Okay, quick show of hands. Do any of the following describe you?
- You’ve been working on your record for over a year, and you’re feeling stuck.
- You’re creating your masterwork. It’s special, and it needs more time than average records.
- You’re into your 25th round of mixes. They just need a couple more tweaks!
- You keep hearing different ideas for what the left hand could be doing in the piano part in the verse of this one song.
- You can’t release this album yet. It’s not perfect yet. But it’s really close!
- You keep thinking you need to change little details. Then a week later you’re changing them back.
- You’ve been working on your record so long that you’ve lost all perspective, and you have no idea how anything really sounds any more.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, take heart: you’re not alone. Knowing when a recording should be finished is probably the single hardest aspect of producing records.
Now that we all have computers, recording has become to a large degree untethered from constraints of time and budget. We can just keep opening our sessions and tweaking things, in the comfort of our homes, for free and forever. On the (tremendous) up side, this is a truly revolutionary case of putting the means of production squarely in the hands of the proletariat. We all now have access to virtual studios in our laptops that can turn out results that 20 years ago you needed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear to make. Not to mention total recall on session files and mixes. It’s amazing.
On the (also tremendous) down side, if you don’t have well-developed production instincts, then every song has the potential to be a never-ending rabbit hole of infinite choice. And this is bad, for a bunch of reasons:
- On a purely aesthetic level, I have a strong belief that the strongest recordings serve as snapshots of where the people who made it were at in their lives at a specific moment in time. If you work on a record for too long, you can lose that all-important feeling of zeitgeist.
- You can destroy an interesting recording by over-analyzing it. This is a deceptively simple concept that some people fail to grasp over their entire careers. Read this paragraph again.
- Related: If you keep going back and endlessly revising things, you run an ever-increasing risk of polishing out all the quirks that make your recording unique and interesting. You know when you hear some shiny piece of crap on the radio and it’s so perfect that it’s completely soulless and devoid of any human connection? You don’t want to make that record.
- Your best work is always going to be in front of you. You have to believe that; it’s the essential definition of what it means to be an artist. So, given that: The more time you spend endlessly reworking the record you’re currently working on, the more you’re depriving yourself of the chance to move forward and discover what’s in store for you next. And why would you be purposefully depriving yourself of the chance to progress as an artist?
I sense you nodding in agreement; these things are all indeed bad. So, how do you avoid them? Let me know your tricks in the comments. I’ll come back later with my thoughts in another post.