This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Since we're trying to avoid getting too used to the way the demo sounds, what can we do to avoid this plague? While you must make the music you want to hear, you need to exercise restraint in your consumption of this music. The more you listen to a specific recording of your song, the more objectivity you lose. Conversely, abstaining from listening to your demos won't allow you to gain perspective on what you've recorded. What's so tragic about this is listening to the same mix repeatedly can impair you from making a good decision, yet you'll feel confident that this is what your heart feels is right. Unfortunately, many musicians decide to go with a demo element when evaluating a song only to return to it a year later to discover there was room for improvement that they had been blind to due to a loss of objectivity.

Demos are one of the most useful tools at our disposal, but to make them effective, you must exercise restrained listening with concentrated note taking. Even if that note taking is as informal as cranking down the windows on your car to listen as you would any other song, this is some of the most important time you can spend as long as it's rationed. Excessive listens with half-minded attention only further cement the way a demo sounds, hindering your objectivity to future development.

 Scratch tracks can poison objectivity as well. If you've been hearing a scratch vocal while you work on a song for three weeks, inferior vocal inflections can skew your objectivity away from those that further the emotional resonance of a song, as you’ve become used to how the scratch track sounds. The nuances of the performance become so ingrained that any alterations that stray from the demo seem wrong. To alleviate this, I'll have a singer sing a scratch vocal a handful of times at the start of each day before we start to work on the song. I'll then change the take we hear throughout the day. This way the performance is always different so I can hear the best of their inflections as we record the song. This technique can help preserve objectivity immensely as well as help find a clear picture of what the vocal should be doing when it comes time to track it.

When producing records, I severely ration my influence from demos to maintain a higher level of objectivity than musicians. In the best-case scenario, I won't have heard any demos for weeks before we start pre-production or the recording process. When a band sends me a demo, I try to take it in as fast as I can so I never get used to it. This usually means listening to each song 1-5 times while taking notes. After this initial listen along with one session of reevaluation, I never listen to the demo until we're done recording the song. While the self-produced home studio trend continues to grow, this objectivity is usually what makes a producer worth their paycheck on a project.

 While I've talked a lot about the demo being detrimental to your objectivity, it can also be the greatest savior at the end of recording a song. If I've done a good job of forgetting the demo, putting it on once we think the recording of a song is done can be a life-saving safety net to make sure we've exceeded everything good about the demo. I can't count how many times I've revisited a demo after tracking a song to find two or three cool elements to bring back that adds so much resonance to a song.

Preventing Demoitis In Mixes

The other common culprit of Demoitis is how the interaction of levels in demos and rough mixes influence how those afflicted judge a mix of a song. When tracking songs, the vocals and drums are turned up excessively loud to help performers get a good performance. Once a song is mixed, these levels are placed in a more realistic balance, so those who have been hearing a tracking mix feel a loss of excitement when they're mixed. I’ve found a few practices helpful to prevent Demoitis caused by mixes:

·       Don't set levels of any instrument excessively loud compared to the others in a rough mix. During tracking it can be helpful to have drums turned up loud to perform tight to the groove. Take these down when making rough mixes; otherwise, it can be hard to get used to more reasonable balances when mixing a song later.

·       Make different mixes each day. One of the benefits of mixing consoles compared to DAWs was they wouldn't allow mixes to be the same each day. The variance of different fader levels didn't allow your mind to get used to exact balances, allowing you to hear different perspectives on the levels of a song to judge against later.

·       Make a change or stop dwelling on the demo. Unless you’re adding or subtracting from your demo, don’t give superfluous listens without making new versions; come back to it with fresh ears.

Immunity To Demoitis - There are some experienced artists who are immune to Demoitis and they've never even experienced it. This rare percentage can always discern the good ideas from the bad. Many of my producer friends find that as years go on, they get better and better at trusting their gut to discern what's good and bad, as opposed to being biased to the familiar. This also tends to come with those who learn how to judge every choice emotionally instead of with concepts that stem from the head.

How to Regain Your Perspective

It's pretty much inevitable that at some point you'll lose your perspective. Thankfully you can find it again by employing a few tricks.

Revisit The Greats - Your "Great Songs" playlist can be the ticket to regaining perspective. In my experience, losses of perspective commonly stem from making judgments against previous drafts you've made without outside perspective of other music you enjoy. Your head is so inside your own work, you’re not regularly gaining feedback from what has been resonant to you in the past to gain objectivity. Revisiting your favorite music to judge how tight grooves are, the levels of certain elements in a mix or the overall timbre of a song can be a reference to help steer you in the right direction. I find if I revisit my favorite songs for an hour and revisit the song I’s having trouble with, my perspective has a true north that’s easy to see again.

Muting Or Soloing - When mixing, employing the mute button or solo instruments to analyze songs is a basic practice that's commonly dismissed as being too critical. While soloing a track can make a track that's with too strong a groove sound totally wrong, it could also unveil a perspective that shows a flaw. There are plenty of instruments that may sound odd when soloed, especially if they're played to a rhythm track with a less conventional groove, but soloing a track can help give further perspective. Muting various elements of a song is equally helpful in finding perspective on what could be flawed or superfluous within it.

Time - Time away from a song is a commodity many musicians don’t have during the song development process. Sadly, it’s the best cure for lost perspective. Anyone experienced in making music that’s revisited a past recording in hindsight can hear clear flaws or better decisions they could have made. While there’s no definite prescription for how much time it takes to regain objectivity, breaks from hearing a song regularly leads to huge epiphanies as well as regained perspective. In fact, time away from a song may be the single greatest way to regain objectivity.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.