Finishing a season of your new favorite show in just one weekend? Simple.
Finishing the last slice of pizza? Easy as pie.
Finishing the song you’ve been writing for weeks? Now, that’s tough!
But just because you’re having trouble completing a song doesn’t mean you’re a bad songwriter. In fact, it might actually mean you’re really good.
It’s not uncommon to write a chorus you love but find it difficult to write verses to go with it (or vice versa). While frustrating, it’s good to remind yourself that this just means you have high standards for your work. You just want all parts of the song to be equally good – and that’s something to be proud of!
Still, not finishing songs is a decidedly bad thing. But fear not! I’m going to walk you through why you haven’t been able to complete the tracks you’ve started writing, and then share 7 tips for how to complete them!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.
Why You’re Struggling to Finish Songs
There are really just a FEW main obstacles that prevent you from finishing the songs you’re writing: your creativity, your productivity, and your pride!
- If you’re short on creativity, you can’t access your muse and you feel too stumped to finish.
- If you’re short on productivity, you procrastinate finishing your tracks until “next time,” but next time never comes.
- And if you’re short on pride, you may be too afraid to finish your tracks because an unfinished song is a work in progress, but a finished song is ready to be judged or rejected.
You might be suffering from any one of these, or maybe a combination of them. For instance, maybe you staved off finishing your track for so long that you can’t remember the creative spark that first got you started on it!
But guess what? Just because you have obstacles doesn’t mean that you’re doomed.
Instead, pretend you’re treating a medical problem. First, you diagnose the issue. Then, you can prescribe the solution.
So ask yourself: what’s keeping you from finishing your song?
I know that for me, it’s often a matter of pride. I want every song I write to be the best song I’ve ever written. Sometimes, I succeed, which just makes all my future endeavors that much harder!
What helped me start to get over it is to consider how many bad songs are out there. Have you ever just randomly clicked through Spotify? There’s a lot of garbage out there.
There’s a rule in many fields of writing: quantity is quality. Or rather, with enough quantity, you’ll get quality! This is true both because you’re getting better from practicing, but it’s also just statistics: if your writing comes out on a bell curve, you’ll have a lot of average fare, a few clunkers, and of course, a few gems too!
Comedians often write 100 jokes to add a single one into their set. Songwriters – especially those new to the are – are likely going to have to face similar math. I’m not saying you have to write 100 songs, but get used to the idea that not every song you write is worth putting on your album or releasing to the public.
Once I discovered that and started thinking of some of my songs as practice for the real thing, I was able to finish songs a LOT more easily!
But with that said, there are still many ways to start completing songs faster. Here are 7 tips to get you unstuck and discover how to finish your music projects!
7 Tips on How to Finish Song Ideas
Tip 1: Give Yourself Permission to Suck
As we discussed in our post on why songwriting is so hard, many creative types suffer from perfectionism. The problem with that is it keeps you from finishing what you start. And a lot of the best learning and growth comes at the end of the creative process, not just at the beginning.
So just like I had to get over my pride, you might need to as well. That means you need to let yourself mess up. Maybe the secret to finishing your song is to just FINISH it!
You can always return to it later and revise it. Or you can set it aside and start the next one.
Any given song you write will probably not be your magnum opus. Don’t treat each one like it is or you’ll never get good enough to actually write it.
Tip 2: Stop Being a Music Jack-of-all-Trades
Get help from others. If you’re trying to be the best at every aspect of songwriting and music production, you’ll be waiting a lifetime to finish anything.
The music business is brutal. There are dozens of jobs to do in producing a final product, including:
- Writing lyrics
- Building chord progressions
- Writing parts for each and every instrument
- Recording the vocals and instruments
- Performing live
- Arguing with haters on the internet
This doesn’t even mention all the promotion, legal, and business responsibilities you have to fulfill to be commercially successful. Just getting a song made is a LOT of work!
Ask yourself: which parts of the songwriting process are slowing you down? Have you not been able to finish your song because you’re trying to learn how to mix and master and haven’t gotten the right sound yet? If you have the means, consider outsourcing that job instead.
There are some skills every musician can benefit from, such as learning the piano. But if you insist on doing everything yourself, you might doom yourself to get nothing finished.
Tip 3: Set Time Constraints to Help Creativity Flow
Do you have a deadline? The most dreaded of constraints is also the most useful: a hard stopping point. Knowing your work needs to be done quickly will motivate you to narrow in on the most important parts of your song.
There are a thousand different methods for time management out there, but here are three you can tailor to your own needs.
First, consider setting yourself a deadline for your minimum viable product (MVP). Rather than obsessing about perfecting every aspect of the verse before moving on to another section, try to get everything done to an acceptable degree.
By setting yourself a deadline to get something workable, you overcome your initial songwriter’s block. It might not be great or even good, but it’s a ball of clay that you can now sculpt for the next improved iteration.
Second, try rotating through the different parts you’re having trouble with. If you have a guitar part but can’t figure out the bass or drums, give yourself time to work on each with a deadline. “I’ll only work on the drum part for 30 minutes, then I’ll switch to bass for 30 minutes.” Doing this helps clarify what you’re working on that moment.
It sometimes feels like writing a song is doing a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces are blank. You might have a couple pieces in place but have no idea how to get the others aligned. But by focusing on one part at a time for a while, you won’t get overwhelmed. You can give each piece the concentration it deserves.
Third and finally, try a drop-dead deadline. “I will not work on this song anymore after the end of this month.” You can even create accountability by announcing the release of your song on social media.
By setting yourself a deadline that you can’t renege on, you force yourself to push through and finish it. Worst case scenario, you fail to write it and you add another song to your album’s cutting room floor.
But best case? This is the push you need to get it done and overcome what’s blocking you.
Tip 4: Get a Second Opinion
Sometimes, we’re not sure how to finish our song. We know it’s good so far, but what will make it great? An outside perspective can help with this.
Likewise, you may not feel done with a song because you’re just not sure how it’ll be received by others. It’s nerve-wracking, but wouldn’t you rather get their constructive feedback when your song is still being written?
How awful would it be to wait until you’re all done (and maybe have paid for a song to be mixed and mastered) just to discover people are indifferent to it?
It’s better to get those opinions early.
Who should you share your song with? You’ve got several options:
- A trusted layperson (AKA, someone you love who isn’t a musician)
- A musical mentor
- Your fanbase or social media following
- A songwriter community, like a subreddit
In general, if you have one, the musical mentor is likely the best choice. But depending on your level of success and how thick your skin is, getting info from a crowd can give you a better sense of problems in your song. And being willing to get feedback can put you in touch with music experts if you don’t already have a mentor.
Obviously, once you get opinions, you’ll still need to execute on them to finish your song. But hopefully, a second pair of ears will help you get to the finish line.
Tip 5: Don’t Skip Ahead to Audio Production
For a lot of songwriters and artists, there’s something magical about hearing your song come to life in your digital audio workstation (DAW) with full instrumentation and a beautiful arrangement.
In fact, it’s also easier and more fun than doing the hard work of defining a chord progression, writing lyrics, refining your melody, and a million other parts of the songwriting process. But if you’re messing around with music production in your DAW before the core of your song has taken shape, you might struggle to see it really come to fruition.
It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but in general, I recommend writing your song in a fairly basic form first. A songwriter with his/her guitar or piano and a microphone can write 95% of songs. All the other arranging can come after. This is especially true if you’re going to spend time in the studio – nobody wants to pay extra for studio time while they’re still writing their song!
As the famous expression goes, don’t put the DAW before the horse. Or something like that.
Tip 6: Write the Song Faster
Want a real challenge? Try to finish a complete song in one session. This gives you something to work with and refine, but it may also hang together better if the idea comes out all at once.
For example, you’ve probably heard the Tears for Fears song Mad World before. Bassist Curt Smith, cofounder with Roland Orzabal, told the Boston Globe, “I remember it being written in an hour or two in Roland’s little flat above a pizza place.”
Now I say you’ve heard the song before, but many of you will be more familiar with the Gary Jules cover. In that same article, radio DJ Nicole Sandler says, “One could argue that the Tears for Fears version sounds more like ‘a songwriting demo but certainly not a finished song to take to radio’.”
That’s where Gary Jules comes in with the most famous version of the song.
What lesson can we take here? The original Tears for Fears version is a great song that they wrote in one session, so it can be done. But refining the song after is still possible, like Gary Jules did. So don’t be afraid to set yourself a tough deadline to get that MVP finished, even if it’s as soon as today.
Tip 7: Write the Song Slower
On the other hand, many people get stuck with their songwriting and try to force creativity – instead, there’s no shame in putting a song aside for a while and coming back to it later.
If you’re going to do it this way, though, the trick is to set an actual time up on your calendar so you don’t procrastinate it indefinitely. In the meantime, actively look for inspiration that can help you finish the song.
One counter-intuitive way to find inspiration? Embrace boredom.
In his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” Stephen King says, “Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam.”
Need another quote? Here’s Neil Gaiman: “I’ve started saying to people who say ‘I want to be a writer,” I say ‘great, get bored.’ ”
It can be difficult to accept boredom in our 24/7 always-on world. But I guarantee you that some of your mental energy is getting used up by constantly keeping you entertained.
If you want to get creative, boredom is key. So slow down, turn off your phone, and let your mind wander.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I get better at finishing songs?
When it comes to finishing songs, practice makes perfect – just like with any skill.
Unfortunately, most songwriters have ten times as much practice at starting songs than they do finishing them. It’s so much less work to write a little ditty and record yourself playing it for 30 seconds than to sit down and extend that germ of an idea into a fully-realized song or book studio time to make the song real.
Don’t get lazy when the finish line is in sight. Accept that it might not be your best performance, but make sure you finish the song. You can always do it better next time!
What is it called when you finish a song?
What to do once you finish a song?
So, you finally finished your song. Congratulations!
But what comes next?
There are several steps to take:
- Finalize your lyrics. Write them out fully in case you share them with someone else, like a demo vocalist. Be sure to include the date and the names of any contributors. This is the most basic way to protect your copyright. However, you might want to take more formal steps as well.
- Think about the performance. You might want to workshop the song in front of some other people and play around with the vocals on your own.
- Record yourself. Depending on your prowess as a musician, this might mean a rough recording or a full demo. If you’re planning on using other musicians, there will likely be some work to make sure you’re communicating your vision accurately.
- Finalize your recording. This is where you would have your real recording session, your mixing, and your mastering. Once you have a master recording, be sure to back it up! You don’t want your hard drive to quit on you and lose all your progress.
- Distribute your song. You can publish your song online on streaming services, share it on social media, add it to your Bandcamp, print CDs, and/or pitch to a record label. It’s up to you, but once you’ve finished the song, your job is to share it with the world (and get paid for your songwriting, if you can!).
Finishing Songs Wrap-up
Hey, you made it to the end. See? You’re getting better at finishing things already!
I empathize with your struggle to finish your songs! I hope that some of the tips I’ve shared can help you learn how to finish songs you’ve started. (One bonus tip: Maybe your song is already done – it just needs to be shorter. Learn more about how long a song should be.)
Ultimately, if one of these tips isn’t working for you, just try another! And feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it next time you’re unable to finish a song.
If you want to get better at writing memorable music that resonates, I recommend that you get familiar with an instrument like piano. The more you know about how great songs are constructed sonically, the easier it will be for you to create a masterpiece yourself. Check out Piano for All below to get started!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.