A skill that is often overlooked by many aspiring producers, and it’s a skill that is seriously under-rated by too many, is simply getting tracks finished. So many people end up with a hard drive full of loops, half-tunes, ideas and sketches, but all too few full, finished tracks. Sound familiar? Don’t worry if so – it’s a stage most people have had to work through at some point in their production lives. So let’s go in a bit deeper on this issue, and look at some ways to make sure you get more finished tracks under your belt!
Many producers who start to write beats have a certain idea in mind – that once you get to a certain level of technical proficiency, the rest is easy. Your tunes pretty much write themselves; you get your 8 or 16 bar loop sorted, a couple of sick synth noises going on, and somehow after that, everything basically falls into place.
It’s a nice dream, but unfortunately, a dream is all it is. The uncomfortable truth is that, just as with every other aspect of production, finishing a tune takes work and plenty of practise. It’s a skill, and needs to be learned just as much as compressing your drum buss or writing a harmony. There’s no shortcut!
So how do we go about getting over this hurdle and convert those ideas and sketches into fully formed works of electronic art? Well, first of all you have to change your mindset somewhat – and set as your goal the completion of a full track. It sounds obvious, but many forget that although firing up the 16-bar loop and muting/adding parts is loads of fun to jam with, all you’re really doing is admiring the potential that your embryonic tune has. You’re not actually writing, and you won’t end up with a full track any time soon. At this stage, you’re really only a third of the way through the production process. It’s time to get on with the hard graft – but don’t worry, you’ll soon learn to enjoy it!
So you start tracking out the arrangement, and this is where so many people come a cropper. Remember the new mindset – forget the art, what does it need to do? It needs an intro; perhaps a breakdown, a main drop, and so on. Listen to tunes in your genre and count out their structure – how long is a typical intro, how does a drop develop? Don’t worry about copying parts of a structure for now; the important part is that you work through the process to completion: anyway, if you listen to enough tracks in your chosen style you’ll quickly see that most structures are pretty generic. Just the fact that you’re writing your own beats and melodies, and producing in your own style will give it a distinctive signature. If you really want to get arty then later you can start experimenting with crazy intros, tempo changes and whatnot – but get the basics down and get into the habit of finishing tracks first!
Important things to consider are factors such as, when do elements come in or drop out? Fills? FX? Switch-ups? A good track will use plenty of techniques to keep the ear engaged, and let the music progress without becoming boring. It’s a good idea to have some production ‘tools’ to hand here. For instance, a sample pack of risers and whoosh noises to drop into a progressive house track to keep the momentum up. Or a couple of glitch/slicer plugins if you’re writing psytrance; maybe a sampler instrument full of bass drops that you can throw into your D&B tune for half a bar here or there. Often these details can make a big difference, and take a simple track from being boring to being just ‘stripped back’! As you keep finishing tracks, you’ll also start to build up a repertoire of tricks and techniques that can help at this stage – practise is key.
The other crucial part is to distance yourself from what you’re writing (it’s that mindset thing again). It’s only natural that you’ll like whatever you happen to come out with; but is it actually good? Be brutal with yourself here. It’s often a good idea to get a friend round to check out the tune at this point; it makes you listen to the track from a very different perspective. If you find yourself justifying it, saying things like ‘this part really gets going in a second’ then you perhaps need to add some extra interest at that point.
The important thing though, is just to get through the process, sign the track off as ‘done’ and move onto the next thing. Don’t spend weeks tweaking and tweaking to get everything perfect – there isn’t a producer in the world who doesn’t look back at old tracks and see things that couldn’t be improved. The more tracks you finish, the easier it becomes to see what a track really needs to do, and the easier the process becomes. So load up that unfinished jam, settle in for the long haul and get finishing!