Whether you’re a beginner songwriter or a seasoned veteran, it’s always easy to start a song, but finishing it is a different story. You get that spark of inspiration for a catchy chorus or musical intro, but never seem to be able to find a good verse or add lyrics. Then, the song sits unfinished in your notebook (or on your iPhone or iPad) for all eternity. If you want to turn that piece into a fully formed idea, here are six tips to help you complete a song.
1. Set Small Goals
It’s easy to get excited about a large goal. Releasing an entire album is a big deal! But if you sit down to write an entire album at once, it can quickly feel too daunting or overwhelming, which leads to an unfinished project.
As the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Setting small, manageable goals is a great way to help you stay the course. Instead of writing an entire album, write a chorus. Then, write a verse or two on the next day, a hook on the day after, and so on. Put a few small goals together, and you’ll have a complete song in no time!
2. Focus on Your Strengths
Why would you teach an eagle to swim when it can already fly so well? You should use the same idea with your songwriting. If you’re a killer lyricist but not so good with the music, find a co-writer to put some chords behind your words.
Forcing yourself to do something you’re not good at is the quickest way to quitting. Focus on your strengths and either find someone to help you with the parts you’re not good at or outsource them completely.
You can see this idea in action in real life. Elton John is one of the most popular musicians of the last century, but he doesn’t like writing lyrics. The lyrics to just about all his hits, including “Candle in the Wind” and “Your Song” were written by his long-time writing partner Bernie Taupin. Elton John knows Taupin can write better lyrics, so he lets him! Do the same for your songwriting.
Focus on what you’re good at, and let someone else help with the other parts. Remove some of the frustrations of writing a song, and you’re more likely to get to the finish line.
3. Listen to the World Around You
Many people give up writing a song because they lose their inspiration. You might be pumped about that hook that just popped into your head, but if the lyrics or verses don’t come so easily, you’re more likely to give up on the idea.
When you struggle to find inspiration to finish a song, just listen to the world around you. Have you ever been walking down the street, hear a mechanical tone, and think, “Hey, that’s a D?” What about bobbing your head and putting a beat to the click of a turn signal in your car?
These little everyday noises can help you find inspiration to add to your song. All you have to do is listen for them and recognize them. If you want an idea of how this works, check out this clip from the movie “August Rush.”
4. Have Your Recorder Ready
Musical ideas can pop up in a moment’s notice, so you have to be ready. Always have a recorder or your smartphone handy to catch any glimpses of inspiration that might appear. You might think, “I don’t need to record it; I’ll remember,” but how often do you actually remember when you get back to your workspace?
Keep your recorder nearby and have it ready to capture any idea or thought that might help you finish your song. You never know when inspiration will hit!
5. Know What It Takes to Turn an Idea into a Song
That little clip you recorded on your phone isn’t a song—yet. But it is a good start. The key to actually finishing a composition is to understand what it takes to turn an idea into a song.
To complete a song, you’ll need at least a few different parts like a chorus, bridge, hook, or even a funky breakdown. The clip on your phone might work for one of these parts, but it’s important to understand that it doesn’t count as a complete song.
Knowing what to do with all the pieces you collect is just as important as understanding your instrument of choice. Taking the time to learn the fundamentals of songwriting first will help you complete songs in the future. It’s easier to piece inspiration together if you know what you’re looking for.
6. Step Back and Take a Walk
Frustration isn’t good for anything. If you can’t think of what to add to your song, step back and take a minute to regroup. Remember, songwriting is supposed to be fun!
If you’re stumped by writer’s block or just can’t figure out how to get that awesome chord progression, don’t throw down your notebook and give up—as tempting as that may be. Walk away, take a breath, and come back to it when your mind is fresh.
Frustration is the primary killer of songwriting. Unfortunately, it’s something you’re guaranteed to encounter. If you know how to deal with it, you’re much more likely to finish your song.
With these tips in mind, you’re ready to get out there and actually finish your song!
If you have any tips about completing a song that weren’t mentioned here, we’d love to hear about them! Tell us what has worked for you in the comments below.
To enter the 27th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net