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Fixing a Bad Song: Considering These 3 Songwriting Truths

It happens to everyone – the closer you get to finishing your song, the more you realize you hate it. It’s just not working. You can’t even tell where the problems are, so you don’t know how to fix it.

Most of these songs never get finished, because you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns: the effort to finish it is greater than the satisfaction you’ll get from it when it’s finally done.


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To entice you to keep going, remember these three songwriting truths:

  1. It’s easier to fix a bad song that’s finished than it is to fix a bad song that’s half done.
  2. Practically every bad song can be fixed.
  3. The difference between a bad song and a good one is usually very small.

The Blank Page

If you’re struggling through a song that started with such promise, but now just seems to be a failure, and you think you might as well stop: keep going. To put it simply, it’s easier to fix a bad song than it is to fix a blank page.

A blank page has a way of taunting you, and reminding you of your failure. A finished song at least gives you something to fix. It’s all there in front of you, even if it’s failing in some way.

Everything’s Fixable

No songwriting instructor can tell you how your song should go, but once you’ve got that bad song finished, songwriting principles can and will guide you to repairing the parts that don’t work, as long as you’re able to consider your song with a certain amount of objectivity.

When songs are bad, it’s usually the case that some important principle of good songwriting has been overlooked. Even songs that come from different genres will abide by the same basic principles and guidelines.

So fixing a song means having the patience and resolve to go moment by moment, second by second, through your song to find out what’s not working. Once you’ve identified the trouble spots, that understanding of songwriting principles will start you on the path to fixing the problems.

Bad vs Good

There is no song that’s so bad that it can’t be fixed. And in fact, the difference between songs that are suffering and songs that are successful is usually tiny. One small problem can cause an entire song to fail.

But where do you start? There’s any number of ways to consider and fix bad songs, but try this:

  1. Listen to a simple recording of your song, with as simple a production as possible.
  2. Listen with expectation for greatness. This means listen to your song as if it’s someone else’s, and imagine that you’ve been told by someone else that it’s wonderful!
  3. Try to pinpoint the exact moment in the song that you feel disappointment or dislike. Is it a word or line in the lyric? Is it a moment in the melody? Is it a weak spot in the chord progression?
  4. Replay the bit you don’t like, including the few seconds before that spot. You may have to do this several times, because what you’re trying to do is to figure out if there’s a solution to what’s making you feel negative about that spot.
  5. Experiment with some on-the-spot changes to your song that deal with that one bad spot. Play and/or do a quick recording of your solution, and listen objectively to the few seconds before the bad spot, and then your solution.
  6. Work through the song in this way, moment by moment, concentrating on small sections at a time.

It often surprises songwriters to discover how one small moment of weakness in a song will tarnish the entire tune. It can turn you completely off. It might be something as simple as a chorus that needs a higher note somewhere (a more noticeable climactic moment). Perhaps it’s an ugly cliché in the lyric, or a chord in the progression that needs fixing.

Take Your Time

The final bit of advice here needs to be: take your time. There’s no need for a song to be fixed on the day you finish it. In fact, it may be a good idea to put it away for a few days or even weeks, and turn your attention to other songs.

The more distance from that song that you give yourself, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to listen to it objectively, and the more likely it will be that you’ll come up with solutions.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m working on scatting and coming up with melodic ideas as a beat plays but they tend to sound the same.I read in one of your articles to write songs like someone else wrote them but I don’t know how to go about it.What do I study or emulate from my favorite singers that can put me in the mindframe to write like them?Thank you and I’m a fan of your articles

    • You’re probably talking about the article I wrote called “Copying Professional Songwriters as a Songwriting Technique.” In that article I give 5 tips for doing that, so I’d recommend giving that post another read. In particular, you’ll want to make note of step #3 — trying to identify exactly what it is about your favourite singer that makes them successful… that makes them enjoyable. If you can master that step, you’ll be able to put those ideas to use in your own songs.

      Hope that helps!
      -Gary

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