When you’ve been working on a song for a while, it can be hard to put the finishing touches on it and wrap things up. This is normal for most songwriters, but if you find yourself chronically unable to finish your songs, then you’ve got a major problem in your songwriting process that needs to be addressed. These are some of the most common reasons that keep songwriters from finishing their songs. Recognizing your issue will be the first step towards making the changes you need to turn the loose musical ideas you come up with into finished songs.
You’re being a perfectionist
Let’s start with the most common reason songwriters don’t finish their songs. If you wait for your songs to be “perfect” before you finish them, you’ll never get anything done. No music is perfect, and this applies to songs made by your favorite artists that you might consider to be sacred. Instead of asking whether a song is perfect or not, a better question to ask is if it’s successful. When your idea does what you want it to do, it’s ready to be finished. You’ll never know if audiences will like it or not until you share it, so there comes a point for every songwriter where embracing uncertainty needs to happen in order to complete songs.
You don’t like the song you’re working on enough to finish
If you can’t wrap up your songs, there’s a chance you just don’t like what you’re working on enough to finish. There are a couple of things to remember here. “Finishing a song” doesn’t necessarily mean spending lots of time recording and producing it. Sometimes it’s best just to complete a rough demo of a track to clear up mental space if you’ve been working on it for a while. Also, a song you’re frustrated by in the moment might sound temporarily bad now and a lot better later once you’ve got some time away from it. In many cases, it’s worth finishing music in demo formats and revisiting them later.
You aren’t putting in the work needed to get it over the finish line
In some cases, songwriters come up with great ideas but can’t seem to do the work of creating songs out of them. Songwriting can be incredibly hard and thankless work, and contending with creative dead-ends is never fun. A lot of the work comes in the form of needing to make choices when you’re faced with so many potential directions to go in. Timeless, unsexy advice applies for getting this sort of work done, which is to work hard, know when to keep going, and when to throw the towel in and focus on songs you feel more confident about. Not every song needs to be finished, after all. Sometimes the best decision is to move on.
You won’t wrap things up because you’re afraid of failure
Sometimes we unconsciously refuse to finish and release music because we’re afraid of failing. If I don’t complete this song, the logic goes, then I’ll never have to risk failure. The flaw in this line of thinking is that songwriters fail in much bigger ways when they can’t finish and share music. You’re in for a whole lot of sadness and frustration if you go down this road as someone who claims to love making music. There’s no avoiding failure as a creative person, and the more you let the fear of failure shape your process, the worse off you’ll be as a songwriter. If you’re a developing artist, one of the best things you can do is view the completion of your songs as successes whether anyone listens or not. Finishing a song is a huge accomplishment, and there are plenty of benefits to wrapping things up that have nothing to do with conventional success, whether it’s gaining experience or simply enjoying the act of creative self-expression.
It can be difficult to finish your songs, but choosing to allows you to focus on other things and move closer to your goals. If you’re invested in the ideas you’re working on, it’s almost always worth putting the time and effort into transforming your ideas into completed pieces of music.
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.