Not everything needs to be decided at the songwriting stage; save some decisions for the recording studio.
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It may seem a bit weird to be addressing this issue: how do you know that your song is done? How do you know that it’s time to move on to the next one? It should be fairly obvious, you would think. But this question is actually a good one, because you can spend a lot of time trying to work out some aspect or another of your song, not knowing that those are the issues that can wait until you’re in rehearsal or in the recording studio.
For example, you can waste time wondering how to effectively use instruments to get the most out of your song. That’s the kind of thing that can wait. And instrumentation is not the only thing that can keep you from moving on. Here’s a list of issues that are important to songs, but can wait until you’re rehearsing them with a band, or getting ready for a recording:
- The intro. The intro can wait because it shouldn’t take long to get something together that properly pulls listeners into your tune. Song intros are typically between 10 and 15 seconds in length, and even though it’s a crucial 10 seconds, it can be worked out later.
- The order of song sections. Once your song is complete, you can start to wonder about ways to re-order the sections of your songs to make it more effective. For example, it might be a good idea to start with the chorus. You might also consider starting with an elaborate instrumental solo. But you can get bogged down pondering these things. Again, leave those decisions until a later time. The song is finished – move on.
- Vocal harmonies. Most of the time, vocal harmonies can wait until the band rehearsal or recording studio. If you have ideas that come to you as you write the song, try to record what you’re thinking of, or, if you have some knowledge of music theory, write them down. But don’t get too worked up about what would be best at this point.
- Tempo and key choice. I’ve always considered it to be time well spent to experiment with tempo and key, but you should consider the fact that the final instrumentation of your song is going to have a lot to do with both of those. For example, it will be easier to push the key higher if you’ve got guitars with distortion playing behind you, than if you’re simply working it out on an acoustic guitar or piano.
- Miscellaneous section connectors. Even the Beatles waited until the recording studio to come up with the middle-8 of “And I Love Her.” A middle-8 (or bridge) isn’t usually thought of as a connector between other song sections, but it proves the point that not everything needs to be composed before the recording session. There is always time to figure out things like short solos, how to get from the chorus to verse 2, how to get from the bridge back to the chorus, and so on.
The benefit of waiting to decide some of these things is that you can get a songwriting “momentum” going, where you feel that you can create new ideas quickly and easily. Getting mired down with details can slow you down and negatively affect your songwriting output. Don’t be afraid to declare a song as done, and get moving on to the next one.
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