My album project has passed the 6-month marker and consumed over 50 GB of space on my hard drive. This is a critical moment, when I am inevitably nagged by the urge to drop the whole thing, can it, like the legend of Brian Wilson destroying all the tape reels for Smile in a bonfire. That never actually happened, but he did abandon the project unfinished, an instinct I find wholly understandable. When the sounds have been piled on so thickly that you can’t even recall your original vision, and the tracks have been played back so many times that you don’t even hear them any more, that kind of self doubt comes easily.
At this stage, the hardest step is simply deciding that the album is done. Like the novelist nitpicking her choice of words, the record producer has no resounding moment of doneness. Without record executives and production deadlines, this can lead to endless tweaking and dangerous flights of fancy. At any moment I could pursue the urge to auto-tune all the vocals, or replace all the instruments with FM synthesizers, or blanket the songs in extra percussion. Sounds ridiculous; then you listen to a song like this and you think: my goodness, what genius decided to lay down weird filtered bongos over the entire track? Am I missing my own magic filtered bongos? Or dare I say cowbell? These are the questions that keep me up at night, and keep me listening back to the same songs again and again while the overdubs pile up around my feet. What am I missing?