have a quick reference for the future, but you’ll learn some common similarities and feel more confident about approaching structure in your own music.

#2 – Develop GRIT

Inspiration doesn’t finish songs, it only starts them.

That’s why you’ll often get a cool idea out, get stuck, then start a new song. Get yourself some grit!

Grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective)

Grit finishes songs. You have to push yourself through the difficulty of feeling stuck or ‘uninspired’. When you’re running on inspiration with the creative side of your brain and have a cool loop going – follow step one and structure it out. You’re now going to ‘switch’ to your analytical side to follow a more logical sequence to fill this bad boy in.

Every song I’ve ever finished has included this ‘hopeless’ stage, where it feels impossible and I just want to work on something else. It’s only when I’ve forced myself to sit there and move forward one tiny logical step at a time that I’ve come out the other side with a finished song.

#3 – Work on One Song At a Time

Please try this. You can certainly have multiple projects on the go, but flicking between them in the one studio session can be crippling for progress. Work on ONE SONG per session. This will help you enforce grit and make actual progress.

I’ve started mapping out my week in advance, where I list one song to work on per day, along with ONE goal for that session.

Monday: Song 1 – structure it out
Tuesday: Song 2 – process vocals
Wednesday: Song 3 – finishing touches
Thursday: Song 1 – fill it in
Friday: Song 2 – finishing touches
Saturday: Song 3 – final listen/send for mastering
Sunday: Song 1 – finishing touches

Of course you can purely focus on one song at a time until it’s finished, rather than juggling 3 like my example. But sometimes you have deadlines, obligations, or just don’t want to burn yourself out on one song.

#4 – Stop Being a Perfectionist

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
– Confucius

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

Perfect is the enemy of good. Most of us try to make each song perfect which is just a trap. Of course we should aim to produce to the best of our ability, but often we aim higher than that, which just causes overthinking, over-critiquing, and waste of valuable time and energy.

This has been a big problem for me, as my skills and experience increased, my expectations and self-criticism increased even more.

Perfectionism is a hard habit to break but it’s very freeing when you get there. The most efficient way to approach this process is again with your analytical mind – is this intro good enough? Move on to the build. If nothing stands out as ‘wrong’, move on. You’ll get most of the song finished this way and can make final changes in the end.

There’s a great book called ‘How to Be an Imperfectionist’ by Stephen Guise, that highlights the consequences of perfectionism and gives steps to overcome it. Some of my personal highlights from the book are:

Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.

Paralyzed perfectionists are those who let the fear of failure trap them into living a less meaningful life. They’ll play it safe by doing things like watching TV, only doing what they’re “supposed to do,” and taking very few risks.

Perfectionism, not a lack of ideas, is the one and only cause of writer’s block.

The premise of imperfectionism—and this is key—is that having lower standards does not equate to getting worse results. A common, false assumption is that aiming for perfection gets you closer to it. The opposite is true: Embracing imperfection will bring you closer to perfection than a perfectionist mindset will.

Instead of seeing a situation as going from 1 (poorly) to 10 (perfectly), see situations as 0 (not doing anything) and 1 (doing something). When you focus on doing things and counting that as an automatic success, you’ll make more progress in life and do so in a more relaxed manner.

#5 – Embrace The Suck

Unfortunately, any skill worth having involves sucking when you start learning – whether it’s an instrument, a language, a sport, songwriting or music production. That’s why you have to love the process because you’re going to suck at it.

Comparing the quality of your music to a bigger artist might be holding you back more than it’s helping you progress. It’s only going to be as good as you can make it today, and that should be your only goal and the only determining factor when deciding whether it’s finished.

You can’t fail. If you write a song, that’s your song. It’s not right or wrong, it’s yours. Your only aim should be to make this song as good as you can, and the next song slightly better, then make 100 more!

There you have my top 5 tips for finishing more music. These have really helped me and hopefully they help you. If they do, share them with a friend.

Up next I’ll be covering writer’s block, fear of rejection, focus, and a bunch more.