There’s something in the world of business management called the Pareto principle — commonly known as the 80-20 rule — which says that:
it often takes 20% of the full amount of time spent on a project to complete 80% of it while it takes 80% of the effort to finish the last 20%.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced some headaches in finishing off some of your tracks. Or maybe you haven’t yet found a way to complete projects off yet. Either way, we’re here to help you navigate your way through those tricky creative hurdles and get you to the finish line, so here are our tips on how to finish off a song.
Give it some space
First thing’s first: if you’re stuck on a project, step away from it for a good week or few.
Sometimes when you’ve been working for so many hours on the same track, you ‘can’t see the woods for the trees’ — as the British idiom goes. It can be hard to have any sort of perspective, and you may have even gotten to a point where your love for your initial idea has been worn down by sheer repetition and frustration. And thinking back to the Pareto principle which we mentioned at the start of this article, it says that the more effort you put into something, the less efficient that effort will become.
So if you feel stuck, you’re probably deep into this territory and need a break. This is the point where you need to take some time and space away from the project. Let it marinate. Start something else. Or revisit another old project. Only go back to the one you’re stuck on once you feel excited about it again and motivated to finish it.
Hopefully, you’ll find that some time away from the track has given you some fresh ideas or some clarity as to what’s missing (or what needs taking away).
Make a ‘vomit draft’
A ‘vomit draft’ is what’s known in the screen/scriptwriting world as a rough version of a script which is made using a brain-dump technique. The aim is to get from the start to the end as quickly as possible with all of the key ideas that form the basis of the plot worked into it. Once that’s done, it can be refined later around this basic structure.
By creating something that resembles a finished track — even if it’s flawed and not quite there yet in your eyes/ears — you are giving yourself some creative limitations that will hopefully help you hone in on what the problem is. When your project is open and you have limitless possibilities at your fingertips, the ‘tyranny of choice’ can bear down on you and confuse your mind. This way, you’ll be able to better see where you have gone wrong, what needs adding or subtracting, where the energy doesn’t flow quite right and so on.
Doing this with your project should help to remove the pressure from your situation. There’s an old Italian proverb which translates to “‘the best’ is the enemy of the good”. That says it all: the search for perfection can get in the way of great things. Stop trying to make it perfect and start focusing on having a version with a beginning, a middle and an end.
It will also hopefully give you a temporary sense of closure which will allow you to move on to another project and revisit this problem track once you have had some space from it.
Set a deadline
Deadlines are another very useful form of creative limitations.
If you have a deadline for a remix or for the submission of an EP or album, you know you’re going to have to get it done in time unless you want to cause a whole load of problems or miss out on your release date. It can obviously be harder to stick to self-imposed deadlines if they don’t have real consequences, but they are definitely worth trying.
Set a date you want to have the track finished by, and make sure you have something finished by that date. Again, it doesn’t need to be perfect, but if you commit to your deadline, you may find that this ‘good’ kind of pressure helps you to refine your ideas and narrow your scope of possibilities for the better.
Go back to the source
Screenwriters also often talk about going back to the source of inspiration on a project to re-align focus and to reinvigorate motivation. If your track was inspired by something else, go back to whatever it was and listen again. Remind yourself what your initial idea and direction was. You may have lost your way in the process of making the track, and sometimes reminding yourself about its beginning can help you find your way to the end.
Ask for feedback
it can be useful to get some fresh ears on your project. Bounce down where you’re at and send the demo version to some trusted friends who can give their opinions. They might be able to steer you in the right direction — particularly if you hear the same feedback echoed by more than one person. You could also consider using our Spinnup Facebook community group to get some feedback if you don’t have any friends who could help.
Give your project to a friend to collaborate
You could also go one further than asking for feedback and look to collaborate with a fellow artist on the track. Think of it almost like a remix. You send them your project and parts and give them creative license to do what they want with it — or maybe you’ll want to be more restrictive and give them specific pointers on what you’re stuck on. Let them sit with it and give their input, and you might find that together you have solved the puzzle. Again, our Facebook group could be a good place to find someone to do this.
Play the track out
If you play live or DJ, don’t be afraid to give your ‘rough’ or ‘demo’ version a try. You can use the synergistic feedback loop of performing live and making music at home or in the studio to help you refine your idea and workshop it into a final iteration.
If you’re DJing, make sure you use a little compression and limiting on your master bus to get a rough master sounding good and loud enough to play out.
Keeping yourself motivated to finish projects can be tough if you don’t have a good audience of fans or people hungry for music. It’s important to try and find your own joy in making tracks and finishing them rather than relying on external validation for what you make.
The more happiness you can create inside you by making music, the more you’ll want to make it, the more you’ll want to finish. You can be in control of this eco-cycle. If you rely on other people to give you that motivation, you will have a less dependable driving force behind you.
Ultimately, you have to make music you love and want to hear in the world. If you stay true to yourself and passionate about what you do, it will yield results.
Don’t let yourself feel like you shouldn’t bother finishing projects completely if you don’t have these external outlets and validators. The better you get at finishing and refining tracks, the more you will learn and the better your music will get.