How much time to finish tracks?

How long did it take you to complete some of what you consider your most ‘accomplished’ tracks?

I’m getting a feeling that after a certain amount of time / threshold, the more time I spend on a track, the lower will be my eventual ranking of that track against my other creations.

I’d like to better understand that empirical threshold, to make better decisions about whether to continue down a certain path, or just write off the effort and move on / start fresh (on the line of “If it’s not happening within a certain time, it’s more and more unlikely it will ever happen”).

Of course, this will be genre, approach, and person specific, but I still think it may be in a similar ballpark, considering the universe of this forum.
Looking forward to hearing about your experiences.

My thinking over the last couple of years has been, just finish the track in a reasonable amount of time. I always get lost whenever i start spending too much time on a track. I think part of it is that one wants it to sound a certain way, but the problem often times is that you don’t have the skill set to accomplish what you have in your head at the time. The only way to achieve that skill set is to do more productions, not noodling around with one song for weeks on end. I’m talking here about electronic music though.

When it comes to writing songs or doing more melodic compositions you might want to give it more time, but the same principle kind of holds true. Finish the song to the best of your ability before you get sick of working on it, create a version with stems, because god knows you won’t have those plugins or boxes of yours forever. Then you can just put it aside, or release it if you’re happy with it. If you put it aside you can come back to it when your skills have matured and maybe you’ll get closer to what you had in mind. But never finishing tracks and having hundreds of them in some state or other is not really productive I’ve found.

And sometimes, you can just bin the entire project, but save any cool melodic lines or beats in a folder, never know when you might just pop them in a project and find new inspiration with them. Kind of long winded, but trust me, I could go on :smiley:

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The track I like most were made extremely quickly. They have imperfections, but I don’t care much.

The tracks I’ve spent the most time on never really felt finished, in a way.

@cuckoomusic 's #Jamuary2017 really opened my eyes on this : I prefer to aim at producing fast / record on-the-fly than go after layers and layers…
Doesn’t mean there’s no preparation before (sound crafting for instance) but that’s everyday training to me, so it wouldn’t really count…


That sounds about right, both yours and cuckoos statement. If you spend too much time with a track it seems you get lost and can’t keep the original idea fresh. I usually end up with 4 versions of a song if I go down that road, and none of them feel right or complete.

Thanks to both of you for the fast responses!
So how much time would it be in your case ‘not too much’? Or, where would you see the border to ‘too much’?
Again - individually and empirically.

I guess I would say that after about three good sessions of working with a song, If I’m not about ready to just start mixing, I tend to get lost. With sessions I mean a good 5-6 hours at least, just working. I work in ableton live and have gotten much faster since I started focusing on structuring songs and stripping away instead of piling on layers of sounds to try and make it work. And working with more songs has made me faster with basic stuff like cutting. That is kind of essential I feel, to get a good workflow with whatever you’re working with. But yeah, about three sessions, if the idea and the arrangement isn’t nearly fully formed I tend to lose focus.

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Spot on - thank you, @anokah!

I no longer have a studio at home (just a lonesome OT!). But for the many years that I did, this is almost always how things worked out:

If the track was any good I nearly always finished the creative bulk of it in one night, maybe 4-6 hours.

Then I’d go back to it the next morning after some good sleep and fresh ears and focus on the mix for 1-2 hours.

If I couldn’t get the track working in that first night, it would either get ditched the next morning or I’d end up disliking it and it would never get used.

I think everyone is different, but I also think that learning to let go of an idea, early on, that isn’t working is important.


I agree, it’s pretty hard to let go of your work but it’s essential.
Sometimes you start working on something but you discover soon that it’s not a really good material. In that case you’ve better move on and start something new rather than trying to make something great out of it.

Thanks, @enryo and @loa. Great input, it does help me start to make out an emerging pattern…

I forgot the source, but I got the advice that I had to learn to finish tracks like learning to do other things - just by exercising to finish the tracks :wink: I think, that was wise advice, which I try to follow.

My best tracks have been created in phases.

The first, the creative and chaotic phase takes about 15 minutes, maybe a little longer and is the birth of a set of ideas fitting somehow together. I try to make quick simple recordings with different instruments, sounds, and variations of harmony, melody, and rhythmic parts.

Then I take a time-out, maybe create another idea, just to do something, to get my ears free …

Earliest on the next day, after a good sleep and with fresh ears, I make a test and if I still like the matierial, I start to chisel an arrangement out of the recorded ideas. It’s working like a mason, searching the sculpture in the block of matter. There will always be a second, better crafted sound and recording phase, but this phase is more like craftsmenship, using well known tools and workflow.

Since I belief that there has been never a finished piece of art, at least from the angle of an artist, I just force myself to focus on finishing it anyway.

How long the complete process takes is different, but it’s measured in a couple of hours rather then weeks …

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Gonna echo everyone else’s comments and say that my fav tracks have also been done very quickly. Usually 1-2 sessions of writing and 1-2 sessions mixing/polishing.

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My fav tracks are demos that I slap together quickly, and revisit months later. If I can make an arrangement quickly, I’m usually good to go. If I hang out in a single groove too long, layering, etc… I tend not to finish those.

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Make deadlines for yourself. I’m not sure its worth describing my whole system here, but I like to work on something for a week or two and then not listen to it at all for another couple weeks then finish it up. In fact, I prefer deadlines created by other people. I can break my own deadlines.

As a trained artist (writer) process is rarely “empirical”. You can try things, but the only thing that I know works for sure is that one constantly practice their craft on a schedule. Even if you are just doing “exercises” or making throw away material.

Some tracks fall together quickly, others I’ve had to beat into submission over months and months.

It is probably tied to the ratio between the two.

A low quality song with little effort
A high quality song with little effort
A low quality song with high effort
A high quality song with high effort

Which option do you think would be the most rewarding bet given even odds?

In other words which possibility is the best use of time?

I always feel with the “high quality song with little effort” that there is some aspect to the song that was found rather than created.

All great inputs so far, and great model to think of it, @Aksdnt.

So how long do you typically end up spending on those tracks that finish on the “high quality” side?
(Corollary: after how much time do you stop (if you do), if you still feel that you are not on the “high quality” side?)

In terms of rewarding - I could probably make a positive / negative case for each of the four, depending on what you are after. However, I do see where you are going by saying that high quality - low effort has something to do with ‘finding’ rather than creating.

Well, your view of these may not be high quality, but best I can do. Nothing found in here:

Something I put out on my label a few years ago

4-6 hours including mixing.

A remix I did for Chris Coco’s Melodica label

2 hours on concept that got ditched, 6 hours once I started fresh, another 2 hours editing vox and mixing once new vocals recorded to fit song better.

I think a sketch or concept could take 30 min, then building parts around it and creating transitions would be done while practicing the song the next couple days. I’ve done a few performances as sound and music for a subversive play series, so I was given direction in terms of what feeling to give during what parts. Good times :man_scientist:t2:

I’m putting together my first live set to audition with and that is taking much much longer. No bounds no sounds