Cosmic Academy's 6-Step Track Finishing Checklist
The most important thing we can do to further our careers as artists is more straightforward than you may think: you need to finish a lot of music.
However, actually doing that doesn’t feel so easy sometimes. For a lot of music producers, it’s extremely hard! During the Cosmic Academy program and in our development community we have a laser focus on this point—we’re constantly encouraging our students to work smarter, not just harder, and to finish music quickly and efficiently.
But it’s not something you can just flip a switch one day and begin to do consistently, it’s a habit you need to build. It’s a muscle you have to strengthen. We’ve all seen the memes about producers starting a new idea instead of finishing their current tracks, and doing this over and over can actually be a bit dangerous, because the power of habit is such a strong force. If you consistently stop working on your tracks once they get only to the "idea" stage, and then move on...you'll begin to always do that. NOT finishing tracks becomes your deeply ingrained habit.
Instead, in order to get results, you need to put in the work and discipline to flip this habit around. You need to make yourself a consistent finisher!
At the end of the day, this skill is not something one blog post can teach. In our Cosmic Academy bootcamp we spend weeks developing this practice with our students to help them strengthen the habit of finishing. But we do have a tool that can help!
Use this post to develop a checklist for your next song. If you can pass these steps, you’re on your way to calling the song complete! Then it’s just up to you to keep the routine going!
One last note before we dive in: you’ll notice we have not included any step where you assess whether the song is “good.” We left this out on purpose: whether the song is any good is completely subjective based on your own opinion and those you ask. At the end of the day, you’ll never truly know that until the song is out there and released to the world. Sometimes the productions we like the least end up being the most successful—you can’t predict a hit!
With that in mind, we have to remember that we have more control over the process than the outcome. So focus on what you CAN control: FINISHING MUSIC!
Hopefully this list will help! 👌
Step 1: Check for Change
Make sure you have something new happening every 8 measures (at least)!
Try bringing elements in and out. These changes can be subtle; or they can be obvious. But the goal here is to make sure that your arrangement is evolving over time.
Step 2: The Mute Trick
Every sound has a purpose in your song. When playing your entire mix, begin to systematically go down and mute channels one by one.
If you can’t hear any difference with a particular sound or layer muted or not muted...get rid of it! These sounds are only taking up valuable space!
Step 3: Level Check
Use your ears and your eyes here. Reference quality tracks and then compare your levels!
How do your elements sound compared to theirs from a volume standpoint in the context of the whole mix? Are your elements as loud as they need to be compared to references? Are they too loud? Bring in a spectrum analyzer and look at the frequency balance—does it look similar to what you see on your references?
Special note on this one: while utilizing this process, make sure you have volume-matched your references!
Step 4: System Reference
Listen to your track on as many different listening devices as you have available! It should hopefully pass the test by sounding “normal” on all of them.
On this step, think not just your studio monitors and studio headphones, but your laptop speakers, your phone, earbuds, etc. You should even make sure your music sounds acceptable on something like an Amazon Alexa… don’t forget how many people are listening on these sorts of devices!
Step 5: Feedback Session
Don’t go at this thing alone! Have other trusted ears take a listen and provide you with some feedback. They can help you pick up on things you may have missed. After listening to your song so many times, it’s possible you’ve become deaf to certain issues you should fix!
Step 6: Take a Break
Adding on to our last point...after all is said and done, do yourself a favor and take a break!
But this is strategic—step away from your track for a few days, then come back with a fresh perspective and make the appropriate changes.
We hope this helps! Share this post with a friend or fellow producer who could get some use from it!