As I mentioned last week, my album is finished, and I’m getting ready to release it in the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a free sample, head over to I’m giving away 3 songs from the album. These were all recorded and mixed in my home studio.

I’m planning some pretty cool things for the album release, so make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter, or subscribed to the HSC RSS feed. More to come soon.

But first, let me share with you some tips for finishing an album. There are a bajillion steps involved in producing any recording project, and today I want to share with you 7 tips that really helped me as I went from “I’m working on my album” to “I’m finished with my album.” I’ll share these over the course of several articles. Enjoy!

1. Finish writing the songs before you start recording them.

As tempting as it may be to start recording a song as soon as you’ve written it, resist the urge. As you probably know, songs aren’t written, they’re rewritten. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a song, started recording it for a few days, then realized that the song needed some major work. Usually that meant scratching everything I’d recorded.

Make sure the lyrics and arrangement are finished before you start recording. You’ll be glad you did.

2. “Chunkify”

I just made up that word, I think.

Whenever there are chores to do around the house, my wife has this habit of saying, “We’ve got a lot to do today.” I always respond with, “What exactly do we have to do?” After she lists out the two or three tasks, it then becomes clear to both of us that it’s not really that much.

It’s the same way with recording. If you speak in terms of “I’m finishing this song” rather than “I’m comping the lead vocals,” you’ll always feel like you have this insurmountable mountain of work to do.

The solution is to divide your projects up into chunks, small individual tasks that, when added up, equal a completed project. For example, rather than saying,

I need to edit all 10 songs.

I would say

I need to edit the acoustic guitars on “No Time” and “Home.”
I need to edit the piano no “Come Quickly.”
I need to edit the bass on “I Won’t Fly Away.”
etc. etc.

Suddenly, I have a list of 100 tasks that I need to complete to finish the album. Sure, 100 tasks is a lot, but it’s measurable. As you chip away at one, you feel a little bit of satisfaction and motivation as you scratch if off your to-do list forever.

[By the way, for more on editing, check out Understanding Editing.]

3. Set deadlines, even if you miss them.

This is nothing new, but it’s worth re-emphasizing. Having a deadline looming in the back of your mind will make you focus more on the task at hand. I missed all sorts of deadlines with my album, but having those deadlines helped me keep moving forward, otherwise, it would’ve turned into one of those 7-year projects that’s always “in the works.”

I would suggest setting deadlines for each of your “chunks.” This will help you with both gaining focus and determining how long it will actually take to finish your album.

Okay, that’s enough for today. I’ll post a few more tips in the next article, but before I do, I need 15 comments on this post. Let me know what you think. What are YOU going to implement today?

  • Chris Graham

    Great article Joe!

  • Wenger

    I must be Deca’s shadow procrastination is my middle name but this article has helped big time in moving me forward.

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  • Khobe

    Really appreciated this article, it nails my biggest problem. The best way to get rid of this overwhelming feeling I have with my projects.

  • Robert Mortimer

    I’m somewhat new to this write/play/produce/record/engineer “all at once” world, although I’ve done them all separately at different times in my life. I found this article really helpful in breaking it down or “Chunkifying” things and it just makes sense.
    I’ve always been a “get it right in the performance” player. Great article. Please keep them coming.
    I love technology and the internet is an amazing library of tools and techniques for expanding creativity.

  • the 2 last points are for me. I procrastinate so much and its manly because i get discouraged at the loads of stuff to do.

    mad thanks

  • christopher [chrisw92]

    tip number 2 is my favourite. you just have to think of splitting up work, helps loads with collage work (I also use a “reward” type of system… E.g. if I finish writing up this page before X:XXpm I will have more time to work with my drum mix)

  • johnson

    I totally agree with No 1 Tip. Extremely important.

    That s the stage you re-arrange your song to your stage.

  • Ethan

    Great post Joe! This is really helpful for me because I just wrapped up the recording of my bands first EP. So I was kinda stuck on #2. I have been telling myself “I need to edit all of these songs now” (each song has 48+ tracks) so I was very much dreading the next step of comping and such. But now that I’ve read this I realized I only really need to comp the drums and bass on the songs after relistening to the tracks! Great post!

  • Alan Seeger

    Lots of good advice here, as always on this site. Regarding the idea of finishing the song first, I totally agree, but music is an organic thing, and sometimes it grows, shifts and changes on you when you’re not expecting it, especially when you have other musicians involved.

    • Gerry Tebbe

      I agree with you in that a song is always in a state of flux, and as an artist I always find it necessary to draw the line on where I say the song is finished. I get some tracks laid down, and when listening to the takes I hear things that were not in the original score but add another (and sometimes interesting) dimension. Thank God for project studios, because when it comes time to lay the track properly in a big expensive studio the work should be fairly well completed.

  • Deadlines are so crucial. Even if you’re not ready, I believe it’s important to ship on ship date. you hit the nail right on the head, Joe. Deadlines keep you moving forward and keep you from focusing too much on the small stuff. Well, it does to me.

    “I have 3 days… What absolutely needs my attention right now?”
    It’s a great way to keep your production level at a steady pace.

  • For me #1 is a mistake I have done — I started out recording a “completed” chord prog, but instead of using that for playback to finish lyrics or melody…I went straight for recording as a whole song, which is like trying to chisel a statue without enough stone. I’ve found it’s better to at least have the form/structure decided on and lyrics at least 90% done before doing a quick demo recording. Sure, record the little chord prog that has yer brain excited…on your iPhone or micro cassette…whatever. But DON’T start out setting tempos & click tracks and sessioning immediately. Give your brain time to listen to it and finish it, that will only make you more excited to finish the song and inspire you to “chunkify” (lay out the the specific the tasks). I think folks who have a completed song, that they could play/sing live @ a coffee shop, or record a 2-track inst/vox demo with, will be able settle on a final arrangement & finish the song faster than if they make it up as they go, scratching or tossing takes and getting bogged down.
    #3 is a big one for me now too, I’ve found it’s not so dang bad to set the “date I want to have X done” or setting aside an hour to “get Y done” and, even if I don’t make the deadline, I moved towards getting it done….something I may not have done without the deadline in the first place.

  • i think that this is brillant!!! i completely agree with # 3. in my case, i am recording my bands EP and these guys have to be held by the hand to do everything, but when i set a deadline it was kind of like a slap in the face to them. like, “oh crap, we only have 2 weeks before everything for all 6 songs needs to be recorded”. it really has helped me alot.

    thanks joe!

  • Greg

    Solid advice, as always, Joe. Although, with number 1, knowing exactly when the song is truly done and ready to be recorded can be a bit tricky sometimes, eh? And sometimes, no matter how much rewriting you have done and polishing of the arrangement/lyrics, etc, I find that the process of recording a song can bring to mind new creative ideas that I haven’t had before…hopefully they happen in such a way that I don’t have to scrap everything that I’ve previousl recorded,so your point remains true, but I just thought I’d throw that into the discussion.

  • #1 is HUGE. One of the tips that has helped me a lot from the production class was the scratch track/demo piece of this. Just a quick recording of vocals and guitar so that you can play it back a hundred times in the car while driving around makes you really get used to the song and if you think of new ideas, it’s quick to re-record to incorporate them until you’re happy with it.

  • Regarding #1, we realized as we were laying down scractch tracks and even the drum tracking, that we didn’t fully do our pre-production. Actually, new ideas started coming up as we listened to the playback that never happened during a year of playing the songs live.

    My question is how do you deal with the additional ideas that form as you are recording? How do you do pre-production without really recording all the songs twice.

    • CameronN

      You do record all the songs twiice. Just record a stripped down, basic recording. It doesn’t have to be the best sound quality, but it should really have the lyrics and guitar.

      • Pre-Production doesn’t mean you plan out EVERYTHING. If you go too crazy with pre-pro you end up not leaving room for creativity. Always be open to new ideas during the recording process.
        Pre-production lays the foundation for the house. You can make lots of changes to the design of the house once you start building it.

  • Jamboni

    #1 – Good suggestion; I find that most wasted time comes from Musicians that do not know their material well or have it partially completed. The studio is not the place to get this done.

    Completely agree with #2, as focusing on one thing at a time (building blocks) is a highly effective way to most of life’s projects.

    #3 – OneHourChallenges; enough said!

  • hey joe, thanks heaps for this, it does help!!!
    at the moment im workinmg on my first album, and this site and your tips keeps me going strong. cheers again mate,

  • thanks for these tips, joe!

    #1 – from personal experience, i say you should get into a studio to record a song only when you can live with everything that’s in there, and there’s no need for any more re-writes.

    #2 – i applied this one today! sometimes it feels like you will never finish a project, so it’s better to divide it into smaller bites, so it feels like you can actually finish the thing.

    #3 – i realized the only reason i got stuff done at school is because they gave me a fixed amount of time to finish an assignment. it was fun to work under that pressure! my deadline for a final mix is august 22. that way i have time for corrections, and september 12 is the final release date.

  • Joe, thank you very much for the second tip in the article. That is it! That is what I need to organize my work. Cheers!

  • Lukas

    Some great tips in there, Joe.
    As for finishing writing the songs before recording them – I generally agree, however sometimes I need to hear the full song before I come up with some ground breaking ideas for re-arrangement. Other times, the song just builds itself in 20 minutes or so and these first ideas/riffs/melodies turn out to be just what the song needs. Funny games…
    Deadlines, ‘Chunkifying’ – both spot on!
    Keep it up, man!

  • jani mikkonen

    Parts 2-3 combined could be just written down as a development method called “agile”. Typically applied to software project but i’ve been applying the same approach to getting few vinyls out on own small label we run with bunch of friends.

    Basicly, i’ve set 1-2 week sets and allocated everyone with some small chores that needs to be done first in order to move to other tasks and then i just keep up that everyone does what they have promised to do and in which time. Social pressure is also a good motivational booster =)

  • Bob Sorace

    I agree with the first one, many times I’ve started recording a song getting all of the basic tracks laid, only to discover that I should add a bridge or whatever it is. And the thought of re-recording it all makes my skin crawl, great advice on that one.

    As for the second one, when my wife says “we’ve got alot to do today” I always respond with, “what do you mean we?” In my house “we’ve got alot to do” is wife speak for “you’ve got alot of things to do today”

    Great post Joe and I really liked the three songs, you really captured the acoustic really well.