(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.
I looked at the name on my concert ticket: Paul McCartney.
I sat and waited, along with 42,000 other people in Vancouver’s B.C. Stadium, for McCartney to take the stage. I was part of a group of 17 and we had talked about our expectations and the songs we wanted to hear. Every song mentioned was a Beatles song. Every one.
It wasn’t a knock McCartney’s solo career. He had written and recorded lots of good songs since the Beatles. But every person in our group was a Baby Boomer. The ticket got us in to see McCartney. But the ride we really wanted to go on was the Magical Mystery Tour.
The Beatles provided the soundtrack of our youth. Our formative years. The years when emotions, and sometimes youthful arrogance, informed our thoughts and actions. We were carefree and, maybe, even a little careless.
The cultural impact of the Beatles will be debated for as long as there is music, but clearly they influenced the way tens of millions of people dressed, wore their hair, and how they thought: politically, philosophically, about drugs, and many other important aspects of life. I know they didn’t set out to accomplish that, but it happened. That the effects have been so long lasting is astounding. Just a little more astounding than a 77-year-old rock star selling out stadiums around the world.
As McCartney played each Beatles song, memories rewound and played from the middle: From the part where that song helped me get by with a little help from my friends. From the part where love fell apart and I longed for yesterday. From the part where I tried to take a sad song and make it better. Sad, melancholy, happy… Beatles songs made me feel all those things deeply. Not for the first or last time, but in way that I remember every time I hear the music.
When McCartney wrote “When I’m 64,” and when we all heard it back then, 64 seemed as far off as Mars. Yet whenever he sings that song now (although he didn’t tonight), it probably still seems far off to McCartney, even though he now sees it in the review mirror.
But the man looked good. Maybe even better than when he was 64.
McCartney’s voice was not as strong or as smooth as it was back then. Yet for as ragged as it sometimes sounded, we filled in the rough spots with memories of the voice we had heard thousands of times. It was this specific voice that we’ve heard for more than 50 years and will hear every time those songs are played for the rest of our lives. And though other singers might sing them more proficiently, no one will ever sing them better.
As I looked around B.C Stadium, as our group of 17 sang as one, occasionally out of tune, we all looked pretty good too. Didn’t seem quite as old.
People look younger when they smile.
And they feel younger when they sing.
By Hamilton Caine
I often hear people talk about their passion for writing and for music. Yet when I ask them what they’re doing to pursue that passion, there’s usually a shoulder shrug followed by a common complaint: “I’m too busy,” people say. “If I just had a little more time…” As though this were the sole criterion that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. That’s like saying, “The only thing that separates me from some world-class brain surgeon is that he had more free time on his hands.” Really…
I know people with nothing but time on their hands. If free time were the key to success, they would be multi-billionaires. Ironically, they are often the people who get the least done.
My experience is that people make time for what they really want to do. Remember when you were in the early stages of a romantic relationship? Even if you were too busy to get together, you at least made time to make a phone call to let the other person know you were thinking of them. You make time for what you care about, even if you have “no time.”
Passion’s when you “can’t NOT do it.” Yes, I realize that’s a double negative, but it makes a point. People who have a genuine passion for something make time for it. They can’t help themselves. It’s really important to them. They’ll watch fifteen minutes less TV and learn pentatonic scales on YouTube. They’ll write lyrics on the subway to and from work. They sign up for an online song writing course instead of watching the politicians they voted for hammer the politicians they voted against.
If you’re lucky enough that some of your passions have survived the onslaught of digital distractions and sensory overload, cherish them. Nourish them. Make time for them.
Our passions are what make us feel most alive.