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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Finishing songs


I don't know about anyone else, but I find finishing songs extremely difficult.

When I say 'finished' I mean a whole, singalongable entity that you could
play to someone knowing that it was just 'as you want it'. I have a terrible time
getting to that place.

I am not a makedo kind of person, so I hate having a sloppy middle section if the verses were really good, or an ending that's a let down, or a middle eight that doesn't actually have a purpose. It's a wonder I finish anything sometimes.

The most exciting part is when I get an idea for a song. Tunes, words, approaches are all buzzing around in my head and I just can't wait to start getting some initial ideas or lines down on paper, picking my guitar up or heading for the piano, or going straight to the computer and laying a beat down. I like this stage. It's exciting.

What's really annoying is by the end of this stage two things have happened:

a. I have already heard several perfect versions of the song evolving song in my head

b. I have realized that to make this happen in the real world is going to take...absolutely...AGES...and right now I can't really be bothered....perhaps I'll just fiddle about on the internet a bit longer...oh look what's that out of the window....you know I must take the dog for a walk...AGGHHH!

It's very frustrating. Why is this. Why do I keep PROCRASTINATING so much.

Here's a chart of the process, with stars on the parts I get stuck on

1. Come up with initial song ideas

2. Push a bunch of words around the paper based on these ideas, perhaps coming up with melodies at the same time

3. Go to an instrument or sequencer and try to nail down key melodies, at the same time trying to work out what exactly I have just come up with ie Verse, Chorus, End of line idea

4. Try and make this section I have come up with whole, and look at it as a springboard to work out what the rest of the song is going to be like, what form it's going to take, and instrumentation

5. Check that the current key is the right key for whoever is going to sing it. This is a very important stage as there is nothing worse than changing key when you're halfway through the arranging stage

6. Begin coming up with the angle/approach for the missing parts of the song. I've usually come up with one section by now which I'm happy with, and lyrically I try and find something to complement that in the remaining parts

7. Tentatively start filling out the arrangement, trying to be not too specific with notes but big on 'vibe'. I find that if I arrange too early in the process when it comes to singing the song there can be too many distractions for the singer and ALSO clashes between music and voice which are MUCH easier to sort out once the singing is down

8. * Finish the whole song with sketch arrangement so that it is in a state where someone could come and sing on it immediately from beginning to end

9. Have the song sung/recorded (vocals only)

10. * Sort out all the vocals (Editing, choosing best takes etc)

11. Arrange and record whole rest of song (of course, this is a big bit)

12. * Mix the song so it is FINISHED and PLAYABLE to someone and in a good enough shape for them to 'get it'.

So, my problems don't lie with ideas, inspiration or lyrics. My problem lies with REALLY HARD WORK.

AS you can see, I get stuck at number 8 because I find that getting the right structure for a finished song REALLY HARD. You could actually say that 8 is the END of the songwriting, so that's why it is so difficult. Of course, stage 8 very often gets passed by if I have 75% of a song finished and want to hear what I've got already. But stage 8 is the one that comes back to haunt you.

Stage 10, sorting through vocals, well, sometimes I'm in the mood, sometimes I'm not. As I write this, I'm not. That's why I'm writing this and not sorting through 32 tracks of backing vocals.

Stage 12, mixing. Well. Sometimes I love mixing and can really get into it, sometimes I just can't. Mixing is the one stage of all of this which is a COMPLETELY different head space. If I go into mix mode my lyrical side has to be switched off, and I have to stop myself noodling around with words.

When I am mixing, I am more easily distracted that at any other part of the process.

Like right now. I should be mixing.

10:51 AM in General | Permalink


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What would help you would be collaboration with a like-minded singer/musician or another musician familiar with the recording and mixing process.

I will admit, though I've collaborated heavily, everybody's idea of "finished" can vary. Last singer I worked with didn't want to put the care into the tracks that I would've preferred (often once they get a vocal they like they think that's enough or don't have the aesthetics to judge the music the way I would) and the last musician/songwriter I worked with never thought anything was finished enough!

But it's worth a try. Or you can do like me and bite the bullet and start trying to sing...
It may change the way you write to get something you can sing, but it will make you be original. Often when I write with someone else to sing the song in mind, it's because I am trying to make the song sound like something else I've heard. Now by trying to write things I can sing capably, it's helping me to find my own style.

Hope this is encouraging or gives you some ideas. I struggle with the same issues.


Posted by: LT | Apr 30, 2004 5:33:21 PM

A song isn't "finished" until it's been cut by a recording artist - and even then, the life of a song/concept doesn't have to be over (think: remixes, covers etc).

Posted by: TSW | May 9, 2004 10:26:47 PM

Hi LT, I'm exactly the same !

I can come up with song ideas so fast and without effort.
But having a "finished product" is another story and usually wears my patience off. So what I usually do is just to let the song lives its life in my head. If the structure is not perfect, maybe one day I'll come with the perfect idea, so I just go on composing new things. Maybe these new things will help me see the previous song differently and then I'll be able to finish it.

Sometimes I do finish a song. This happens rarely when I do everything at once : melody, struture, lyrics, recording and comes up with a semi finished product the same day I had the idea. If it happens like this usually, I don't have the need to change anything afterwards.

Posted by: fab | Apr 6, 2009 1:28:51 PM