Surprisingly, one way to finish more music is to stop trying so hard to finish music.
If you’re anything like me, you have a burning passion for making music. You are full of feelings and ideas just scratching from the inside to get out, and you want to bring them to life as fully as you can and share them with as many people as possible.
When you’re not making music, you start to go a little crazy and feel like you’re not yourself.
That drive to connect with others through music, to share some feeling or idea or mood so someone else can experience it or relate to it is what pushed a lot of us to start making music in the first place.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have all of their time free to spend creating, though. A lot of us fell into careers, or are going to school and/or working jobs so we can live our lives, and we spend whatever free time we have honing our musical skills and creating. That’s just life!
No matter what your situation, there’s nothing wrong with it. We all do what we can do to chase our passion and get closer to that feeling of fulfillment and “rightness” we find when we’re doing what we love, whenever we can.
But it can start to feel frustrating when we’re not actually finishing songs we’ve started, and we don’t actually have anything to share – or we don’t have creations to share as frequently as we feel we should.
At times like these, making music can turn into something that adds pressure to your life, instead of being a pressure release valve as it can be.
After all, that’s the point of all this, right? To have a finished song that we can proudly share with our friends, family and audiences and share in the connection or conversation it creates.
Well.. yes, and no.
See, over time I’ve found that what I really enjoy about making music is a lot deeper than just having songs to share. Don’t get me wrong – I love having brand new tracks that I’m really pumped about sharing!
But when I really spent time thinking about it, I realized that many different aspects of the process of music creation bring me joy in different ways.
- Writing music feeds my need to be creative and inventive and makes me feel alive.
- Playing music allows me to express emotions while honing the technical skills involved in bringing songs to life.
- Performing is exciting and puts me face to face with people who are reacting to my creations in real time, which can be very rewarding.
- Recording music brings out my inner nerd and perfectionist and I get so stoked to hear something I made that never existed before.
- Mixing songs puts me in that mythical “flow” state where I can go without food and not even notice as hours go by. It’s meditative. And the feeling of transforming raw tracks into full-fledged productions is its own form of high. I often have trouble sleeping after a good mix session.
- Mastering is like being part witch and scientist, mixing in small amounts of magical chemicals to make a track glow – while matching numbers to standards to ensure it can be heard well through any channel or medium.
- Sharing the music I’ve created makes me feel connected to others who might get what I was feeling back when I wrote the song.
- All of these require learning to improve, and learning invigorates and focuses me.
- Some of these are collaborative, and I get fulfillment from the relationships that are formed and stimulation from the creative back-and-forth involved.
Notice I said the “process” of making music. Having songs finished and sharing them is only one small part. But, as it happens, a large part of the actual joy I get from making music is in the other parts of the process!
On the other side of the coin, each of these aspects can have their downsides. And importantly, each requires a different level of energy. (This turns out to be key when time is limited.)
- Writing can turn into an exercise in frustration when I can’t unlock the right change – or more often for me – come up with lyrics I feel satisfied with. It requires a lot of creative energy and can be draining.
- Playing music can be tough if you’re not feeling it. Energy required can vary but it can be high.
- Performing requires an opportunity, a ton of preparation and work, a lot of physical and mental energy – and it can be a letdown depending on the gig.
- Recording involves gear and technology, the right environment and a lot of energy, especially when you are the performer and the engineer!
- Mixing can be tough with tired ears. It relies on software that often needs updating or can have technical issues that destroy the creative mood. It requires a suitable environment and time to be loud. It can be tedious and repetitive. Less energy is required, but more stamina and focus.
- Mastering is similar to mixing, but ear freshness and environment are key. Focus on minute details can be even more demanding than in mixing. Lower energy, more zen.
- Sharing music to get it heard beyond your intimate circle requires marketing skills. It uses a different kind of energy than the creative process itself and can be less draining.
- Learning requires initiative, drive and patience and can be difficult.
- Collaboration involves other people, and dealing with people can suck sometimes.
So, what does this have to do with finishing songs?
Well, I know a lot of people will tell you that to finish more songs, you need to be more dedicated and more focused. You need to create a project plan and set a deadline. You need to work harder.
What I’m proposing is that you need to do what you feel like doing, when you feel like doing it. But.. how do you do that and still finish anything, exactly?
The answer is to have multiple projects going at one time that are in different phases of development.
(Now this assumes you don’t have hard deadlines that are externally imposed. In that case, you have to do what you have to do, of course – but my guess is you wouldn’t be reading an article about how to finish more songs if that was your situation.)
Think of it this way. If you’re putting a ton of pressure on yourself to meet a self-imposed deadline to finish a song, you have to do whatever is next in the lifecycle of that song in order to finish it.
If your song is written and ready to be recorded, you have to record next. Whether you feel like recording or not. And if your studio needs some setup or you just don’t have the energy to capture a great performance after a long day of work on a particular night, what do you and I both know will happen?
Because you are not ready to do what needs to be done at that particular time.
But what would happen if you had four songs going – one in the writing stage, one that needed to be recorded, one waiting for mixing, and one mastered and ready for release and marketing?
Then, my friend, you can pretty much do whatever you feel like the next time you find yourself free. You can match your chosen task to your inspiration and energy level at the time and be more productive, more often.
Feeling inspired after a great night’s rest on a weekend morning? Pick up where you left off with the song in the writing stage. Tired after work, but your ears are still fresh and you feel like tinkering? Open up the session for that tune that needs to be mixed and get to it. Not feeling especially creative or energetic? Bet you could still do some marketing for that release.
Now, does this mean you’ll finish a song faster? No – realistically each of these four songs will move along their individual lifecycle more slowly. But in aggregate, you will be much more productive and will end up finishing more songs.
Because instead of watching Netflix and falling asleep when you were too exhausted to write, you mixed part of that other song, or created a marketing schedule for that finished song, or just read up on mastering techniques.
You stayed productive by doing what you could do at a given time, instead of trying to force yourself to do something you weren’t up for right at that moment.
And instead of feeling disconnected from your energizing passion because you took several nights off, you stayed in it, and stayed connected. You still feel like your creative self, and people can tolerate being around you.
When I talk about music projects with my musician friends now, I often say I don’t work on anything I don’t want to anymore, and I only do what I feel like doing.
I just finished remixing four songs, and I currently have 10 songs in various stages of arranging, recording and mixing. Two will be mixed soon and I’ll need to master them and market them in some form. I am working on a live collaboration and writing as the mood strikes me.
I don’t worry about deadlines, I work on what I feel like working on, and I’m more musically productive (and happier) than I’ve been in a long, long time.