How to Finish Music

You’ve just had a good long studio session. You started a banging new track, spent hours refining and maybe even managed to finish (or so you think). You go to sleep feeling really good about yourself.

The next day you have a listen. Everything sounds a bit off. You feel like all the hard work and inspiration was wasted. You realize it needs a lot more work.

But your momentum is lost and you don’t feel like working on it anymore. You end up starting something new, and the track gets buried under other projects. Pretty soon you forget about it.

Sound familiar? Yup, for me too.

How to finish music then? Well, here is one approach I use a lot. It quite often works for me – give it a shot.

Liquid mindset

We are constantly exposed to different environments, information and ideas. Our moods, mindsets and thought patterns shift from day to day. We also start to lose focus and perspective in long sessions.

A good track you hear somewhere might have a bigger effect on you today than it would have tomorrow or yesterday. How receptive you are to a particular piece of music at a particular moment depends on many different variables.

Likewise, when making music, what you come up with is always the outcome of your current mindset. If that mindset happens to be blurred or diluted, can you expect the results to turn out good?

A simple, great piece of advice you often hear is to take a break when you’re having a hard time with a project. Come back to it later. It works because you are giving your brain a chance to reset and then come in from a fresh perspective.

Yeah, everyone knows it’s good to take a break when you are having trouble. What I am saying is: quite often it’s beneficial to take a break even if everything seems good. 

We are going to utilize this in this method.

 

How to finish music – The principle

The principle I am introducing here is easy:

  • First session: Lay out the basics and structure.
  • Take a break – preferably until the next day.
  • Second session: Work on the details and finish the tune.

Let’s break these steps down a bit more.

 

1. First session – basics

When you first start working on a track, be quick and just try to get the idea down. Lay out the structure of the track as quickly as possible.

Don’t spend a lot time on details at this point. Don’t worry if something doesn’t sound right yet. Do what comes naturally. Try to trust your original idea and just go for a rough version.

Again – don’t go in on the details too much. It’s too early to try to make it perfect – you can easily end up smothering your original idea.

 

2. Utilize the power of your subconsicous mind

Once the bulk of your track is done it’s time to take a break. You can work on something else if you want, but let the newly created track rest until the next day. Let your brain reset. Your subconscious mind will keep working while you sleep. You wake up with new ideas (even though you might not realize it yet).

Your mindset is also probably going to be a little different the next day. If today you couldn’t manage to get it “just right”, your different mindset might very well allow for that to happen tomorrow.

It’s almost like having two minds working on a track because your strenghts and weaknesses can vary from day to day.

 

3. Second session – details and finish

After the break you will have more persepective and new ideas. Now go to work on the details and finish the track in a way that complements your original idea.

What you have to look out for at this point is to not get sidetracked too much. It’s easy to come up with something that sounds good but is too different from what you set out to do originally.

When this happens I usually save that idea as a separate project and use it as a basis for another tune later on.

 

How to finish music – conclusion

With this method I’ve been able to start as many as three tracks a day and finish them the next day. You should not confuse this with multitasking though. Every step of this process has a start and finish. Only until you are finished with something you move on to the next thing.

Try this out and see how it works for you.

If it doesn’t, that’s fine. But keep in mind that good ideas alone are not enough to carry you through to finishing great pieces of music. You need to build ways that keep the momentum going and prevent you from losing focus.

 

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  • Dakkon

    I really hope I can apply this guide to my work. My biggest problem is that I get sucked into details right from the start and it results in my composition becoming completely uninteresting. Every good tune has solid composition where it feels like it has direction, where mine has the mood I’m going for and all the elements I want–but it goes nowhere. I hope by applying this, I’ll start to make important realizations and understandin to make real tunes. Plus, a music course wouldn’t hurt either lol.

  • very good article – thank you so much for your advice … from that moment, and will do so))))) have a nice week!!!!!!!!

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Cheers, glad you found it useful.

  • Nevermind

    Cool, this article helped me to put into words, what hinders me from finishing stuff, thanks!

    googling
    ableton 8 slots/clips available for each track
    brought me to your blog 🙂

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      Wow that is great to hear. Thanks for the comment and all the best with the music.

  • Thanks for this article, you are a great writer!
    Somehow I always have the guilt feeling when I finish a track in 2 days, I’m like
    “2 days? Can’t be, if I work a month on this it would be better,” So I’m not releasing it, I know this aint true but my mind is fooling me, do you have the same thing? Do you also finish tracks in 2/3 days?

    • Ilpo Kärkkäinen

      I quite often finish tracks in a couple of days yes. But I do tend to come back for a mixdown session later, say, after a week or two.

      I’ve noticed, for me the best tunes are usually the ones that I finish quick. Those are the golden moments when everything just clicks into place naturally and effortlessly.

  • Ubi D

    Ilpo . once again thanks for your insights on this less technical sides of the production biz…last years have been a hell for me, life-wize and music-wize (since i had to almost completely stop doing music due to my life problems, being not able to concentrate or to even have time and means to do that), but reading stuff like this helps me to actually avoid throwing the sponge definitively on my music.
    Actually it even helps me sometimes clearing my head about which choices i have to take to be able to keep on banging the virtual drumz…thanks

    Ubi D

    • Cool, glad to hear it’s helping you out. Hope things will work out better for you soon. There are times when you just need to set priorities and of course in life there are some things that should come before music. Doesn’t mean you should give up on music for ever. Once you have things working out better again, that’s a great place to make music from (having been through some hard times in the past myself, I know). All the best.