When you can't stand your own music

When you can't stand your own music
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#1

I am so incredibly sick of the song I’m working on right now. (Arthur’s Song, which has a “bash this” thread going.) I hate it, never want to listen to it again, and I am so tired of hearing it that I’m probably making it worse at this point. Then I realized something: this happens every single time I make a new song. There’s this painful period at the end where my head is spinning and I can’t stand the damn thing and I’m making mix tweaks without really knowing if I’m making the song better or worse. This finishing/polishing process that makes me hate my own music. (For the time being anyway… listening back a few weeks/months later is cool again.)

My first thought would be to take a break, but this doesn’t seem to work. I feel refreshed at first, but shortly after getting back to the song my head starts spinning again. It’s like I’ve just plain worked on it for too long.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it doesn’t have to be like this. (I truly hope so.)

So I’m analyzing how I get into this mess and what I might be able to do to avoid it. And here’s my plan of attack: since the part of the song that makes me go nuts is the end part, I’ll make the end part as short as possible. Instead of a “placeholder synth sound” I’ll pick the one I’m going to use. Period. Instead of a bunch of scratch tracks that I have to redo, I’ll record it the best I can and call it done. I’ll mix as I go such that when I get to the end there’s not much left to do. I’ll stop saying to myself, “I’ll fix it later,” or “I’ll worry about that later.” I’ll do all these little difficult pieces as they come up while my creativity is still flowing and I’m still feeling motivated. No more “rough demo” stage. Because when I’m done with the “rough demo” the whole rest of the process SUCKS. I think I could produce more tracks if I just did them more quickly, and I’d have more fun as well. And I might even get better faster.

Anyway, this is partially a rant, but I also thought it was a good topic for discussion so that’s why I’m making a post. :slight_smile: Tell me about your road to the finish line and if it’s as hellish as mine or if you’ve found a way to have a good time!


#2

Maybe you could get collaborative and post your “rough tracks” as contests on this web site. I’ve had fun joining a couple of those so far. I don’t think you would necessarily need to have “big prizes”.


#3

There is something I really like about rough tracks. I don’t really care that my spiral headphone cord just slapped the side of my guitar, or my dry lips make a clicking sound. I feel excited and free at this point and not even thinking of EQ. Panning etc. What I do now is take that rough track and save it somewhere to go back to it later. After I get done “messing” with all the other parameters, I go back and listen to the original. I usually like my initial take the best? Now take into consideration I an not at all polished. I find the best sounding music I can produce is just me and my acoustic in a quiet room. I have never tried recording that yet tho. You have that special connection with the listener that few can pull off. That is why I suggested on your last song to lose the drums in the beginning and then build. I like ranting BTW. Kinda like a good cry. ya just feel better after.
Ok, I stepped away a bit and decided my next song is going to be “if ya wanna feel better you are gonna have to cry” ha ha


#4

I ABSOLUTELY hear you on this one Cristina… it is a huge hurdle for me. But possibly the worst thing is that by the time I have finished recording and faffing around with a song, I never want to hear it again - or sing it again… and if I do sing it again, it is really annoying as I need to do it the same, identically as the recording has become ‘the way’ and that annoys the hell out of me too, it’s like the fluid freedom of the song has been forever compromised!

By the time I post things for bashing I have all-but done the song to death and get so that I simply can’t hear it any more. That’s why I have a ‘Parking Zone’ for my songs that have become derailed and stalled…

O dear, this is a ranting reply… I am even typing fast as my angst builds hahahaha… (laughs at self in manic way)…
In a strange companionable sort of way it is nice to know that others share this strange and difficult journey!
:scream:


#5

Now, I’m definitely NOT saying I’m immune to this in any way, shape or form, but I discovered a solution that helps completely by accident… (I guarantee that most people aren’t gonna like it, though)…

… Pretty early on after I started posting my stuff online on forums like these, I ended up with a couple of other artists asking if I’d mix their stuff. I thought “why not? it couldn’t hurt”… It didn’t hurt at all, in fact it helped more than I ever could have imagined…

Mixing, producing and recording other people’s music has allowed me to be far more objective about my own stuff. The whole experience has been the single most liberating thing with my own music. After the creative work of writing is over, seeing my project through the eyes of the producer/mixer is a completely different mindset. It gives me license to do so much more than if I constrained myself to the mindset of “the artist”.

As I said, it’s not perfect but it has helped me to “compartmentalise” this complex process to the point where I’m focussed on the RESULT, not MYSELF.

…Most people won’t want to go there, but it’s one of those things where, unless you take the chance you’ll never know.


#6

All the wonderful technology we have now makes us want to produce finished pieces as opposed to the “demos” that songwriters used to be satisfied with. I’m hearing lots of complaints from composers about the endless details of doing production instead of the excitement of creative work. No easy answer.

Maybe collaboration helps, if you have regular partners to help with some tasks. Or working in stages to allow a “cooling off” period. I like to work on more than one thing at a time; switching off when progress gets slow. Streamlining your workflow; can’t get frustrated if it all goes by quickly, right? If you have a definite style you should have a lot of the song already done in your mind at least, and you have a good idea of how to get most of it tracked and mixed.

CRS Andrew just completed a full album of high quality music and he’s not the only one, so it can be done!


#7

I’ll chime in with my .02 in case it helps. First, what is your goal with your music? And does every song have to be a full masterpiece for publication? I believe you have published some of your stuff, at least on YouTube and maybe some other sites. I don’t know if you have gone the “music sales” route.

You have pointed out a classic scenario: In many cases song demos have been recorded in order to pitch them to record companies or other artists, or simply as a ‘storyboard’ to flesh out the ideas before investing a lot of costly (commercial) studio time. That can be a helpful process, but it’s not always needed or essential. I’m sure lots of records/albums have been recorded through history without a lot of preparation. Some of the big budget bands/projects that are now the most famous and popular albums of all time were where the band went into the studio and camped there for months hashing it out until the record company gave the approving nod. So there’s that fork in the road.

Another perspective is back in those days, some artists/bands wouldn’t think of going into the studio without 30-40 songs or song ideas to flesh out, knowing that only 10-12 would actually make it onto the album. The numbers game. Always have a rabbit to pull out of the hat. :rabbit:

So back to your goal. Here’s my process and philosophy and experience, if it gives you any perspective. I didn’t arrive at this purposely, it’s just how things have pretty much worked out. I don’t have a goal to publish or sell music, but if that emerges then I’m not opposed to it either. It seems like a pressure goal that might not be helpful. Creativity is hard enough sometimes. :tired_face: When I have found myself inspired to write a song, and invest some time in recording it, it’s like there’s a built in pressure gauge where I’ll spend a lot of time and get it done, but won’t make myself sick of it. I can almost always listen back and hear 1-2 things I would have liked to go back and fix … but inspiration is like a burning candle wick and I have to do this stuff when I’m heavily inspired in most cases, before the candle burns out. I also almost always love to listen to my stuff and never get sick of it (but I probably measure my listening after the initial thrill too). I’d probably ask if it’s the “perfectionism” that is nagging at you? That can be a useful tool at times, but if you drive yourself mad with it instead then it ties back to your goal. Do you want to be a great acclaimed but burned-out artist, or a pretty happy and joyful artist showing the ideas you have been working on? It’s all choices. And opportunities.

If you are really very serious about all this, and I think you indicated such in another thread, you may want to see if you can get into a position to have a project studio engineer/producer work with you and record and mix your songs … or work in collaboration with them. That takes some of the pressure off and lets you be the artist, but in the right situation you could have the creative control too. Commercial studios used to have some flexibility for recording in the evening at reduced rates and such, see what you can negotiate.

Another idea is what Andrew mentioned above - mix other stuff, like free mixing tracks posted online for just such a purpose - so you can take a break and get some perspective. Tune into your creative soul and see what it needs. Journal daily about your artistic journey, and see what patterns emerge. A lot of it may simply be self-discovery. :wink:


#8

The biggest issue in a situation like this, is to get the sound right before you record. I started my current album with 2 brothers in 2010. We decided we’d work on the thing one day per week. After 6 years, in 2016, we went our separate ways. I decided to just stay away from putting out another album.

My fiance smacks me around, and tries to get me to do the whole album myself. I remember an interview I did in a mag one time that asked me if I’d ever do an album like my first one all by myself again. I told them and I told my fiance, “not for seven figures, not ever!”

She finally talked me into it and as of 2017, I started tracking drums and bass in absence of the two brothers. I didn’t have any finished tracks from them (all pre-production) and did the entire thing myself without any sequencing.

I’m currently working on mix 11 of 15. It’s the most difficult, most involved, music I’ve ever done. It’s just ludicrous all across the board. One thing that made it all easy? The instrument and vocal prints sound like a million bucks with 0 processing of any kind. My performances are so spot on, you can’t mix any of it bad. The hooks are so huge and infectious, you can’t hate any of the songs.

The above is not meant to be a brag fest, I assure you. My points are:

  1. The guys I wrote the album with were 2 of the best players I have ever played with. It took me two years of playing every day to play bass and drums as well as them. I’ve been a drummer and bassist my whole life, but NEVER to this extent. The reason for telling you this?

Performances are crucial to making or breaking a song. Push yourself and don’t settle for less or become lazy. I recorded drums and bass for over 8 hours at 400+ takes per song at times. I’ve sang 40 tracks of back up vocals when needed and loved every minute of kicking my own ass. It’s all made me such a better musician, I can’t even begin to tell you!

  1. Making sure my instrument sounds were correct took some pre production. This is what you guys may call demo tracks. This test run helps immensely. Sometimes (so I don’t end up in your shoes Cristina) I’ll record a cover song as my demo to literally demo sounds so I don’t burn out from hearing my own songs.

But to me, my instrument choices are so spot on for what I’m doing, the mixes have been easy. It’s more high pass, low pass and sculpting over hard editing. The worst part about my stuff is all the insane automation all over the place. Other than that and how hard the parts were to play, I have enjoyed this so much, I’m actually getting sad I’ll be mastering soon and it will be in the hands of the labels.

  1. Confidence, confidence and more confidence: Love what you do, be well rehearsed, have a game plan and execute it as practiced. It can really help your flow. But most of all, know what justifies a good sound. Don’t spend time polishing turds unless you are creating special effects within a sound. Tweaking to the point of hate, exhaustion and frustration isn’t the right way to do this stuff. It should never take longer than 8 hours worth of time for a song to be done mix wise.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask someone that really matters. When I say that, take it to heart. Really ask a credible source that you envy that you know would tell you like it is to where they’d also explain how to help you if you needed it. I had a friend of mine who I think the world of as both a producer and musician, listen extensively to my stuff. I knew he’d be so brutally honest, he’d never let me release something that was bad. He listened so attentively, he heard stuff I wasn’t even listening for. So don’t be afraid to talk to someone that really knows their stuff. Best of luck!

-Danny


#9

^^^^^^ This is my new study guide! :beerbanger:

I think I found my 2019 New Years Resolution too! :wink: Thanks Danny!


#10

Haha you’re welcome. Next time I’ll spell “performances” right. Fixed! Darn phone! :grin:


#11

I love this point especially. The way I look at it is this: practicing guitar (or whatever instrument) is fun; it gives me a break from the computer and is usually an enjoyable and revitalizing activity. Plus, every minute I spend practicing has a cumulative pay-off; it’ll help me on every single track I perform for the rest of my life. Contrast that with trying to edit a performance into something passable; in that case it’s a tedious pain in the butt which has very little cumulative pay-off and doesn’t even turn out as well as if you’d just played it great in the first place.

It’s nice to hear that you’ve nailed down this process. I’m taking a step back right now and re-evaluating my goals and whatnot… I like this reminder to focus on my skills as a songwriter and performer… like I said it’s the most fun part anyway. :slight_smile:


#12

This mantra has been chanted even since Bandon’s days. I’m surprised it’s taken you until 2019 to wrap your head around it Stan.


#13

You’ve already won thinking that way! I’m going to post up some pics of my performances. Sonar keeps a take count. Though it embarrasses me that I do so many, most of them were me practicing along until I simply got it right.

In some instances in guitar, I might rerecord a 3 second piece 300 times because I heard something specific. Maybe a pinch harmonic that needed my pic in a certain place of the guitar…or a vibrato on voice or guitar that needed to be slower or faster. Color it up, it’s your art, ya know? As long as the performance is good and you can pull it off live, it’s a winner.

And if you can’t pull it off live, it’s still your art and a winner. I’m just a stickler for “if you can’t do it live, don’t do it at all” as far as performances go. Like I’d never piece something together that was impossible to do live. If I do piece something together, I WILL learn it, but I’ve actually only.did that once.

Whatever the case, walk away loving every minute of what you do. If something is taking too long and frustrating you, find out why and try to remedy it. It’s like our problems in life really. We fix the easy things first to keep our morale up, then work on the harder things a little at a time. Once we climb the mountains of the big stuff and eliminate them, we usually learn something valuable during the process to which we hopefully never have to go through again. If you do, you need to remedy why.

Same with the recording field. When something annoys you find out why and see if there’s a better solution. If you have weaknesses that hinder your progress, time to strengthen. If your monitor environment is the root of all evil, time to get real monitors ditch the cans, do some monitor and room correction and see how your mix time improves tenfold.

And lastly, excuses will kill us. If we settle for less we’ve given less. I have a friend that bashes guitar players like me because we practice and put in the time to really play the instrument. He’ll take shots at me like “go listen to Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page” to where I’ll respond “I wouldn’t want to play like Beck or Page. I’m happy being me.” This of course said by a man who doesn’t practice and can barely play a blues scale. He’ll make excuses and bash others before he’ll fix himself. If you’re unhappy, fix it or get help, ya know?

At any rate, stay focused and enjoy. If the enjoyment factor slows down, find out why and see what you can do to fix it. :slight_smile:


#14

For some reason spell-checker doesn’t catch that one. No worries, I got the message loud and clear. :slightly_smiling_face:


#15

First, I’ll spell-check that as “Brandon”. :slightly_smiling_face: Second, it’s not the “wrap your head” part that’s challenging, it’s the “doing”, the developing newer/better habits as I have pointed out in my “Goals for 2019?” thread. The advice has always been great, and I found Danny’s “positive reinforcement” message inspiring. I also got the sense that he has stepped up his own already awesome game, pushing himself even further and growing more as a result. I think it’s a beautiful thing when we can encourage each other.


#16

Yeah man. Onwards and upwards.


#17

After many years of starting a song and getting to the point where it is overwhelming and I am not happy with working on it, I find that looking back, it just was not a good song. I think for me what happens is that once I start a song, I get this thing where I just have to make it a good song somehow. I found that what is really going on with me is that I don’t want to admit defeat, that the song is “just not that into me”. I hate hearing after a while because I not only played it about 7 million thousand hundred times but, its just not a good song, it does not make the cut for a good song. I find I have to let it go and move on. The songs that I find I never get sick of no matter how many times I have heard it are the songs that years later I still am happy with.


#18

This whole post captures my experience really closely too. I have a bunch of things I’ve started, and when I return to them I come to the same conclusion-- just ain’t all that good. Thanks for articulating this, I didn’t realize how much this was an issue for me until your words crystallized in in the ol’ brain…


#19

I like how @Danny_Danzi mentioned that sometimes a performance is just right and you don’t need eq, etc. Most of the time while working with real pros you get that.

Still 7-8 years for one album, ouch, I’d imagine the song will get stale in “Chinese Democracy” way as to where you’re second and triple guessing yourself and going back and forth.

I think immediacy is probably one of the best things to consider when and whether you wonder if you have a good song. Usually things that come out as an idea quick and are finished fast with good flow are probably the best songs. As far as my repertoire goes, the song “Surrender”:

was done in 2 days as far as composition from start to finish is concerned.
It took a while to be completed in its current recorded format but it is not much different from the 2017 demo.
Sometimes you just need to stop as a writer and call it done, that’s what I am trying to say. Nothing will ever be perfect by everyone’s standard. Look at some major hits, the Beatles for example - horrible production IMO, can’t hear the drums on most of it, it is not mixed right by today’s standards, yet it has sold billions.


#20

Highly unlikely.