How to Finish A Song
Do you ever struggle to finish songs?
You come up with an idea, open your DAW, and start creating. Things click and a song starts to emerge. Then you get stuck. You run out of ideas. You lose inspiration. There are too many options. Sound familiar?
Finishing songs can be challenging, but it’s also very beneficial. With a simple five step process, it can also be easy.
Why Finish Songs?
Finishing songs has several benefits. When you finish a song, you are:
- Creating the most complete version of that song, which may be way better than you originally thought.
- Making it easier to compare and evaluate your music and your progress overall.
- Providing yourself more options to choose from for your next release, allowing you to share only your very best music.
- Practicing the entire song-making process, not just a part of it.
- Building knowledge, skills, and experience that will make your music even better in the future.
- Achieving something tangible that will motivate you to keep creating and keep improving.
Finishing improves your skills, generates better music, and makes the whole process more enjoyable. With all that effort you make to start a song, why not finish it?
As you probably know first hand, it’s not so simple. There are three main things that make finishing songs difficult:
- Complexity: You’ve created a lot of different ideas, but they’re raw and unorganized. There are a lot of moving parts, and it’s hard to know what needs work, what can be left alone, and what needs to be cut. It can be hard to avoid overthinking things and getting lost in the weeds.
- Mindset: Starting a song requires inspiration and creativity, but finishing a song requires discipline and commitment. Somewhere along the way, you have to shift gears and play a different role.
- Perfectionism: As a song progresses, your expectations for it will increase and perfectionism may set in. Small choices become major decisions, and the process takes much longer. Finishing a song requires you to work against these impulses.
These challenges can be overcome by following a simple five step process for finishing songs. The process will do most of the heavy lifting and get you past the finish line.
Step 1: Complete The Skeleton
Take a look at your song at a high level. Do you have a complete song, or only part of one? You may be missing things like a beginning, an end, a chorus, a drop, a bridge, a build-up, or a verse. You may have obvious holes, or you may need to add multiple parts to fill out the song and turn it into a full-length track.
Fix these issues by identifying and constructing each missing part. If you’re not sure how to build out your song, it may be useful to use a reference track. Find any professionally released song that has a similar genre and sound and study it. Think about how the song is structured, compare it to your track, and see what you can add.
Consider repeating sections you have already made or creating variations of these sections. Focus on filling out the song’s structure and ignore the quality of these sections for now. Once the skeleton has been built, you can fill in around it much easier.
Step 2: Untangle the Knot
Next, listen through your song one time, from start to finish. Write down every issue you notice as you listen.
The issues you are looking for are usually small details that you don’t like or that don’t seem to “work” the way they should. Some issues will be specific, and some will be vague. Write down as many as you can. The smaller and more specific, the better.
Here are some of the issues that I have identified on some of my recent tracks:
- Verse #2’s instrumentation is too similar to Verse #1
- Drum pattern in second half of chorus doesn’t flow well
- Synth #2 doesn’t sound right
- Introduction goes too slow/takes too long to develop
- Bass is too bland during verses
- Drums are too rigid during ending
- Snare sound is wrong, find new one
- Vocals in Verse #2 are not clean and need to be re-recorded
- Transition between bridge and Verse #3 sounds unnatural
Your goal is to break apart the incomplete song into a list of small issues that can be addressed individually. You may find a lot of issues, but don’t be discouraged. A lot of them are easily fixable if you focus on them one at a time.
Ignore mixing issues during this stage. Your focus should be on the creative elements of the arrangement, not the final details. These can be addressed later.
Step 3: Fix, Fix, Fix
Next, it’s time to fix all of the issues you identified in Step 2. Go down the list, fix one at a time, and move at a steady pace. Speed is important here. The longer you focus on an issue, the harder it will be to find a solution and commit.
For each issue, try the first solution that comes to mind, and if that doesn’t work, come up with another. When you find a solution, don’t second-guess it, and move on. Work through each issue until you have addressed everything on your list.
Step 4: Take a Break
By now, you’ve probably made a lot of great progress. Now it’s time to walk away and come back later. Taking a break, even as short as thirty minutes, gives you a fresh set of ears for your next review. It helps you hone in on the most pressing issues that need fixed.
Step 5: Repeat
Repeat Steps 2-4 until you can’t identify anything more to fix. If you keep changing something and it doesn’t feel like a clear improvement, leave it. It’s done. You don’t have to (and rarely will) LOVE every second of your songs.
Ready, Set, Finish!
That’s it! An easy to follow process for finishing your songs. It’s helped guide me through many challenging tracks over the years, and I hope it will help you do the same. A couple of additional points:
- The time it takes to finish a song varies. Keep the focus on making progress and don’t worry about finishing within a certain timeframe. Some songs come together quickly, and some take longer to develop.
- Don’t worry about what the song should or should not be. Allow your vision to be flexible. Songs don’t all have to be a certain length, have certain features, or fit into a specific genre.
Whenever you get stuck in the middle of a song, remember the value of pushing through and finishing it. When you finish songs, better music, better skills, and more enjoyment await.
Now it’s your turn.
Find a track that needs finishing, go through the process, and let me know how it goes.
With a little practice, finishing songs will become second nature!
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