We’ve gone the speed route and asked you to Make a Track in 10 Minutes before, now let’s go the other way…
You might be the kind of person that spends forever and a day on a track, or you might have gotten yourself into a ‘quick is best’ almost templated habit. My experience is that most people (myself included) do 90% of the work on a track in the first part of the first session, and then the final 10% gets dragged out for an age – sometimes indefinitely, with projects that just need that final push ending up unloved in the depths of your shoulda-woulda-coulda folder (if that’s the case, this Assignment is definitely for you). Break the habit with these tips…
Make a Track in a Week
When I say make a track in a week, I really mean it. Open up a blank project, and work solidly on one song for a whole week… or at least a week’s worth of music making, so around 15 hours, perhaps? How exactly might you go about filling all that time up?
The ideas stage is where most of the work gets done – and in my case, motivation steadily declines after I get a hot loop. Don’t be me! Develop a central motif, and as soon as you hit gold go with it. Don’t chicken out, abandon your original good work and explore a whole different angle after a couple of changes!
Suggested Time: 2 hours
Once you have that initial great idea, you need to figure out how you’re going to get from silence to the heights of that idea and back to silence again, keeping everyone interested in staying along for the ride in between. Think progression; I don’t just mean chord progression (but loop based musicians take note: chord and melody progression is one of the most under exercised aspects of song writing in electronic music, and nothing holds interest like it), I mean progression from your introduction to your verse, to your bridge, to your chorus and more. Structure isn’t an arbitrary process, it should go hand in hand with the concept of the track.
Suggested Time: 4 hours
Listen to each section of your music. Sometimes, a straight up loop is the best way to drive a point home. But is there an element in your track that repeats over and over simply because it was easier to copy and paste it than it was to create a variation? Drums are a great example. A four bar drum loop might not consciously get boring repeated throughout a track, but how much more interesting and involving would your track be if there were fills every so often, or little change-ups here and there? Just keep listening to your track. If there’s ever a point where, when showing it to a friend, you would find yourself saying “wait for this next bit!” then that’s a pretty good sign there could be something a little more interesting happening right there!
Suggested Time: 4 hours
Take a step back and look at your almost finished track. If you could throw one thing in that would really be off the wall and crazy, what would it be? Chances are you’re the only person that will have your exact idea – so take your already original and well composed piece of music and twist it even further with your own stamp and style. Maybe it’s a four bar change up of all the instruments into something completely different, maybe it’s an upside-down and backwards breakdown section, maybe it’s a tempo bending interlude. Try it!
Suggested Time: 2 hours
Ah, now here’s where it all so often falls apart. Mixing is one of those things that you either hate and avoid like the plague, or take a massive interest in and get caught up in relative changes that see you swinging from pillar to post in terms of style. Having a time frame really helps when mixing as you’ll be able to keep yourself on target, and mixing itself brings you that much closer to your finished tune.
Suggested Time: 2 hours (over two sessions?)
Mastering’s almost a dirty word for home musicians, because so often it basically equates to butchering an otherwise perfectly fine track right at the final hurdle. Just give yourself a little bit of time to make sure that your finished track is nice and loud and nice and clear. The time frame comes in handy here too, because it’ll force you to know when to stop, and the whole process of making sure you leave this part until dead last should – touch wood – ensure that your mastering is done right.
Suggested Time: 1 hour
Most Importantly… Finish!
I can’t stress this enough: if you don’t set yourself a time for things to be completely finished, you may never come to the end of the track. A relentless chase for perfection will inevitably result in a non existent work rate. That’s the art part; finishing a song is a product of your art and you need to be able to let something go. When we say a week, we mean only a week but fully a week.
This Assignment is a habit breaker; not all tracks should take you a full week to make (although some may even take more… there really are no rules to this music thing!) but regimenting yourself will help you to recognise habits you never thought you had and enable you to open up new ways of thinking about the practicalities of making music. The light bulbs that go off during this week will hopefully transfer into your general music making mindset and show you what you waste time on and at the same time show you where it’s worth putting the extra effort in. After all, art is process, not product, and this Assignment’s a good way to examine that process.