I don’t want anyone to feel restricted as if there is only one way to do things. These are my own methods I have developed from more than a decade of utter dedication to the craft and they work for me and do the job for my students.
How to Finish a track
Being a teacher in the making of music in Ableton live, I get to see all the different problems students face. One of the number one common problems almost everyone has the most hard time with, is finishing tracks. Some students will not be able to break out of an 8 bar loop and others get stuck at a particular minute mark. I also remember having this problem more than ten years ago. However over the last decade of hard craft I have developed a personal methodology which is a no fail method of finishing tracks and relatively quickly.
One of the most irritating and common situations I find myself in is when I have written a good few minutes of music and then life takes me down other paths and I don’t get a chance to finish it. Some months later I revisit it and I feel somewhat disconnected from the track and have tremendous problems finishing it. This leads me to explaining one of the first principles I have developed. When we make a track there is a flow that guides us. Our imagination is like a flowing river from the source of creation and just like a pond if it has no active flow it becomes stagnant. That what it feels like to me when I revisit an old unfinished track. When I activate a old unfinished track I will often rebreathe life into it by reorganising, deleting, adding and remaking it into something that feels like a fresh expression I can relate to. That will help me recontinue to the finishing point.
In this sense when we finish a track we don’t want to stop anything getting in the way of our fresh stream of consciousness. Last thing we want is our track to feel like a stagnant pond with smelly decaying plant matter as opposed to fresh lilies, dragonflies, crystal clear water and the smell of fresh bubbles. This leads us to an important principle of finishing music…….
Don’t get caught up in details
This is a super helpful tip which is basically the cornerstone of my methods and has helped tremendously all of my students. The idea is, we need to get a start to finish “skeleton” made as soon as possible. Once this is done we can relax and spend more time on details without worrying that we’ll never finish the track. So don’t spend one week on a perfectly detailed intro as at that rate you track will be a stagnant mess before you ever reach any finish line and you’ll no doubt be bored senseless of hearing it.
To know how to make a skeleton of a piece of music it is very important to understand the structure of music and before you read on make sure you have read my blog on “The Structure of Electronic Music” This will help you understand the building blocks of a track and how to create a start to finish structure. Its not as complicated as you think and actually from a study done from the most popular 100 tracks on Beatport it was discovered the most commonly used structure was “ABAB” which is just two sections repeated twice. With more progressive music there are obviously more complicated song structures but not mind boggling at all. For example here is a generic example of a song structure a little more progressive…
Intro / Main Section / Main Section B / Breakdown / Section C / Outro
Creating the Skeleton
Creating a skeleton can mean copy and pasting a lot and leaving intros/breakdowns blank for later but this way you very quickly get a start to finish down. I find this bit the most challenging as it requires the stream of creativity to not be stopped or have months in between therefore there is a little pressure to finish it before my expression changes or I hear it and become senseless. The positive of this is that once its done one can relax and sit back and spend however long you like crafting details without the fear of “finishing the track”.
A fantastic analogy I repeatedly remind my students is when a painter paints a landscape the first brush strokes are with a large brush and just huge washes of colour over the canvess. To watch this one may think how the hell is this going to become the lifelike masterpiece I know it will become. Well this is because with each layer the details become finer and finer and the brush smaller and smaller. In the end the painter is using a tiny brush and putting in such fine details which give that super realistic quality. The same it works for me in writing music.
Have Enough Source Material
This is another important thing to try and remind yourself when your trying to finish music. I get this happen very often myself. If I am trying to create a new section I often have difficulty when the section previous hasn’t enough substance. Therefore the reactive creative process is stunted. Often the thing that helps me move into the new section is to actually add something to the previous section which helps create a more obvious pathway into the next section. With this in mind when you get stuck next time take a proper listen to the track your making and ask yourself is there enough here to move it onwards and give a substantial listening experience to your listener. It could be a stronger melody or some chords over the top of an existing melody that helps forge a road for your track.
Learning Variation on Themes
Struggling to make an interesting new chapter in your song can very commonly be due to a lack of understanding in creating variations upon already existing themes in your song. Like mentioned in the previous paragraph it can really help to have a strong foundation of source material in one section to move to the next. To make use of the source material we need to have some sort of practice in composing new material with the spirit and soul of the previous section. Learning an instrument, music theory and having experience in composition is a great goal in learning this but without all of this you at least need to practice in your DAW creating variations on melodies or chords to create interesting new sections. For example in one of my songs I have a breakdown with a crazy arpeggio synth playing out some lush notes. In the next section it drops into a groove of which the bassline is using the same notes as the arp but in the bass octaves. This was very effective as I created consistency of the theme and it made for an interesting dynamic change.
Most importantly get creative and practice a lot. :–)
I hope this wee write up helps you finishing your music as much it does me and my students. You will find many more helpful blogs like this on my website so please have a browse. If your interested in private Ableton tutoring with me then please get in touch after reading through all the details on this website. All my students have the supreme privilege of avoiding the years and years of trial and error I have been through in developing my productions. I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
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