Today’s Song Tip Tuesday is a question I get from songwriters all the time. How do I know when my song is finished? The answer: When the song is finished! Okay, sounds vague and unclear, but a song is finished when you, the songwriter, says it is. Unless the song is being written on assignment with a specified deadline, there is no time frame for how long it takes to finish a song. I recently read an article about Bob Dylan, who went back to an abandoned work he left half–finished in 1973. He completed it decades later which led to the success of his song Wagon Wheel.
You know a song is finished when the feeling inside of you says, ‘it is’. That said, I know songwriters who never think of their songs as finished. They just keep on writing them, tinkering with a word, a melodic idea or some tiny element of the song that doesn’t feel right that gnaws away at them till fixed. This dedication to perfection usually improves the song, but some songwriters may ponder the gnawing spot too much. They continue working it until they think they have landed it… and then they re-access this decision and begin to rework the spot yet again. Overworking a song isn’t always a wise idea. The core feeling that was the impulse of the song could easily disappear. Another completely depressing thought is that sometimes a song cannot be completed. Sometimes songs have to be left unfinished. Sad but true!
How do I know when my song is finished? The answer: It is when your song is recorded, broadcast and you are hearing it as background to a car commercial. A bit of whimsy, but if a song has that type of success, it may not be possible to re-write it anymore. Just imagine if James Taylor decided he didn’t like the melody to I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. Not sure if at this late date he could get away with changing it. The melody is burned into our consciousness CNN Breaking News: James Taylor changes melody to Fire and Rain!!!
How do I know when my song is finished? The answer: When you feel satisfied with your song knowing it is the best you can do as the songwriter, or when you feel it is time to move on to the next song you want to write, or when your song is a hit and everyone on the planet is singing it.
The art of writing is rewriting.