If you're anything like me, you might sometimes find it difficult to know when to stop working on a track.
As the track is your own expression it is often very personal to you, and you want it to be perfect. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as perfect, in my opinion.
When I was mixing my first EP for release, I spent a long time going back and making tiny changes, thinking things like, "there is too much sibilance on these backing vocals," or "the kick drum is too quiet". After hearing it all so many times, these tiny changes started to become more detrimental to my songs.
The question, "how do I know when my track is finished?" kept going through my head.
So, in the end I approached it differently, to finally get it finished and release it.
In this blog we're going to look at some ways that can help you know when your track is finished. The way I approached it was by creating a checklist and when everything on the list had been ticked off, I stopped working on the track and deemed it ready for release!
Checklist - Part 1:
Consider if you're happy with the track in these 5 areas:
Are the audio recordings of instruments and vocals the best they can be with the equipment you have?
Make sure you're satisfied with the quality of the recorded audio, making sure the input gain isn't too quiet or so loud that it's clipping. Be sure to use a pop shield as well, to avoid vocal pops and plosives in the recording.
A lot of work can be done in the mixing stage to improve the audio but capturing the raw audio as best as you can saves you time and will sound even better when it's been mixed.
It's really important to capture your very best performance as well, as this will make the track instantly sound better.
Whether it's guitars or vocals, don't just settle for an average performance. You have it in you! It just sometimes takes a few go's!
For example, my first vocal performances aren't usually as good, as I need a few takes to warm up and get into it.
Does the arrangement work well and flow as well as you would like?
Make sure your track flows well and has good transitions to and from different sections.
If you're not sure about the arrangement, think about how it would sound if arranged differently and if you think it would sound better or worse. I usually go with my gut on this one but it's always worth thinking about if it doesn't feel quite right.
This is the stage I often spend too much time on!
Ask yourself these questions:
Is my mix balanced? And Is my mix clear?
To balance the track, have you set all the levels, so the individual tracks all work together without losing one sound that's being overpowered by another?
Have you also used panning to give the different sounds their own space in the stereo field?
Could any of the sounds benefit from more dynamic processing, such as compression?
To give clarity to the mix, have you used EQ effectively to let the different sounds sit well together without any muddiness?
Have you also used effects such as reverb and delay on sounds such as vocals to blend them with the instrumentation and give them a bigger sound?
To give your track the final polish and to prepare it for release you need to have it mastered.
Most recording artists and producers will have this done by a specialist mastering engineer, but if you do it yourself check that:
- You've removed any unwanted frequencies and sibilance.
- Applied 'sweetening' techniques such as additive EQ and compression to 'glue' the track together.
- Used a limiter to reach a decent loudness without losing too much dynamic.
- Bounced the stereo track in the appropriate format for its release.
Going through these checkpoints will help you to methodically assess the progress of your track to see if you think it's finished.
Checklist - Part 2:
Get peer feedback for your tracks:
Getting impartial feedback and constructive criticism from another music producer is priceless.
Make sure you trust their ears and they can give you a brand-new perspective on your tracks.
Also, the tracks will not be personal to them, so they can listen to it in a more analytical and neutral way!
Try not to be disheartened if they say something might need changing, but instead look at it as an opportunity to make your track even better!
Deciding that your track is finished can be difficult, but following this checklist can really help you to look at it in a more methodical and analytical way, which can help you realise if the track is finished or not.
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