How To Know When To Stop Working On A Song
We’ve all been there before:
You’ve been working on a song for so long you’re not sure whether your third, sixth, or seventeenth iteration was the best.
Is that last synth really adding anything? Or is it just the fact that I know it’s there?
You’ve saved about 20 ‘final bounces’ so far, and you’re still not convinced you’ve got the perfect track on your hands.
It’s enough to drive any songwriter or producer crazy, and worse still, it’s a real inspiration killer.
That track that at first had you up all night feeling like a rockstar as you plugged away in your DAW now has you up all night tweaking your snare 5,000 different ways.
So, it begs the question:
How do you know when to stop working on a song?
Let’s take a look at five signs that it might be time to put this one to bed (or to the cloud).
1. The changes you’re making make it different, not better
This is a classic sign that your song is finished.
Remember, there is always room to add another track, layer, texture, melody, backing vocal, or drum fill.
That doesn’t mean that the track needs that change, though.
A lot of the time, adding new textures and harmonies to a song, or editing existing ones, just makes it different, not better.
Sometimes, that extra acoustic guitar track just doesn’t add much to the song other than a little more noise.
Of course, it can be tough to tell the difference, especially when you’re in the moment.
For that reason, it’s always a good idea to bounce out different iterations of your track, even going as far as to ‘save as’ your project into a new file, so you can always revert back to past versions if you do decide that change you made really wasn’t required.
Staying objective in these moments can be a little tough sometimes, so you might like to ask for a second opinion:
2. You share it with others and get no feedback for changes
Composing and producing can be a pretty solitary process at times.
Often, you’ve listened to a track so many times that you can no longer tell what’s good or bad. In other words, you’ve lost objectivity.
At this point, it’s a good idea to ask a few friends to have a listen through and give you some feedback.
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Actually, this is a worthwhile effort in any scenario, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to figure out whether your track is done or not.
If you don’t get any feedback for changes, then it’s a pretty good indicator that your song is ready to go!
It could also be an indicator that they aren’t overly adept in terms of creating music. So try to find people that you know and trust, and that create songs themselves.
3. You’re getting bored of it
Creating music shouldn’t be a chore.
Sometimes when you’ve been working on a song for too long, it simply doesn’t excite you like it used to.
This is a good sign that it’s time to put the track to bed.
If you’re getting tired of working on a piece, consider leaving it alone for a couple of weeks.
When you come back to it, you’ll either be in love with it again or still seriously bored of it. If it’s the latter, it’s probably time to admit defeat on this one.
Not every song you work on needs to be a masterpiece, or make it to Spotify.
It’s all a learning experience, and you might find some use for parts of your track in later compositions.
4. Anything you add just doesn’t work
Sometimes you feel like a track is missing that special ‘something,’ but whatever you add just doesn’t seem to work for you.
This could be a good sign to stop working on your track.
Remember, sometimes less is more.
5. You no longer hear the song as components, but as a track overall
When you’re working on a mix, you’re actively listening in to certain components and tracks, aiming to identify where you need to make changes to levels or equalization.
At a certain point, all of those individual tracks come together to form a cohesive audio offering.
When you reach this point, your song is probably finished.
A good litmus test for this is to bounce out your track and listen to it in the car.
If everything sounds like it fits together nicely, and it sounds like a song (rather than a collection of individual instruments and vocal melodies), then you’re good to go.
Here’s the thing:
Your songs are never really finished, ever.
Some artists tweak their songs for years, even after they’ve been recorded and released.
Plus, you can always come back and release a modified version if you decide to make some significant edits, and it’s a pretty cool way to show your development as an artist.
So, don’t aim for a 100% finished track in every case. Aim for closer to 95%, and you’ll be pumping out more tracks that you’re still in love with by the time you release them.