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Finishing A Song

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Hey folks,

I've got a question here. I've started several songs. When they come to me, I usually get a verse and a chorus. The problem is, even though I know where I want to go with most of them, I can't seem to finish them.

Here's a big part of my problem. I've often said, I've written many song - one intentionally. I don't try to write songs, they just pop in my head. So when I try to finish the song, often times they lyrics sound contrived or unnatural - so I scrap it.

How do I sit down and actually finish a song? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated - because I'm stuck.

Thanks in advance.

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Thanks Tom. I haven't found quite what I'm looking for yet, but I'll try to scroll some more later. Some of the links you posted made me start thinking I have quite a bit more work to do (lol). My problem is, I don't try to write songs, they just come to me out of the blue, so I write them down. But I don't have that same inspiration for the rest of the song. Tough luck, huh? To make matters worse, I'm a perfectionist in these kind of things. Every word has to be perfect. I'm my own worst enemy - or critic - when it comes to that.

But thanks for the advice and the links. As I say, they gave me a lot to think about that I wasn't even thinking about.

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One thing that I have definitely found to be true, in all forms of creative writing, is that: "writing is rewriting."

In other words, "it's the nature of the beast ... plan accordingly."

When you listen on the radio (say...) to a "finished" song, well, it certainly sounds like a "finished" composition, and if the composer etc. did their job well, it might even sound "inevitable." Like absolutely nothing else could possibly have been there. Like absolutely nothing else (heh...) could have crossed the composer's or the arranger's minds.

But that's simply not how the creative process actually works.

When you come to a point of your songwriting where you "simply can't decide which one" of the ideas in your mind "is right" ... strive to capture all of them. (After all, you're probably using a computer and if so you'll never run out of disk space. And if you're not, then you certainly won't run out of paper, either.)

The reality of the situation is that most of "the ideas in your head" might well be perfect in different musical situations. (Shania Twain, for example, would routinely produce a "country," a "pop," and a "dance" variation of all of her songs. Each one of them was an appropriate re-mixing of the same base recorded tracks, each one customized to a particular commercial target.) There is a dimension of "creativity" which transcends the creation of any particular musical idea or phrase, which deals at a much higher level with the construction of a salable musical product. The product incorporates a creative blending of all of these musical "raw materials" to meet the expectations of a particular market.

When we tune our radios and listen to a "finished" song, then we are of course listening to au fait accompli, and we are also necessarily listening to one version. As consumers, we simply do not know just how many "other" versions there might be! But as fellow creators, we (should) know better "how the trick is done."

And here's the best news: "You're officially off-the-hook!" You're "in" on the little secret. You know that there is, and that there always was, "more than one finalist." You also know that there probably will be "more than one 'winner,'" depending on exactly what you decide 'the target' is. You are the creator.

Edit: And let the record show that, in some cases, the copyright owner has made (IMHO) dreadful mistakes. Jon Bon Jovi blew away a genre with his original multi-platinum version of Livin' On A Prayer, only to subsequently (perhaps on an extravagant qualuudes trip? produce an IMHO ghastly twelve-string ballad version of the same thing. Such is the power of the copyright-owning songwriter. Same song, yes, but ... :eek: "OMG." :eek:

Edited by MikeRobinson
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  • 2 weeks later...

Don't worry, some songs will never be finished, it's a natural process. I have many musical ideas in my folder, but only a small part get developed. Just stick to the ones that sound really good. To finish a song can take you 1 day to months or even years.

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Hey all,

Thanks for your great advice. I've kind of got a handle on how to proceed. And, Tom, when you say figure out which one you're the weakest in, are you talking about discipline, personal organization, and knowing and understanding the songwriting craft, because I'm weak in all of them. And Mike, you're right - I think it's going to be about rewriting... and rewriting, and rewriting.... And Nick, you may be right. Out of well over 70 songs I've started, I guess it would be crazy to think all of them should be finished.

At any rate, thanks folks. You've given me some good advice, and whether you know it or not, a little inspiration to keep moving on it.

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  • 1 month later...

Maybe we all can "learn a little lesson in reality" from our journalist friends from the past, who hammered away at their typewiters(!) knowing that "the deadline" was 3:00 PM. That was the moment, set in stone by the typesetting technology of that day, when the words that they had written would be sent to the Linotype operators to be fashioned into the printing-plates that would duly manufacture that day's "Final Edition."

I very seriously think that "the immutable realities of" those days made better writers of those journalists.

But, I think that it also pointed out that, in the very pragmatic world of journalism, you just can't produce a "Pulitzer Prize winning" article every single day. But you can produce "a salary-paying" article every single day! And, from among those articles, a Pulitzer Prize winner just might be discovered ... if you manage to very-consistently produce one every single day.

"Fortune favors the well-prepared ..."

Edited by MikeRobinson
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Mike, you've touched on an interesting point: writing to a deadline (and as an ex-journo, I particularly relate). :) I've recently completed my fourth 50/90 challenge, which runs each year from July 4th until October 1st. A three-month-long inspired, creative frenzy, the goal of which is to produce 50 songs (or lyrics) in 90 days. It's not a competition - simply a personal challenge. Some folks finish right on the 50, others with fewer and others with - often many - more songs. They're not polished products, of course. Fine-tuning comes later. But the products are drafts that might otherwise never have been written. And we continually surprise ourselves, often with amazing way-out-of-our-comfort-zone pieces. ^_^

Here's the link for the 50/90.


And in the same spirit of zaniness, we all get together for the winter version, which is FAWM (February Album Writing Month). The goal of this one is 14 songs/lyrics in 28 days.


Edited by DonnaMarilyn
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What helps me is to lay out the format I want, and then seeing empty space representing the empty holes, I feel the need to fix it. Kind of like gardening. :pianoplay3:

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i think people should concentrate on quality instead quantity. there is nothing wrong in writing many songs, but let's be serious, where there are many, probably most of them are pretty common. my advice: try developing many storylines or musical ideas instead. it's better to come with 100 melodies and build a song from there because you will know which are the ones that worth further developing.

Also: never set a deadline for finishing a song. it should be a natural process, it will just normally flow and you will know when it's complete. don't set a deadline because you risk altering the song message just because you need to finish it more quickly.

Edited by nickamandote
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Nickamandote, I'm entirely with you on not setting a deadline for a finished product (unless of course a co-writer needs the lyric or music by a certain time). :) An intense period devoted to writing or composing, however, can result in very workable drafts that have the potential to be revised and made into good songs. This has been my own and others' experience. For instance, some lyrics - the drafts of which I began during FAWM or 50/90 challenges a year or two ago - have recently been transformed into quite decent finished songs.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I agree with DonnaMarilyn on this one, because if you sit around too much "waiting for the Muse," let's face it ... you'll starve first.

If you wait for a song to pop-out in the finished form that you hear every day on the radio, well, I do think that you will be starving while you wait ... for Godot. Because I think know for certain that the song in question never popped into some songwriter's head in that form.

Far more likely is that snippets of the song popped into someone's head at different times and in different forms, and that from these various sources, "the finished product that you heard" was devised.

A sculptor who waited too much for "inspiration" would be found dead with a chisel in his hands, in front of an untouched marble block full of inspiration.

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Start off enough songs and eventually you might find that the 50th song you start will complete the 1st one that you started - or something like that. If I'm stuck finishing a song that I'm half or 3/4 of the way through then I might go back through my notebooks and look for fragments that never got finished. Most songwriters have lots of half finished ideas. Keep everything. Some songs take 10 minutes to write, some take 10 years.

I'm usually surprised, and delighted, when an old fragment fits perfectly into my latest opus. It happens more often than you'd think! To me it's like an unexpected bonus and also sort of like collaborating with a slightly younger version of myself...

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  • 5 months later...

There is a school of thought that you should write as many songs as you possibly can. More if possible! Of course, a lot of them will be, well, lousy. But maybe in there, buried deep in the pile, is a gem. I don't know if I agree with that school of thought or not, but I do recall a quote from George Harrison that I'll paraphrase... "... it took me a while to write songs as good as John and Paul; they'd been at it longer, and had already written all their bad stuff before I met them".


Something that I haven't seen in the replies so far is DO NOT SCRAP ANYTHING! Keep it all. Every word, every note, every idea. As an example, I have a folder on my hard drive just for songwriting. And each song project has it's own folder. All versions, even the bad ones, are held on to. I regularly review everything, just in case an idea I had may help out another project.


Therefore if I were you offer anything, organise yourself to keep everything you do.




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