How many half-finished songs or killer ideas do you have collecting digital dust on a hard drive?
Getting started on a new song or project is easy. But being able to finish your songs and setting them into the world is much harder.
When inspiration comes it’s magical. But all too often it takes months or years from that first moment to reach a release-ready master. In some cases, it’s taken me so long that just the thought of that session file made me anxious.
The creative process is a constant battle between too many good ideas and not enough resources and motivation to see them through the finish line. Ironically, the more songs you actually finish, the better your songwriting or production will become.
SoundBetter, a member of the ReverbNation marketplace, has helped tens of thousands of artists finish their tracks and albums by connecting them with the best music production talent in the world that work with them to create amazing-sounding songs.
Here are 10 tips to get your songs past the finish line:
1. Set bite-sized goals
It’s easy to get excited about a big goal, like releasing an album. But the path to big goals like that can feel overwhelming.
Instead, start with and focus on one track. And then create a goal roadmap of every part you need to mark that song as complete. For example, instead of just deciding you’re going to work on your track on Tuesday, set concrete goals like “Finish intro drums and bass on Tuesday morning before noon.”
2. Have your workspace always set up and ready to go
Inspiration can disappear as fast as it appears. When you’re inspired, the last thing you want is to look for cables, connect hard drives and pedals, get your midi sync working, or tune your guitar. That’s why it’s important to have your workspace set up and ready to go. Keep your gear plugged in and your instrument out of its case and in tune.
Being able to easily start working also helps capture the creative momentum that’s so important to finishing a song. We all know that feeling of getting in the zone and having the music just pour out of us. Make sure you’re always set up and ready to capture that moment.
3. Let go
Some of the most well-known artists in the world are incredibly prolific. But their rate of release is only possible because they ‘let go’ of perfection. They tame their inner perfectionist and create and release repeatedly.
Nobody else really hears the difference resulting from the last 5% of tweaks that we spend so much time on. If the song is awesome, it’ll still be awesome without those tweaks. If it isn’t awesome, those tweaks won’t make a difference.
Try to be honest with yourself about whether those never ending tweaks are changing the song dramatically or whether you’re using them as an excuse to not release the song.
4. Focus on your strengths. Outsource the rest.
If you’re a singer/songwriter, why are you getting stuck trying to program a beat? If you’re a producer why are you letting your less-than-stellar mixing abilities get in the way? And mastering? How many years did you spend honing that skill compared to a professional mastering engineer?
The music industry has always relied on specialists to help bring a song together. Even the most experienced artists with numerous huge releases under their belts continue to work with professional mixing engineers, mastering engineers, and producers.
We built SoundBetter for this very reason—to give musicians a resource for finding the best musical and production talent to help get their song over the finish line and give it that professional sparkle. We help thousands of musicians every month connect with singers, producers, engineers, and session musicians, so they can get to better sounding releases, faster.
5. Get inspired
Sometimes, it’s good to stop pushing. Instead, take a step away and give yourself some space to get inspired. Listen to old records you love or check out a new Spotify playlist. Inspiration can come from anywhere and not just music. Check out an art exhibit or watch a moving movie. Sometimes hearing a song and thinking ‘damn that’s good’ might push you to run to the studio with new found drive.
6. Limit yourself
The blessing and curse of modern recording is that you have access to an infinite amount of sounds, samples, beats, and tracks. Having lots of options is great, but can also lead to ‘selection anxiety.’ Songs can easily get written to death by adding more and more tracks and sounds.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try limiting yourself to one sampler, and one brand’s plugins. Try muting and hiding everything except the basic tracks and making them great rather than layering on. You’ll be surprised how little you need in some cases to make your song sound great.
7. Make a commitment
It sounds simple, but once you know you’ve got a great song in the works, you need to make the commitment to see if over the finish line. That commitment might mean releasing it on ReverbNation or sending it to be mastered, but whatever it is, that moment of clicking ‘submit’ needs to feel like a reality with a hard deadline that you’re committing to reaching. Making it in this industry means making your music a priority, combined with persistence and dedication.
8. Set deadlines and tell people about them
As you get closer to finishing, you need something that holds you accountable for hitting your goals. A forcing function. One of the best ways to do this is to tell your friends, family, and fans about an upcoming release with a date. Get them excited and invested in your release, and give yourself the added motivation of knowing you’ll let someone down if you don’t hit that deadline.
I’ve seen artists carry on working on their album forever when they don’t have any deadlines, and others release music faster than they ever have after announcing release dates they felt obliged to.
9. Seek outside feedback
When you’re working in isolation, it’s hard to get the perspective. It’s too easy to question yourself. That’s why it’s so helpful to get feedback from family and friends as well as from objective outsiders.
ReverbNation has a great service for getting unbiased feedback called Crowd Review. There are also SubReddits like /edmfeedback, /MusicCritique, or /ThisIsOurMusic and forums such as dubstepforum.com if you’re an electronic producer, or Musicbanter.com
Always remember to take feedback with a grain of salt. Focus on the constructive criticism, ignore the trolls, and remember that music is subjective by nature.
Working with a professional producer or session musician is another great way to get quality feedback on your songs from someone who knows what they’re talking about and can help you improve what needs improving. You can find some great producers on SoundBetter here.
10. Reward yourself
If you’re going to work hard and stay motivated to finish your track, you’ve got to reward yourself. Plan an event when you hit certain milestones. Release songs or song samples on social media to get some positive reinforcement. Treat yourself to a professional mix or master, or schedule a live show. Do whatever you know gives you a boost of motivation when it comes to your music.
Need help finishing your song? Check out curated profiles of Grammy winning and platinum-selling music production pros ready to work with you today on SoundBetter. We’re hooking up ReverbNation artists with a exclusive $20 credit for a limited time so you can get started.
Shachar Gilad is the Founder & CEO of SoundBetter—a curated marketplace of top music production talent. He’s a musician and producer, formerly worked at Waves Audio and Apple, and is a mentor and speaker at universities, startup accelerators, and music and tech conferences.