Keeping track of to-do items
When you are planning out time to write your music to jive with your busy schedule, sometimes its important to know exactly what you wish to accomplish during that small chunk of time you have.
Evernote is my friend yet again in this regard, but really any way of taking notes will work. I have a note right now that contains every song I anticipate for the upcoming release. Under each song is a checkbox list that I add to anytime I'm out and about, listening to my rough copy bounces of those tracks. The second something pops in my mind in regards to a change or addition that might need attention, I get into Evernote, and add a line item next to that song describing the action, as well some rough estimation as to when in the song this correction needs to occur (if necessary.)
This sets me up beautifully for those times when I have studio time in my calendar, and I'm not sure where to begin. I scan through the list, pick out an item that works for that moment, and do it. There's nothing like enhancing that track with a new element, AND also removing it from the to-do list. I don't know about you, but removing anything from a to-do list is always gratifying.
I use Evernote in this way every day. Its how I make sure that those spur of the moment thoughts actually find themselves into the finished product. I get a ton of random ideas, and in reality, some of them don't end up working out. But a lot of them do. And when I go back and listen to the songs later, often its those line-item elements that make them even more detailed and structured.
In the mastering stage, I continue this process. "Oooh, that track is just a tad too harsh on upper-mid frequencies." That gives me something specific to address the next time I sit down with the song to work on it next time, instead of stabbing in the dark TRYING to find some busy work to do.
I'm not finished with the album until those lists are clean. Period. If I have a correction that needs to be made on a track, it goes in the list and doesn't get removed from that list until I've either tried it and passed on it after executing it, or I've instilled it into the finished song. For me, this all goes back to the fact that I will hear that idea every time I listen to that track, if I don't at least test it out.
So Cold, the first track on The Mellower, is one case where I rushed it and have forever regretted it. And I admit, it's likely something that only I will ever notice, but its a thought in my mind EVERY SINGLE TIME I hear that track. The main guitar chug that starts at the very top and lasts all the way through the song has a slight reverb tail on it that never quite sat well for me. Sounded a bit too digital, not organic enough, and definitely mixed too high. I couldn't tell you at this point why I never corrected that before mastering, but I didn't, and I KNOW it was on a list or corrections.
Don't make that mistake. Trust your gut. If you listen to something and say to yourself "Man, that word was a little harsh on the ears", chances are, it actually was, and will continue to be, until you address it. BOOM. Put that sucker in the list. Then follow through with action when the time is right.