12 artists on how they beat writer's block and finish songs: "The point when I want to kill myself is usually a good indicator that the track is finished"

(Image credit: Press)

Finalising the last few bars of a project or adding those all-important finishing touches to a mixdown can be an intimidating prospect for all of us, from those at the beginning of their journey into music production to artists with hundreds of releases under their belt. 

The question of when exactly to wrap it up when you’re building a track is one that’s puzzled artists of all stripes, from bedroom beatmakers to hit producers, and each one has different methods for knowing how to make this crucial decision effectively. We’ve spoken to more than a few experienced music-makers over the years, asking each artist how they conclude their creative process and decide when a track is well and truly finished. Here’s what they had to say…

1. Anthony Naples

anthony naples

(Image credit: Jenny Slattery)

 “I read this in something Kieran [Four Tet] said in an interview. He said that what makes him a producer is that he can decide when something's done. I feel like that was really ingrained in me early on. Just because you might think, this is too simple, or this doesn't look the way that other people's music looks on the screen… but it's like, no, just listen to it! Does it sound like a piece of music or not? Okay, if it does, then it's done. It doesn't need to be more complicated than that.”

2. Kelly Lee Owens

kelly lee owens

(Image credit: Press/Kelly Lee Owens)

“Although I’ll often towards the end go on very deep in terms of automation, and nudging things around, I know the place I’m trying to get to. I know when to say when, and that’s usually when the flow is right, when I can listen back and not need to change anything. I think that comes with a trusting of self.”

3. Hermitude


(Image credit: Press/Hermitude)

”When you listen back and you’re scrounging for ideas to put in it, you’re done. If I can’t hear anything, time to let go. Completing is usually the hardest bit, but it’s a nice vibe not to try and over-cook things. When things are a bit rough around the edges, it’s more interesting for the listener, rather than a fully-polished piece. People like to hear your humanness.”

4. Christian Smith

christian smith

(Image credit: Future)

"So much time is wasted by producers that have tons of half-finished productions. At the end of the day, one finished song is better than 100 half finished! I have often been in situations where I've been listening to the same loop for over 10 hours and ended up not knowing if the track is good enough. 

"One way I usually overcome this is by making the song all in one session and mixing it down the next day. If it passes the 'day after' test, it's usually good to go, and mixing down tracks with fresh ears is obviously the way to do it.”

5. Lone


(Image credit: Fabula Images)

“The track is finished when I can listen to it without wanting to change anything. I often fall into the trap of finishing a track, exporting it and thinking I'm done with it only to then listen back the next day and realise there's slight tweaks needed - or sometimes whole changes! I guess I'm quite an impatient person so I always want to finish the track and move on to something new. There's something about catching a vibe quickly and then moving on which has always appealed to me.”

6. Mafro


(Image credit: Press/Mafro)

 “A track is finished once I can listen through it without getting bored. There are only so many arrangements that work, so if you’re not sure just reference another song you like. If you are adding things and they are either unnoticeable or making the song worse, that is a sign you’re probably done.”

7. Haider


(Image credit: Press)

“The saying ‘art is never finished, only abandoned’ is ever so true, especially in the age of computer music where you can constantly revise and re-edit things. In the past it’s been really difficult for me to know when a track is finished as I can get stuck in the mindset of ‘just one more element’ forever. It’s for this reason I tend to bounce my tracks off people whose opinions I really trust to listen to a track and tell me if they feel it sounds finished or not.”

8. Mason Maynard

mason maynard

(Image credit: Press/Mason Maynard)

“I never really know when a track is finished as most of the time I’m trying to expand and make it as best I can. But for me I feel like they ‘get away’ – I may play them out and if the reaction is good then I can live with letting that one go.”

9. Claude Vonstroke


(Image credit: Future)

“For me it’s finished when I start adding things that do not affect the quality. At this point I usually turn the other direction and mute a few tracks to see if I can actually subtract some things. It’s always good to do subtraction exercises as well as addition exercises… ask yourself, what do you really need to be in there?”

10. Noga Erez

Noga Erez

(Image credit: Press/Noga Erez)

“It's the big question. My answer at the moment is: ‘deadline’! Our nature is to continue trying to perfect a song; that can go on forever. It’s because, really, finishing something creative is always about cutting a process in the flash. We think we can do better but at some point we just do different. Even if you don’t have people setting deadlines for you, setting them for yourself is important. It makes the process itself better too. Knowing something had an ending puts everything in perspective.”

11. Objekt


(Image credit: Kasia Zacharko)

“Once I’m past the sketching stage and throwing ideas at the canvas I’ll always open up the bounce from the last session, listen to it – ideally in iTunes, make notes and timestamp whatever needs changing. That could be something as major as getting rid of a whole section to a new bassline or something minor like there’s a little bit too much frequency on the snare. 

“Once I have half a page of notes on what I want to change, I’ll go into the DAW project and be pretty strict about only changing the stuff I’ve written down. Once that’s done, I’ll bounce another copy and start the whole process again until I get to a point where the notes are essentially negligible. Then I know the track is done.” 

12. Morcheeba


(Image credit: Press)

“The point when I want to kill myself is usually a good indicator that the track is finished. It is best not to overwork things; it’s either good or it isn’t.”

Future Music

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