Why You Should Finish Writing All Of Your Songs

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.

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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.

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  • Steve Wagner - August 1, 2018 reply

    this is one of those things I have been thinking about, as a goal for some day. I have literally hundreds of started, half-baked, half written songs going back 30 years. I also have hopeful titles, chord progressions, and hooks laying around. No reason I should not finish every single one of them. Your blog post May be the kick in the ass I needed to do it

    Marc Bosserman - August 2, 2018 reply

    Go Steve!!

    It just can’t be a bad idea!! : )

    Thanks Patrick!!

  • James Carbonaro - August 2, 2018 reply

    I heard someone on the radio comment one time that the reason why some many performers wind up with a series of songs that all sound alike is because they are all in the same key and/or time signature. So I set up a little project for myself a couple of years ago to compose a song in each of the 12 major keys, and also varying the time signatures. What I’ve come up with are 18 songs that sound nothing at all like each other. One is a march, one is a waltz, one is a tango, one is a cha-cha, two are kind of bluesy numbers, and the rest are just eclectic.

    Maybe if you can’t figure out something new to do, it’s because all of your compositions are in one of the 2 or 3 keys you are comfortable playing in, & they are all performed with the same time measure ticking away in the back of your mind?

  • Susan Marie Gallion - August 3, 2018 reply

    I have thousands of song fragments and ideas, but in my head I’m always trying to finish 3 or 4 songs as I go about my day. When a song gets stuck and I just can’t seem to get any further with it, and I’m tired of even trying, I start analyzing what I like — which lines I’m excited about. Then I see if any of those lines or phrases would fit into a different song altogether. Sometimes that works like magic! I think of it as “plagiarizing” my own material, stealing the best and giving it to a song that needs help. Then I can clear my head of the partly-finished one that wasn’t going anywhere and I usually end up with a much stronger new song.

  • Erin Jeffreys - August 7, 2018 reply

    Several good pieces of advice here in the article and suggestions in the comments! I, too, have what feels like hundreds of half-written songs lying around, or more specifically, hanging out on my hard drive. Something I started doing was experimenting with new guitar tunings and playing around with capos. It really helped make my finished songs sound different. Being a drummer also, I played around with different rhythms and switched time signatures, which made things a bit more interesting to me.
    More recently, I’ve done something similar to what James Carbonaro said: I began looking at all of my completed songs and half songs and seeing what keys I tended to favor (vocal and instrumental). I am now exploring different keys and even musical styles or instruments. It’s been fun, definitely helped me out of a songwriting rut!

  • John B - August 9, 2018 reply

    If you have lots of little riffs or unfinished parts, One trick I use to try playing them on different instruments for inspiration. For example, if you always write on guitar, move it over to a piano or bass. Try starting with a beat and writing a guitar part that matches. Experiment with synth sounds. Write a piano part and move it to guitar. Learn a completely new instrument like sax or flute. Doing these things always opens up new ideas cause the approach is slight different for every instrument.

    I also never write solely on an instrument cause it limits you to what your current skill is or common playing patterns that you always fall back on. I prefer composing in software and letting the music write itself first, then going back and seeing how it maps out on specific instruments. I’ve found that it forces me out of my comfort zone and ultimately pushes my skill forward cause I write something that I wouldn’t normally play.

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