Being a producer for many years, I have built a bulletproof creative process that gets me to finish almost every track I work on. It is important to set limits and be aware that sometimes more work does not equal better music!
Abandoning a project might be a big deal for you. I am here to tell you that it is not! If you are not making progress anymore but you like some of the ideas in the project, it might be better to let it go completely or, take some of them over to a new project. It might be a preset, some arrangements and so on. Restart from scratch and import what you liked the most of the project.
My biggest mistake and probably yours too is to try to make everything perfect. The reality is that a perfect piece of music might not even be as good as an imperfect one. Most of my best tracks came out in a few hours and I rarely look back on these. I believe it is the case most of the time. When creativity flows we need to embrace it.
Here is my process: it is first constructive and then subtractive.
I first start with basic drums, usually add some Bass Elements. Afterall electronic dance music is all about Kick and Bass….
After this I might add a pad or some plucks. I then build up the percussion to fit the musicality of what I already created. At this point the project is about 16 or 32 bard long.
Once the drums are set and the general groove of the track is on I start layering some elements. It might be the the case of duplicating the bassline and layering some effects. Then there needs to be a main lead, or vocals to have a focal point. This is one of the most challenging parts of the creative process for me. It just needs to work and be catchy. Set the tone for the piece and at the same time be unique! I think jamming with synths and presets is in order. I personally like to jam and record the midi. This is how I made my best riffs! At this point I think it is best to experiment. However I would not spent 3 days on this, maybe a solid hour if the flow is on, more if it is not a flowy session.
Once the main lead and layers are in, we are ready to rock:
Once this is laid out I duplicate the elements to what I believe the track will be…
So I now have a full track but it’s all the same. Here comes the subtractive part.
There is a standard here if we talk dance music. It needs to have a DJ friendly intro. Maybe a mini intro break around 1 min, then a build up of 2 min, a main breakdown at around 3, main part around 4 or 5 min, then outro and out. Keep in mind I produce mainly progressive house for DJ sets. So I setup these parts as a scaffolding to build on. In most cases I will not stick to this exact layout but as a base to progress and build, it really helps move forward fast.
After this, I start working on the individual parts in order. As I do this I usually find issues in the mix while I solo some instruments and figure out what stays and what needs to go. I will also add new elements, might switch things around but I will most likely keep the original groove I first created.
The Breakdown or slow / Vocal part is sometimes challenging. If it flows and works with the elements you have, AMAZING. I think it is important to keep the original elements of the track in there and build upon them without being overly repetitive. Some say if you have a breakdown, you have a track! I can agree to that!
Usually the main part will be what you make up before the scaffolding part. It might also be augmented by other new parts or be much less than first anticipated.
At this stage only the outro is left. A good trick is to make the outro as memorable as the main part, less is surely more sometimes.
Once the track is laid out I like to wait at least overnight until I add the finishing touch. Ears and brain tend to get tired. A fresh mind and ears will let you see and hear much more.
The final mixing session is also important but again, if you feel it, don’t overdo it. What you will think is wrong in the mix will not be perceived by 99.9% of the listeners. It should be about the sum of the elements, not the details of each one. Always remember to leave room for the mastering engineer. For me this means NEVER mix with a limiter or compressor on the main out!