Hi, Doctor Nick! - The Secret to Finishing an Album (or Any Big Project) When It's Almost Done

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Another week, another dose of knowledge from Nick Hook. Every Thursday morning, our resident street shaman stops in to answer readers' questions about music, gear, DJing, travel, production, the creative process, and more. The guy has seen and done just about everything there is to see and do in the music world, so he's got wisdom for days. Want to find out just how much? Drop him a line at doctornick@xlr8r.com and let Doctor Nick get to work.

Hola. I just landed in LA. Atlanta was amazing. I had the fortune of working at Stankonia for a week. We had Pusha-T come in and smash, plus Killer Mike, Si Jones, Go Dreamer, Scotty ATL, and a bunch of dope cats. I think Yung Thug is my new favorite rapper. Look out for him.

Keep the questions and the demos coming to doctornick@xlr8r.com. I've listened to some. I also just realized that I don't know how to reply from the XLR8R e-mail address.

And look out for me at some afternoon party on September 1 in LA that people like... :)

Hi Doctor Nick,

Firstly, thanks for all the great advice I've already read in your column. I'm in the process of writing my first album, which feels like it's taking forever due to working full-time and the slow process of amassing equipment, but it's really starting to take shape and turn out the way I want it to. Do you have any advice on how to get to the end of such a large project? Also, as I get closer to finishing it, I'm starting to think about what comes next. As I don't have any connections to speak of, I'm considering putting it out myself. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the pros and cons of going DIY versus approaching already established labels?

Thanks and keep up the great work, you're an inspiration!

Hi. Awesome. Glad you enjoy the column. :)

It's great that you are writing an album. I might sound like an old man, but I love projects/albums/etc. that feel like a special thing. Don't get me wrong, I love singles and free mixtapes and all that, but there's something to be said about encapsulating a period of your life. It'll be dope when you finish and look back and think of where you were in life, who was in your life, what was inspiring you, and all the work it took. I love that so much.

I think the most important thing is that you be critical about writing amazing music, making it sound good, and all of those things, but at the same time, don't be overly protective of it. I've seen people make records, or even just these crazy master plans, and then, when it doesn't go right, they just hold a finished album there forever, waiting for things to go how they saw it in their head. Yeah, we all want to get that crazy label deal, but beware of putting your career on hold for two years because you are waiting for the perfect thing to come along.

I've really found that once you put things out in the world, they aren't yours anymore—in the best way. You get unsolicited feedback (good and bad), you start play things out live, and it all lets you analyze the music from a new perspective and see where it will let you head next. Sometimes, your least favorite song becomes everyone else's favorite song. Basically, you never know what's going to happen once the music drops, so don't overthink it while you're making the record.

Set goals for yourself. You're going to have to sacrifice some things to finish others, and time management is key to all of it. Seriously, just having a goal written out on a note in your iPhone and seeing if you are sticking to it goes a long way. One of my favorite things to use is a dry-erase board. Depending on what part of the process I am in, I make a bunch of columns with all of the songs and start writing in X's once something gets finished. That way, I can really start to see when I'm making progress. Alternately, it shows how much farther I have to go.

Find people you trust and ask them for feedback. It's very simple, but see who is there for you in a constructive way. The couple of people that I send my tracks to always make me go, "Oh, wow. Great idea." That helps me put new life into songs that may have been sitting around for a while.

Collaborate with people. Maybe you know some horn players from school, or maybe your friend plays piano real well. Maybe you get a singer or a rapper to come over and freestyle on the tracks and then you can cut up their flow into new pieces. It's possible that just one of these little bits is what will give you the momentum to finish. Also, I just love working with people. When it clicks, it clicks, and you can't beat that synergy.

As for releasing the music, I think the pros and cons have all been answered a million times in this column. You just need to do what feels right for you, but I'd say that you should finish your record first or at least have some strong demos ready. That way, a label can decide if they want to sign it before it's done. Also, have you thought about not worrying about any of this this stuff before you finish the album? Maybe you'll have full clarity when it's finished.

Hi, Doctor Nick! appears every Thursday on XLR8R. Do you have a question for Doctor Nick? Please submit your inquires to doctornick@xlr8r.com. Nick Hook can help you.