There are as many answers to that question as there are songwriters.
The reason for that is simple. There is no definitely correct way to write a song!
Art is universally understood to be a subjective medium. Every artist creates differently - every consumer interprets differently.
To call that vague is an understatement! Perhaps Webster’s should add “art” as one of its’ official definitions for the word “vague”?
But for creators of art, that vagueness is both a blessing and a curse.
The blessing part is fairly obvious. If there are no absolutes governing creation, then the artist can’t make a mistake…right?
With no strict rules, whatever decisions we make are viable…at least in theory.
And from a creative standpoint, that is truly a blessing!
It means the artist has complete creative freedom! They begin their process with nothing & end it with their interpretation of a finished work.
Unfortunately, that same freedom endlessly complicates the creative process.
The question asked by the title of this article is merely one example of that.
“When Is A Song Finished”?
How does a songwriter go about making that decision?
Chances are, unless you are a songwriter, that question has never occurred to you. That’s one of the reasons I chose this topic.
Hopefully, those of you who don’t write will get a glimpse of what’s behind our mysterious creative curtain.
For purposes of the article, the term “song” refers to just the essential elements (lyrics, melody & single instrument accompaniment).
Believe it or not, complexities multiply 1,000-fold once you factor in variables like arrangement & production.
Honestly, I can feel myself growing older just thinking about it!
So, with only 3 song elements to consider, how complicated could this process be?
You write some words, a melody for those words & plug-in a backing chord structure.
Simple enough, right?
Right up to the point where the writer begins reassessing & fine tuning their work...a necessary part of the process.
· Is the meaning/intent of my lyric clear?
· Will the average listener understand what my song’s about?
· Does the lyrical rhyme scheme work well? Does it contain enough rhymes, or too many? In either case, does it work well with my chosen subject matter, or detract from the message & mood I’m trying to convey?
· Does my lyric have a solid, memorable hook? In other words, does it contain a word or phrase that’s catchy, repetitive & will stick in the listener’s head after the song has ended?
· Are all my verse sections solid, or should I rewrite the 3rd? It seems weaker than the rest.
· Is my title catchy? Will it be easy for people to remember? Is it short enough? Does it effectively convey what my song’s about?
· Will other people find my lyric interesting? If not, why not? Does it have wide-ranging appeal, or target a specific listener demographic? Should I change something to make it easier to identify with?
· Does the lyrical meter (feel & flow) sound natural when it’s sung? If not, what should I change…the lyrical meter or the way in which it’s sung?
· Does the melody work well with my supporting chord structure? “Melody” is the most important of those 3 song elements, so nothing should be allowed to interfere-with or detract-from its’ effectiveness.
· Are both musical elements a good match for my lyric? Do all 3 point the listener in the same direction? Do they complement one another, or conflict?
· Should I add a bridge section to the song? If so, what type & where should it be placed within the existing structure?
· Is the song too long? If so, what can I remove without disturbing the integrity of the overall piece?
· Does my song flow naturally from section- to-section, or is the change from verse-to-chorus too abrupt? Should I have written pre-chorus sections, rather than trying to move directly from verse-to-chorus?
If it’s not a major issue, might it be address in the arrangement phase, by adding a musical interlude?
By now, some of you may be thinking…is he serious?
None of these questions are far-fetched. They represent merely the-tip-of-the songwriting iceberg.
This internal battle we wage is a necessary part of the process.
But sooner or later, a song has to reach the point of completion….doesn’t it?
So, the real question becomes, how much of this examining process should we allow ourselves to do?
At what point does it cease being useful & become a neurotic exercise in futility?
Once again, there is no single answer. Each writer’s process is different.
For me, the process became manageable once I learned to define, control & embrace my own version of it.
That’s right, I took the time to…
· examine my process
· consider my specific goals & motivations as a writer
· make realistic assessments of my up-front expectations, the tools I had to work with & my available time.
Keeping in mind that there is no such thing as “the perfect song”, I made some simple decisions.
· I weighed what I was willing & able to put into a project, against my expectations for the end result.
· I tried to achieve a balance between what I was willing to accept & what it would take to get me there.
From that, my version of this process was born.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped viewing songs as finished or unfinished.
I prefer to see them as works-in-progress, at various stages of development.
“Finished” has come to mean “finished for now”.
Because I also recognize the importance of re-writing, I never rule out the possibility of returning to a project at a later time.
I'll close this out with a piece of advice for novice songwriters.
Do yourself a favor…figure out what your version of “finished” is going to be.
If you wait for inspiration, intuition or divine intervention to decide for you, you could be waiting a very long time.
Happy writing everyone!
"About Me" Muse Member pg.