Finish The Track

In the last couple of days, I’ve going to some great shows at SXSW (watch this space for a recap) and mingling (talking about myself, haha). I’ve met a lot of people who have what seems like a passing interest in producing electronic music. What, I asked myself, is the difference between these people and the folks on stage or in the DJ booth?

What does Salva (one of my new favs) have that most Ableton jockeys don’t?

The answer is, he’s mastered a storied technique called: Finish the Damn Track (FDT).

I feel like we spend a lot of time discussing tips and tricks and little shortcuts and secret routing techniques and blah blah blah. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s finishing the track that is the most important thing.

Finishing the Damn Track is not something that just happens. It takes practice and the implementation of smart techniques. It’s a skill, just like programming drums and synths.

But, finishing a track is more difficult, because whereas most production skills are about learning more about your tools, Finishing the Damn Track is about learning more about your tools AND yourself. It is not only about twiddling the right knobs, it’s also about twiddling YOURSELF.

Wait. That sounds gross. You know what I mean.

So, for the next few posts, I’m going to put the little tips and tricks on hold and try to dive into this skill that seems to elude so many of us.

But first I have a question for you. What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to your finishing a track? Let me know in the comments.

9 Responses to “Finish The Track”

  1. Lapsa March 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    First barrier is to improvise enough. Key part is to make something that you don’t want to just drop.

    Second barrier is when it sounds really good, but there’s too little. Imagination kind a stops and you don’t know where to go next. This one is hardest part to overcome because it’s easy to start dislike what you already have.

    Third barrier is making song to flow properly. Not too hard. But might take tons of time.

    Ending usually kind a pops up itself.

    And then – the sweet part. Working on details and mastering – making it sound deep and tasty. :)

    • Anthony March 20, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

      Yeah, I think that giving yourself some space is a really important step to avoid disliking your own work. It is difficult to hear what made a track so compelling when you are stuck listening to it for hours on end!

  2. Navar March 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    Maybe looking at a similar form of composition would be instructive – writing an essay. When I was in school, I had to take a two-year sequence of humanities courses. It wasn’t until my last quarter that I finally felt good submitting an essay. Every other submission was plagued with insomnia, self-doubt, and endless revisions up until the deadline. So what happened? How was it that a succession of suckiness culminated in self-perceived not sucking?

    I think the answer is primarily deadlines. FINISHING. That, coupled with actually putting in the time doing close reading of the works and emulating the argumentative devices that I liked. The same goes for music, finishing productions that are reflections of quality works which I have studied very closely. Through this recursive process of study and self-reflection, I think one eventually comes to a point of saying something worthwhile. But it absolutely must finish. Productions need to be discrete for the learning and progression to occur. Endlessly revising an essay based on a bad introduction, a bad thesis, or a bad arrangement will never result in a good essay. We must finish our works, put them aside, reflect on them, and start over on something new.

    What does that mean? It means not obsessing over what sample will sound absolutely best, which synth patch will be the ultimate, what kind of build and drop will work best. Decide on something, build on it, move on. It might be a sick kick and snare backbeat that we build on, or a nice chord progression, or a suggestive synth patch. Whatever the basis, we just have to work with it and move on. Finish. The next production will be better, and the next even better. Have faith in the method. I think some people have this mentality naturally, the more self-conscious of us need to work at it.

    Will we show the world all of our finished works and learning experiences? No, we are not Dam Funk. People won’t get it. But finish we must, jam we will, and rock we shall.

  3. Thomas Jones March 19, 2012 at 2:17 am #

    Nice site. For me I think it’s a workflow that gets tracks finished. I like to separate things that require the more analytical parts of the brain like mixing, picking samples, etc…from the more creative processes like composing, and maybe even arranging. Since we’re all becoming do-it-yourselfers it’s easy to get sidetracked and bounce around from task to task. It’s like production procrastination. Instead of pushing through the hurdles in for example arranging, we bounce to something else like tweaking sounds, and mixing, so the arranging gets pushed back until later.

    I also feel like the knowledge and techniques are all there for making music, sounds, mixing, etc. It’s how you put it all together that gets tracks finished. So again workflow. I wrote a book about it, almost as a checklist for myself. Teamed up with Beatport. Maybe, it could help some of you guys out. Shameless plug.

    I agree with the other posters in wanting to see someone make a track from start to finish too. The closest thing I’ve seen as of late has been the D. Ramirez masterclasses on Youtube, and Deadmau5’s livestream. Those are good resources and obviously very reputable. Holla

    • Duality March 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      Good advice. More flow in work flow. That is definitely a skill, learning how to properly allocate one’s focus to qualitatively different cognitive tasks.

      Thinking about it, a practice I’ve developed is writing all my ideas down when they come. I have a pad and pen within arm’s reach at all times. If I have a tangential idea strike me while I’m doing one task – say EQing hi-hats while I’m busy arranging/writing a song – I write that down, and keep doing what I’m doing. I go back to the pad when I finish the original task.

      Another skill with Ableton that’s improved my work flow is getting very comfortable with track transport in session view. Usually I’ll cruise on one part of a song in Session view, let’s say the intro, and when I start to FEEL like it’s time to change something, I duplicate everything into a new scene, bring in new elements, cruise on that, and get the parts written. In Arrangement is where I get the micro details of builds, drops, automations, etc… I find that feeling out a track’s arrangment results in a much more organic end result than dropping/building something every 16/32/64 bars.

      I like these discussions :) Helps me sort out my own head.

    • Yvonne Veldkamp March 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      Thanks Thomas for your post.
      I just bought your book and I am really hoping to finish more songs following your workflow.

    • Anthony March 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

      Glad to have another resource, Thomas!

  4. Priscilla March 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I’m really looking forward to this series as I’ve just began working on an album.

    I think for myself I always get stuck when things start to sound to repetitive. I throw in some change ups but it still sounds a bit to repetive so I put the track away for a while and usually don’t come back to it because it’s ice cold in my brain. Any tips on how to get out of the slump would be great, so I can actually finish the damn track.


  5. Anthony April 2, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    The key, I think, is to find a good balance between “Giving Yourself Some Room” and “Forgetting.” I would say to set an actual time that you plan on coming back to the track. Hell, put it in your calendar!

Leave a Reply