Don’t get me wrong. Finishing songs is important.
But, not every song deserves endless revisions!
I believe there are some songs that come out and flow down the page simply to get you to the next one. Not every song you write is meant to be “the one.” Sometimes, songs are simply the bridge to “the one.”
So how do you tell the difference?
Frankly, there’s no clear line. At the end of the day, it’s your call!
But, I’ve created some guidelines to give you a general sense of direction.
First and foremost, you should finish each song. They don’t need to be “pitchable” songs, just completed in terms of getting down the page.
Priority #1: Get Down The Page
Finishing a song down the page is a must for several reasons:
- Half finished songs are difficult to pick up later because of the lack of momentum
- Incomplete songs can pile up and become a psychological road block to more songs
- Understanding the process only occurs when you experience the entire process
But, many times you think because you’ve gotten down the page, the song warrants another draft or ten!
I’m going to argue you have a choice.
Because writing songs helps you gain experience, your goal should be to write as much as possible. However, you have to allow yourself to end up with songs that you’ll never record, never pitch and never play in front of anyone else.
By doing this, you’ll get better faster. But it’s hard. We’re trained to “complete things” and if we don’t, we’re failing at it.
I’m tossing the BS flag on that one. Fail fast with songwriting!
Decide quickly if the song deserves another draft or it’s just a transition song in the learning process.
Why? Because, the time you’ll spend on making it “great” is time being taken away from the next song. After all, you only have so many songwriting hours. How will you spend them?
So how do you know when to stop finishing songs and move on to the next song?
Should You Keep Working On The Song?
Finishing Songs Worthiness Checklist
One of the best ways to get yourself to stop is by using a simple checklist. The checklist will help you feel more confident about where you are with the song so you can fix it or move on.
Ask yourself these questions:
For example, if you’ve used an AAA structure with a refrain and writing an anthem, it’s very likely not the best structure because there’s no spot for a declaration – unless it’s your refrain. Thinking through the why of your lines will help clarify if you’re on the right track
So if it’s a storyline song plot, is there a beginning, middle and end? Does the the chorus make a larger comment on the verses? If an anthem, is there an issue or injustice in each verse and a declaration of power or change in the chorus?
Does what the song’s about come across to the listener in a concise way? Please don’t take that to mean you need to dumb down the lyrics – it’s OK for a listener to think a little!
This doesn’t mean you have to think of a song title, hook or scene that’s completely unique. However, the way you’ve interpreted it should be.
Sometimes getting a song right isn’t about making it commercial enough to pitch. If the song is highly personal and it keeps calling to you, then go back to it and keep at it. Songs are an expression of the self – even commercial songs – so let it happen.
Put the song aside. Remember, finishing songs is not your priority. Getting stuck on one song with constant revisions is a hamster wheel you can’t outrun. I use a numbering system starting with the song’s first lines in my notebook – v1.0. If I’ve got a tweak it’s version 1.1. If it’s a major change like structural shift, new melody or an entire verse rewritten, I go to the next version – v2.0. My goal is to stay in the 2.Xs.
Is There An Old Song Calling You Back?
And it’s OK to go back to a song later!
If one’s calling to you because while you were raking leaves you finally figured out what should happen, pick it up! Go ahead and rewrite it.
Sometimes you’ll end up in a completely different place.
The takeaway here is that all old songs can be spare song parts for new songs as well. Was there a cool melody in something that never panned out? Great – go grab it!
You Have Permission!
Don’t be afraid to stop finishing songs. Sometimes it’s your path to the next great one.
And that’s OK.