Typical workflow for finishing a track looks like this:
First, spend 2-4 hours finding and developing an initial musical idea that you like. This could come from noodling around on an instrument, throwing loops into your DAW, creating interesting melodies and chord progressions, or anything else that gets you started. There’s no hard and fast rule here. You could start a track with drums, a bass line, chord progression, or a field recording. Whatever works. Here, you also choose the tempo, sounds, and overall mood for your track.
Then, spend 1-2 hours structuring your entire track, arranging your parts in new ways so as to create new textures and sections. In electronic music it’s generally a good idea to copy and paste your main section and try muting or soloing elements to come up with build-ups, drops, transitions, outros, and B-sections. Creating contrast between sections usually works as well. If your initial section is loud, full and/or busy sounding, try to incorporate a section that’s the opposite of that (sparse and quiet).
Then, spend 3-5 hours adding details and mixing. Here, make sure that everything works in your track, that it sounds full and coherent, and that all transitions flow smoothly. You also focus on adding interesting effects and ear candy. Now’s the time to start processing, making sure that everything sounds as polished as it can while still being clear and punchy.
Finally, spend 1-2 hours doing final tweaks and mastering. This is a good time to double check everything in your project: make sure your automations work correctly, that your audio regions are cut up at the right spots (with some nice fades for safety), that everything sits just right in your mix. Then, check your mix on different systems to make sure it translates well, do your mastering, and you’re done!
Even if now it takes you twice as long to finish a track, you can still reference how much time you should be spending proportionally on each stage. However, barring additional recording sessions or other unique circumstances, this is the general timeline for how many hours it should take for you to finish a track. I know it can seem daunting at first, so here’s a few things that are essential if you want to be finishing tracks quickly:
Have a template setup for starting tracks. It should have some basic reverb and delay sends and your favorite instruments set up so you can immediately focus on creating music.
Know your favorite samples and have them neatly organized in folders (kicks, snares, 808s, risers, etc.).
Have organized presets for everything: for your favorite synths, for processing chains, for mastering chains, for certain types of instruments, and so on.
Have references for what you want your track to sound like
Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap. It’s important to get into the habit of finishing songs, regardless of how much you love them. This doesn’t mean that you should aim for mediocre results. Aim to finish great tracks, but realize that regularly finishing songs will do tons for your learning, leading to much better final tracks in the long run.
These are some basic concepts for improving your workflow and finishing tracks quickly. If you want to dive a bit deeper into these concepts, this ill.Methodology Workshop video has some great advice. If you want more actionable tips to improve your organization and workflow right now, this post has a ton of them, plus some tips across all aspects of music production.
Hope this helps!