Songwriting can be frustratingly unpredictable. You might write for six hours and come up with nothing memorable one day and come up with something incredible the minute you sit down the next. But believe it or not, songwriters are best off pursuing all their ideas, even the ones they think won’t go anywhere. Musicians risk cutting themselves off from opportunities to develop good ideas when they’re too rigid about their own creative processes, and one of the best ways to combat this is by following through on finishing all of your songs.
You can’t know if a song is good or not until it’s done
A couple chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics can’t really tell you if a song is going to be good or not, but so many songwriters throw out perfectly fine ideas because they don’t think they’re going to be any good. Giving up on a song before you have the chance to develop it might seem like a smart time-saving idea, but writers often do it because they’re afraid of making bad music. One of the reasons you should develop and pursue all of your musical ideas is because you can’t tell if a song is good or not until it’s finished. At least consider recording a demo of each of your songs before you judge it. You might actually end up liking what you hear.
Following through with finishing songs that aren’t your best will free up your energy and focus for better ideas
For lots of songwriters, the same ideas crop up in their writing sessions again and again when they’re not put into their songs. These ideas are sort of like zombies because even though you can kill choruses, chord progressions and riffs, they can come back to haunt and annoy you again and again. If this is happening to you, it means that these ideas need to be put into a song before you can move on. However, this doesn’t mean you need to release songs comprised of these zombie ideas. Throwing your hands up, recording a demo and calling it a day might be all you need to do to put bad ideas to rest and pursue new material.
Finishing your bad songs can be a helpful exercise in figuring out what went wrong
If you can’t seem to write anything you like, it’s probably because you’re not writing anything at all. You might need to write a bunch of bad music before you manage to come up with anything good, and in order to do this, you have to finish writing your songs. Only developed ideas can give you the context and perspective you need to figure out why a song didn’t turn out the way you hoped it would. It takes lots of trial and error to come up with solid musical ideas, and this experimentation works a lot better if you let your ideas grow, breathe and live, even if they’re not particularly compelling. Record your ideas, listen back and start working towards figuring out what’s good or bad about what you’ve written.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.