If your finished song sounds like a dud, start thinking like a producer and fix it.
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It’s not unusual to have finished a song, but to feel that it’s missing something. It’s all there – the melodies, lyrics, chords – you just get this bored feeling, and start to believe that you’ve created a dud! Don’t toss the song. The difference between a song that really works well and one that sounds problematic is usually very small. So sometimes all it takes is a minor tweaking of some element of the music to find that you’ve really created a gem that needs a little help.
Here are some ideas you can try to breathe life into a new song that’s missing the mark:
- Try a new tempo. Nothing changes the feel and mood of a song more than tempo. So experiment: try it radically faster, or radically slower. It may be that the tempo you had chosen for your song just wasn’t matching up correctly with the mood you wanted to convey.
- Try a new time signature. Most pop songs are in 4/4 time (alternating strong and weak beats). So try adjusting it to be in 3/4 time by lengthening every second beat. Here’s a post that describes that in more detail.
- Try a new instrumentation. It could be that you’re not being adventurous enough with your choice of instruments. If everything you do is guitars, bass and drums, the listener can start to get bored without even knowing why. Your choices are to keep the instrumentation, but find unique ways to play them (picking, palm-muting, harmonics, etc.), or look for ways to add other instruments, such as trumpet, french horn, strings, flute, etc.
- Try adding vocal harmonies. Vocal harmonies added to a song can really class it up. If you’re singing live, it likely means teaching the harmonies to one or two of your bandmates. If you’re recording your song, you can add the backing vocals yourself. But vocal harmonies need to be added with care. Read this article that describes how to create backing vocals.
- Try changing the mode of your music. In this case, mode refers to whether it’s in a major or minor key. You might be surprised by how dramatically the overall sound of your music changes by making that adjustment. So if you’ve written a song in C major that uses, let’s say, the following progression: C F Dm G C, try changing those chords to be ones that would come from C minor: Cm Fm Ddim G Cm. If you need a bit of a lesson on how that works, read this post.
As you can see, most of these changes don’t apply specifically to songwriting – they’re things you’d try once the song is finished. And there are other things you can try. In fact, that’s what a producer of a recording is responsible for: taking your song as raw material, and creating something exciting and interesting.
So if your song feels like a failure, approach fixing it the way a producer might, and start experimenting.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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