There are two different mindsets that are required when making music – ‘exploring’ and ‘finishing’.
‘Exploring’ is the more artistic and creative of the two mindsets. It’s when you’re trying things out, discovering new sounds, experimenting with putting different things together and generally creating. It’s when you start at a single point and fan out – exploring the multitude of different options and pathways. Most pathways won’t lead to where you want to go; most experiments will fail. But no matter, knowing what doesn’t work is often as useful as knowing what does work.
‘Finishing’ is the more focussed and directed of the two mindsets. It’s when you’ve already got your building blocks established and you want to put them together and transform them from a collection of good ideas into a finished piece of music. It’s when you start with multiple points and fan in – consolidating and organising the material so that it makes sense as a coherent whole.
Obviously, it’s not black-and-white. You’ll unconsciously drift from one to another and back again many times in a session. For example, programming a synth sound might start in the ‘exploring’ mindset as you imagine the sound you want and perhaps audition some presets, and then move toward a ‘finishing’ mindset as you find a preset that’s close and then start to adjust it to better fit the instrumentation of the song. Similarly, assembling the final arrangement might normally be quite methodical and focussed if you know how the end result should feel, but you might shift to an ‘exploring’ mindset when deciding on the order or length of some sections where you might be less sure.
One of the important things to understand is that you probably need both in equal measure. Too much exploring without enough finishing will leave you with lots of unfinished projects and an unrepresentative portfolio. Too much finishing without enough exploring will leave you creatively unsatisfied (or stuck making remixes and covers).