A song is a complicated thing. In your mind, your favorite songs probably feel like concrete, unchangeable ideas that are forever fixed, but the artists responsible for making the music you love might feel differently. Knowing when a song is “done” is important for songwriters, but, as we’ll find out, it’s a complicated thing that’s different for everyone.
When a song is finished depends on the context of the songwriter(s)
Some music-makers think of songs as becoming forever fixed and permanent at a certain point, whether it’s the moment ideas start to come together and crystalize in a demo format or when it’s released to the public. Other writers consider songs to be open-ended ideas that change and evolve through cover interpretations and alternate versions. What is finished and done to you may be another artist’s starting point, and your definition of completion depends on how you’re writing and what your goals are. For example, completing an album as an independent artist probably happens for many after a collection of songs are written, recorded, produced, and sent off to be mastered. But if you’re a professional songwriter that crafts songs for other artists, your day’s work might be done after you’ve written and recorded a couple of rough demos.
How does an artist know when their song is “good enough” to be finished?
This is a common question especially for new and inexperienced songwriters, and it can be tricky to answer because finishing ideas in music requires striking a balance between wanting or demanding things to be as solid as possible and over-thinking ideas to death. Undercooked and overcooked tracks are shared with the world every day, but in today’s listening culture, there’s more pressure on artists to make and share as much music as possible, so many songs are often rushed, under-developed, and uninspired.
Knowing when a song is done and ready to share gets easier with experience, and a songwriter’s willingness to learn from their past mistakes is also a huge help. If you’re a new artist, asking if a song has truly reached its full potential or if you’re just eager to share new music can give you some clarity here. If you’ve released music in the past and haven’t felt good about the result, pinpointing why will also help. Sometimes great music falls under the radar because of the insane amount of new songs that are currently being shared every day, but sometimes the music isn’t very good to begin with and doesn’t connect with audiences. Usually spending more time writing, recording, and producing is what’s needed to bring a song up to its full potential, so don’t count this out as a possibility if you haven’t found the success you’re looking for yet. Often you’ll know immediately when it’s time to move a song forward, but other times won’t be so clear. During those instances, it’s good to give your ears a break, walk away from the project for a short time, and then come back to it. You’ll either find that you’re ready to move forward or that your work isn’t done yet.