Was with an artist I’ve admired for years and working on a track together and he had just looped some drums and added a piano sample. We arranged the parts around my vocals and I grabbed some keys to add a harmonic element. He completely shut me down and said the track was done.
He was right.
There are 12 unique notes in the chromatic scale – 12 distinct affective possibilities in each moment, for each voice. The tendency to add more elements, pads that are playing 4 notes at a time, a monophonic bassline, a chorded lead, a chorded harmony, deliberately pitched drums… Actually manipulating all of those elements with any degree of intentionality requires a great deal more compositional rigor than is available to most of us. It’s orchestral (hence KAS, hence sixty person teams on every pop song, hence five year release cycles on more ambitious projects from smaller teams).
If I, as a relative layman, am fortunate enough to stumble upon a single precious moment, it would be blasphemous to hide it behind some sophomoric attempt at ‘filling space’ or demonstrating whatever sliver of musical knowledge I may posess.
On the more practical side: try recording each voice individually and arranging from there with a focus on something like a subtractive remix. Know what a song is doing and what moments are precious and divorce yourself from the notion that deleting a part is wasting all the time you spent on it. You learned so much from making it and if it no longer serves the song it must go.
Most importantantly: stop stressing about making music! Do what feels good and let the practice serve you.
(is it obvious that I’ve been struggling with this lately?)