Filling a space with a song that was previously occupied by nothing is incredible if you think about it. Today, we’re surrounded by so much music, that it often feels like it comes out of nowhere, though if you’re a musician reading this, you know that’s not true. Just like a house is built using materials and a thorough plan, music takes time and resources to make. For many songwriters, the tricky part comes with knowing what amount of time they should be devoting to their work. Spend too little on an idea, and it could come out under-developed and rushed. But spend too much time on an idea, and you could end up wasting your time never finishing it. Is there a middle ground to look for?
It may never be “perfect”
Some songwriters literally spend years finishing songs, and others resurrect demos decades later to create interesting work. But others drag their feet on ideas for weeks, months, and years without finishing and releasing music. The problem here almost always comes down to the ridiculous idea of wanting to share “perfect” work or nothing at all. Lots of young, ambitious songwriters never end up creating meaningful work because they can’t turn their first ideas into songs. Seasoned musicians often encounter ideas they’re thrilled to transform into songs, but can’t seem to get it to the place they want after investing lots of time and resources into trying out different directions and approaches.
Keep your goals in mind
There’s a songwriting guide book we can reference to tell us which songs are worth waiting for, which ones are fine to be released as they are, and which ones aren’t worth pursuing. However, keeping your goals in mind is something that can help lead you through things when the songwriting process gets murky. Time is a valuable creative resource in music, and when all of it gets sucked into a song that never seems to get finished, it’s a problem you need to recognize. If you’re trying to write songs for an album or get ready for an important show, devoting the majority of time and attention to a single idea can be distracting or even a bit destructive to your efforts.
Know when to pull the plug
Putting arbitrary time limits on your songwriting is always a bad idea, but they aren’t arbitrary when an idea shows no signs of being developed into a completed song after you’ve been working on it for a long time. Sometimes, the best thing to do for your creative fulfillment and sanity as a songwriter is to pull the plug on an idea in the short-term, but that doesn’t mean interesting ideas can’t be revisited later. Stepping away from something and returning to it down the line with new ideas and perspectives is something many songwriters do to wrap up ideas they feel are too good to give up on. Again, there are no iron clad creative rules in music that can guide us when we’re stuck on musical ideas, but things like stepping away from our unique processes and letting our goals lead us can help.
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.