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.

One of the most important parts of drafting is that when you have a part of a song you love, you need to make sure that the other parts of the song live up to it. We’ve all known that feeling when a song has a great chorus or bridge, but there’s a part that ruins the song as a whole. This part kills the emotion of a song, inducing a cringe when we hear it on each listen. Making sure all the other parts rise to the greatness you've achieved elsewhere is a crucial part of drafting a song on the macro level.

Grading As A Means Of Improving A Song

The job of the record producer gets compared to a book editor in that they'll keep the majority of your idea but neaten up parts along the way. I find the best way to fix up a song is to grade it the way my writing teacher did. I'll first break the song form up into sections on a spreadhseet, assigning each section of the song a letter grade. If I have enough time, I'll try to get all the elements of a song up to an A+, but if there's little time, I'll work from the lowest letter grade on up to get to what needs the most work. If a part gets a D or an F, I won't make any more comments on it since it needs to be rewritten. A grade of a D means there's one element left to be spared that we can probably use to build off as we rewrite, but an F means the part needs to be fully rewritten. If a part gets an A, B or C, I'll further deconstruct the section to figure out what needs improvement.

 I'll zoom in on this as well; my first listen will grade the intro, verse, chorus, bridge and any other parts as a whole. I'll grade every line of lyrics with an A-F scale. I do this to every beat, drum fill, section of the accompaniment track and bass. I'll then apply constructive criticism to each part, writing what I do or don't like about each part so we can understand how to improve it. Starting on the A's will guide me on what should be applied to the lesser grades, especially the F's, since by recognizing what’s good about a song we can clearly show how to improve the bad parts. I do this all inside a spreadsheet that allows me to keep track of the consideration we need to put into a record.

Pick One Thing You Dislike And Voice It

 Years ago I was having drinks with a friend who worked at a major label who was being mentored by some of the top minds in A&R history. I asked what advice he'd been given. He told me that when hearing songs back, you should always "pick something you don't like about the song and say that needs to get fixed, even if it doesn't bug you too much, it'll improve the song." This advice took my breath away immediately. The idea of forcing yourself to find a flaw in a recording so your job is justified was both horrifying and enlightening as to why I've fielded so many ridiculous requests from A&R over the years. After some reflection, I realized that with some tweaks, this theory could be effective.

 It can often be helpful to listen to a song while trying to find the weakest element so you can then work on strengthening that element. Our brain isn't always in an analytical mode, so if we consciously look for at least one flaw, it can help find an area of weakness. This doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be changed, but instead it will only be changed if you can find an improvement. While it shouldn't be mandatory to find a flaw while using this lens to examine a song, finding the weakest element of a song can confirm what the rest of the collaborators already know to be worthy of improvement. Of course, this practice has to cease at some point for a song to reach completion, but far too often we don't put on our analytical hat to try to find a point of improvement when listening to a song.

There’s More Than One Way To Solve A Problem

With every creative decision, there's usually more than one way to get to an objective. When a musician evaluates the mix of a song and wants to bring more attention to a part, their first instinct is to say "turn that up." While this can be the right road to get what you want, other times this results in a part that's now too loud when turning down another instrument would have gained a mix with greater resonance. After all, if you turn every track up, you end up with a mess of a mix.

When we analyze problems in our songs, there's usually a handful ways to solve the problem that isn't our first instinct. Most musicians’ default is to turn a track up, but turning down another track, EQing it differently, muting another part or changing the octave the part is in all can get a result that'll make the desired part shine. There's usually numerous ways to get the desired outcome, so figure out if going past the obvious answer is the best way to a solution.

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.