Songwriting is a beautiful, fun, and fulfilling art form that allows musicians and artists like you and I to express our emotions, thoughts, and experiences through music.
…when we’re actually able to finish the songs that we start that is. 😅
But don’t feel discouraged, my friend. Many aspiring songwriters often struggle with one crucial aspect of the creative process: finishing songs.
Having personally finished more than 200 songs, released over 50 on Spotify, and had those finished songs streamed and listened to over 6.5 million times, I understand the essential steps and techniques that can help you overcome obstacles and successfully finish songs.
The 5 essential steps to starting & then finishing a song are:
- Create your “Core Idea”
- Explore & expand upon your initial idea
- Quickly arrange your song structure
- Hit the 80% finished mark
- Mix & master your track so it’s ready for release
Let’s take a look at each of the steps in more detail, my friend…
1. Create your “Core Idea”
Start by working towards the “core idea” of your song that contains the essential idea or hook of your piece of music and what makes it unique.
This can be an 8 or 16-bar loop or the chorus section of your song and should typically contain the essential building blocks of the song:
✓ Main Hook
✓ Melodic Elements (ie: chords, samples, piano, guitars, etc)
Remember that this is a draft so the particular sounds and sound designs don’t need to be perfect!
Focus on writing a great melody, groove, or hook instead of overthinking any particular sounds you are using at first.
You should be confident with the general ideas and feeling you’ve nailed here before moving on from this first step to the second step.
2. Explore & expand upon your initial idea
Next: take your core idea and expand upon it by exploring and experimenting with new ideas in the form of adding new layers and instruments or by adding new sections like breakdowns, B-sections, or verses.
The more new ideas you can add here (good or bad) the easier time you’ll have on the next step when you need to arrange all of your ideas into a finished song structure.
If you come up with an idea at this stage that’s better than your Core Idea, don’t be afraid to ditch your original idea and go in a new direction.
3. Quickly arrange your song structure
Once you have plenty of ideas to work with, you should look to quickly arrange your song by following a template and only adding or subtracting your current layers.
Refer to some of your favorite tracks to identify their song structures and simply your own arrangement workflow by using their structures as a starting point.
Use the layers and tracks you’ve already created to fill out your arrangement, either adding or subtracting to create interest, tension, and release.
I personally try to get to this stage as quickly as possible in the song-finishing process because this is where you’ll get a solid idea of how the final song sounds and where you should focus on improving it.
4. Hit the 80% finished mark
With your song now arranged, you will want to get your song to the point where it feels 80% finished by adding in ear candy, effects, and automation as well as going back and adjusting the core idea or arrangement as needed.
At this stage, it’s important to remember that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, so focus on what will move the needle and don’t stress the minor details.
5. Mix & master your track so it’s ready for release
Now it’s time to finish that song by pushing your song to the 99.9% finished mark by doing some simple mixing and mastering.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for completing this stage:
- Garbage in, garbage out: remember that mastering can’t fix a bad mix, and mixing can’t fix a bad song: get it right from the beginning.
- Mix as you go: save time on this step by making small mixing choices as you create your song (ie: cutting out lows or highs, volume, panning, etc)
- Keep it simple: use a simple mastering chain using some glue compression, tape saturation, light EQ, and a limiter.
Now It’s Your Turn!
By following these 5 simple steps, you’ll be able to start and finish songs much faster than ever before.
But this is really just the beginning…
My framework for finishing songs can definitely work for you, but I’d recommend using these steps as a starting point and slowly modifying these steps to fit your particular workflow.