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How To Finish Tracks: 10 Music Production Workflow Secrets

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A long, long time ago, at the age of 18, I had a dream. I wanted to produce and release my own music. Twenty-four years later, I finally did it. Don’t struggle so long for yourself and discover how you can make great music way faster.

“One day, I’ll release my own music!”

That was my big dream when I was a teenager. DJs like Tiësto, System F, and The Prodigy were rocking the charts, and I wanted just that. I bought my first synthesizer, a Roland MC-303. And I started making music.

Success followed quite soon. I sent a demo to a publisher, and they soon released a remix of one of my trance-trance tracks. That remix is still on YouTube, and having it released felt great. But I wanted my own productions to be released as well.

Last week – 24 years after buying my first synth – it finally happened.

Do you want to struggle for years before your own tracks are finally release-worthy? If not, then read my Top 10 essential tips to produce music faster, better, and more wisely.

All aboard? Now, buckle up and get ready to optimize your music production workflow.

1. Don’t worry about EQ and compression.

EQ, compression and mastering, it’s all indispensable for professional sounding tracks. But don’t worry too much while you’re composing. And certainly not when you are in the flow.

Forget about the technicalities and concentrate on the music itself. The most crucial step is to try and come up with an arrangement as soon as possible. Finishing the musical structure of your project helps to finish entire songs much faster.

The longer you spend on a song, the faster you get bored. So, don’t forget to make great music first. After that, allow yourself to focus on mixing and mastering.

Compressing and EQ-ing are allowed, of course, while composing. But do it globally to see how it sounds and if it works. And fine-tune later on.

2. Make decisions quickly.

Finishing tracks is hard work, especially if you do it in your free time from work or school. Therefore, be strict with yourself and make choices quickly. Does something sound good? Keep it. Are you in doubt? Then don’t tinker endlessly, but try something different. Or continue with another part of your song.

You can render virtual instruments in all popular DAWs. Doing so saves CPU resources, and it’s also useful when arranging. Create rendered “building blocks” and use them for a basic arrangement. If you freeze instrument tracks, you can always return to the original instrument-version.

Audio rendering is also ideal for your final mix. By converting all MIDI tracks to audio tracks, you limit yourself. It indicates that the composing-stage is done. Now, move on to making that rendered audio track sound as good as you can.

3. Finish every song!

I admit this tip is easier said than done. But it’s a good endeavor to finish every song. The finished product doesn’t have to be perfect, but you will learn something new from every completed track.

You will keep growing as a producer. And finishing a track always feels great.

4. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Perfectionism is the enemy when you want to finish songs. For years, I thought every mix should sound at least as good as the current number one on Beatport.

That is a ridiculous way of thinking, and I was way too hard on myself.

Over the past two decades, I’ve also watched hundreds (and maybe thousands) of hours of producing courses and YouTube-tutorials. I’ve learned something from some of them. But all this knowledge limited me because I often thought something ‘should’ be done in a certain way.

The result: my tracks sounded over-produced and lacked spontaneity.

Since I realized this, I trust my ears more. And I only do what sounds good. With this approach, I finish track faster, and I keep improving myself as a producer. And that immediately leads to tip number five.

5. Trust your ears more than your eyes.

Digital audio workstations are incredibly useful. But they have a significant disadvantage: a DAW can lead you into making music with your eyes instead of your ears.

Press a chord on a piano, and you will immediately hear whether it sounds good or not. Record that same chord into your DAW, and you’ll almost automatically press Quantize or fine-tune the velocity values. However, that original recorded version might have been just perfect in all its human-like non-perfection.

The limitless editing and fine-tuning possibilities in a DAW are often useful. But in the end, it’s all about the music. And your fans won’t see your sequencer if they go crazy on your track.

What often helps me is this. Grab a pen and notepad, start your track, turn off your screen and write down everything you notice. Make these “ear-guided” adjustments and do the same next time – once again with fresh ears. Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the track.

6. Use track muting to carve out the arrangement.

Arranging is one of the most challenging parts of producing. You can often come up with a solid music idea in minutes. But, making a complete track out of it is an entirely different story.

Fortunately, there are some tricks to help with this issue.

Make a 16-bar loop and put all your parts together. Now mute the parts, one at a time, and see what happens. Mix and match different tracks until you’re happy with the first sixteen bars. Repeat this approach for the next section and keep on going through the entire arrangement.

Popular DAWs allow you to mute and unmute MIDI and audio clips with a shortcut key. This way, you can quickly mute tracks in real-time, as if you were “playing” the arrangement.

Can’t figure out a nice arrangement at all? Then drag an existing track into your DAW as a reference track. Compare the two and try to find out why the reference track works. How is it build up? How loud is the kick? And what happens in the break?

With a reference track, you’ll get instant inspiration. But be careful: the idea is to get inspired. Not to rip off the complete song.

7. Take small steps.

When you’re cooking, it’s best to be patient. If you simply throw all the ingredients into a pan simultaneously, the meal won’t taste good. The same goes for producing.

Do you want your mix to sound loud? Then throw a compressor on every track and boost the volume. Sometimes that works. But it’s more likely that your song will sound flat and lifeless. Small steps often work better.

Take it slow and build up your mix gradually. You can create your desired sound in small steps.

Busses are ideal for adding volume without squashing everything. I always create them for:

  • Low percussion
  • High percussion
  • Bass
  • Synths
  • Acoustic instruments
  • SFX

You can then use effects on each of those buses and, eventually, the master channel. Apply subtle bus compression or light distortion. That way, you’ll sculpt your sound gradually, and your tracks will sound more professional and coherent.

8. Act like an artist.

For almost 20 years, I was busy making music, but I didn’t feel like an artist. I also didn’t send demos because I thought my music wasn’t that good.

However, at some point, I decided that I’ve waited long enough.

I came up with a catchy artist name, started working on artwork, and suddenly it started to look like something. Making music was no longer without obligation, and I began believing in myself.

I sent my first ever demo in fifteen years and received an answer the next day. “Your tracks sound great, and we want to release them.” Cool!

9. Create your signature sound.

There is an awful lot of good music out there. But there are also many interchangeable tracks. It is smart to listen and learn from pro-producers. But if you want to stand out, you also have to do something different.

Try to create a signature sound as soon as possible.

For example, use original samples, program synths by yourself, or force yourself not to use ready-made loops. You will make it a bit harder for yourself.

But it will give your music a unique “selling point.” And a copy is always less valuable than the original.

10. Make music with the gear you have

More, more, more! If you want, you can download hundreds, no, thousands of free and paid plugins. But does it make your music sound better?

You don’t need much for professional productions. I swear by a good reverb, delay, compressor, limiter, and multiband compressor, and I know exactly how they work. I also have some additional plugins to give my sound something extra, but they aren’t indispensable.

Bargains are fun, and people always want something new. There is even a name for it: the shiny object syndrome. If you aren’t careful, you will waste hours and hours on hunting bargains. At the same time, you can make music as well.

What do you prefer?

Use these tips to make better music.

It took me 24 years to release my first 100% own EP. And I made all the mistakes mentioned in this article.

Be smarter than me, and take advantage of the tips in this article. Then you’ll make great music faster, better, and more easily. Guaranteed.

Follow De Facto: YouTube | Instagram | Aurora EP

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About Author

Rutger Steenbergen is an online marketeer, copywriter, and bedroom producer from the Netherlands. His debut EP 'Aurora' by De Facto is out now on Teoxane Production.

26 Comments

  1. One thing is missing – “keep it simple – don’t orverdo/overthink stuff” – don’t think that those 100+ tracks in your DAW will sound better than interesting and polished few. Keep your busses and fx in order (do you really need that reverb/delay on every track instead of fx send ?) . For massive sounds don’t layer 300+ other on top of each other – really. In most cases spliting them into 3 bands will do the trick (low, mid, high).

    • Rutger Steenbergen

      on

      Don’t overthink it is the central idea behind this article 😀 So I totally agree with you.

      I’m curious how you approach splitting. And for which instruments you use that 👍

      • Simple as it sounds – I use 3 instances of synths playing same midi part and just route midi into them or simply just copy/paste midi. Then eq accordinglly to get 2 or 3 bands I mentioned before (low,mid and high or combination). And then set levels to my taste – depending on instrument style. I do to any instrument or group that I feel it lacks a bit of certain quality i.e. splitting pad into 3 allows me to control its body and bite without conflicting with bassline and add widith using mid/side eq for desired parts only.
        It’s a bit of old school apparoach but it works every time :)

    • Disappointed Procrastinator

      on

      Well, that was disappointing. All seemed well until someone noticed that one of the posters/artist’s YouTube channel logo alluded to addictive drugs and decided that freedom of artistic expression should only be free up until the point that they specifically get offended. Then they wouldn’t let it go. Then the thread was abruptly closed.

  2. Hi Rutger
    Thanks for your very good advice, its very much appreciated that you take the time to write this article to help others & it makes perfect sense to me.
    Well done & congratulations for your release as well, what an excellent song you created too👍
    Thanks also Division One, Poofox, Tomislav & BPB

    I will say this. My friends & i went into a studio for the first time in 1991 with only a few ideas about what we wanted to do (we were late teenagers at the time).
    The guy who owned the studio only had his own essential equipment & i took my turntables & Roland 101 too, but he was very helpful during our time there.
    We finished the day with a song which we were all proud to have been a part of, and it only took 8 hours from start to finish.
    Of course, these days we all have a computer to make our own music, anytime, day or night & everything is so much easier, but i try to think about that day to encourage myself to actually finish what i started, as i am very slow to finish songs now.
    maybe because i know that theres no rush to finish a song, but i keep an open mind to learning & good advice is very much welcome 😊

    Thanks again Rutger

    • Rutger Steenbergen

      on

      Great story, thanks for sharing. The most import thing is creativity and that’s something you can’t buy. Daft Punk made brilliant tracks with almost nothing. So I always try to keep that in mind. It’s all ’bout the music, not the gear.

      • Your welcome Rutger,
        It’s so true what you say though.
        I used to use two tape decks at home, before i could afford a 4 track recorder 🤭.
        I would record my music onto tape 1, then afterwards play it back while recording more music over the top of the original music using tape deck 2.
        Then after this, i would use a new tape & use the pause button to record sections from tape 2 onto the new tape.
        I used the sections which i needed from the second tape to build the length & eventually create a little song from it all 😄
        The sound quality was not that good after more than two layers, but it was something from nothing, just using my DJ mixer (PHONIC MRT 60), to route the tapes through.
        Those were the days lol.
        a really good example of what you said though, would be the man who plays the drums using buckets on the streets, which sounds awesome, instead of a rich kid trying to play on an expensive drum kit 😊

        Kind regards 👍

        • Rutger Steenbergen

          on

          I made some nice tracks with just a Roland MC-303. If that’s all you have, you force yourself to be creative. And I didn’t have internet on my pc back then. That was also a blessing 😮

  3. There are a lot of great tips in this article, but one take-away that will now and forever be my LAW. #3 FINISH EVERY SONG! I am going to post a sign that says that in my studio or as a reminder make it my cell phone screen saver! Thank you

    • Rutger Steenbergen

      on

      Nice you liked it. And not every track should be perfect. I always try to implement the things I learned in a new track. Otherwise I keep tweaking on songs way to long. That’s why I try to bounce audio quite fast as well. Make decicions and stick with them. Good luck and keep on making great music 👍

  4. Those words are definitely the most heartfelt advice you will ever find on the internet. When the modern trend is highly filled with judge-mentalists/haters, your subconscious always has that high expectation for yourself.

    More than gears or plug-ins, the main road blocks are actually within us. Not knowingly we tend to live under the fear of failing due to our schooling systems. We always learn to judge and ace too much until we forgot how to enjoy the process or the result. This is what we really need to improve on more than anything. The struggle is real and we are all in this together more or less.

    Thank you so much for writing this despite your vulnerability.

    • Rutger Steenbergen

      on

      Thank for your response. And I agree with you, also in the Netherlands it’s more and more about being the best. And then what? Fortunately I’m only judging myself. So that’s why I decided to be a little less hard for myself. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it never will be. Since then, I finish great (and almost perfect 😁) tracks.

  5. For me it is the publishing process.
    After 17K on student loan on Nusic Production program I still dont know how to mange publishing rights and all that :O

  6. Thanks Rutger, very good article and very useful for those of us who are in the same situation. In my case I find it difficult to put together the structure of the complete song. I have thousands of projects with several tracks but no more than 16 bars … But the big problem is as you say, not stopping to install new plugins! impossible to fully understand the operation of one of them in particular!
    Thanos!

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