(NOTE: This blog is not about how to “technically” finish your song in terms of mixing and mastering. However, my favorite site for mixing and mastering is Graham Cochrane’s Recording Revolution. There you’ll find a LOT of GREAT information, much of which is actually FREE. I may do a blog about what I learned about mixing, mastering and the plugins he recommends. It’s the most helpful mixing and mastering site I’ve ever come across.)
But this blog is about what happens after you’ve mixed and mastered your songs but you just can’t cut them loose.
Even though I’ve played guitar in bands or on my own since I was a teenager, and recorded several albums, my primary vocation has been, and remains, writing novels and screenplays. I never had a problem finishing a novel when a paycheck from a New York publisher was waiting at the finish line. But what about “spec” projects where there’s no guaranteed money? The case with most of us is that no one is waiting for our finished songs. In spite of that we just can’t shake the feeling that we can make our songs a little better before uploading them irretrievably to iTunes.
Tip #1: Don’t fall into the “Perfection Trap.” Perfectionism can be paralyzing. Nothing will ever be perfect. When I write a novel, I go over it several times. I edit, tweak and polish. The truth is, every time I go over a 500-page manuscript I can always find minor things to change. However, there is a point where nothing I change will affect the readers’ experience of the novel. If you upload a song to iTunes, and you get a new plugin or a new guitar or a better guitar player in your band, you could always tell yourself that you should have waited. This type of thinking can be paralyzing. You never finish because you think that some day, in some way you’ll be able to make it better. That might be true, But my personal experience is that it’s better to develop a procedure that allows you to determine when your songs are “ready,” even if they’re not perfect.
TIP #2: Create a DEADLINE You Can’t Blow Off.
- Organize a Pre-Release or Pre-Mastering Listening Party. Invite people whose opinions you trust, as well as friends and anyone who might be able to help you market and sell your songs. Let everyone know you’re looking for feedback that may or may not be used in your “final-final mix.” Stress that you want people’s honest opinions. Feedback isn’t helpful unless it’s honest. Once the invitations are sent out, the date is difficult to change. Which is good because now you have a real deadline. At the party, allow people the option to submit their notes anonymously. When everyone’s gone, put on some thick skin and make your way through the comments. You don’t have to agree with every comment, but if you receive similar comments, good or bad, about the same song, this can be valuable. There’s no shame in making something better when you agree with a particular criticism. Besides, after the songs are released you get all the credit for the final product. (There a lot of reasons for having a listening party besides feedback. In another blog I will describe those benefits and provide a sample form you can hand out at the party.)
- Get an Honest Opinion from an Expert. I have a few friends in the music production business. Occasionally, I’ll set a meetings with one of them to give me a song critique. I listen and take notes while they give me feedback. It can be painful, but is it always helpful. They point out issues they hear and how to correct them. Sometimes they’ll walk me through making corrections on the spot, using the same or similar software to what I use at home (Logic Pro X). These appointments are with busy professionals who have made time for me. The appointment is a real deadline and I’ve never cancelled. It’s not uncommon for me to stay up late the night before to be prepared. (Even if you’re not in LA or New York, you usually can find local people who have studios, or musicians with studio experience who are willing to help. Sometimes for a reasonable fee, sometimes free. If you can’t find anyone, check with your local music store, check online or contact OGSR for a referral.)
In both of the examples above, I created a real deadline. That deadline accelerated the creative process considerably and got me to the “release ready” stage.