Smashing Pumpkins

Finishing a Song You Thought Was Finished

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There’s a benefit that comes from being the sole songwriter on a project: you get to be the one who says when the song is actually finished.

You’d think there’d be no question about when a song is actually done, but you may find that there’s a period after a song appears to be done when you still find yourself thinking about it, and entertaining other ideas that might get added.

If you know “Today” by Smashing Pumpkins, from their 1993 album “Siamese Dream”, you’ll know that there’s a whole intro section of a very quiet guitar figuration, before the heavier main bulk of the song takes over. The character of those two sections provides a powerful sense of contrast that deepens the meaning of the music.

When you read about the writing of “Today”, by lead singer/guitarist Billy Corgan, you’ll discover that the intro idea was added after the song was supposedly finished.

One day, “out of the blue, I heard the opening lick note for note in my head”, Corgan said. “When I added the opening riff, it completely changed the character of the song. Suddenly, I had a song that was starting out quiet and then got very loud.

From Today (The Smashing Pumpkins song) – Wikipedia

Of course, the notion of adding something to a song isn’t unique in the songwriting world, and you’ve probably done it yourself. The point is, I’ve often considered it a normal part of the compositional process for me: having a kind of “Stage 1/Stage 2” in the writing of most of the music I write.

So I would recommend that you consider the addition of new musical ideas to a song you thought was finished should be a normal part of your songwriting process.

Sometimes all it might be is a longer and more-involved intro, perhaps adding an instrumental solo in the middle, or anything that helps to provide all-important contrast to the rest of the song. And that bit that you add might be something in a new key, a new tempo, or anything else that offers a new mood.

You likely know of the “new middle” that got added to John Lennon’s “A Day in the Life”, but you can add things to the end of a song as well, such as Paul McCartney’s “Can You Take Me Back” which got tagged on as a coda at the end of Lennon’s “Cry Baby Cry” from the White Album.

So once you’ve finished writing a song, stop and think. And then think some more. It’s never too late for a new idea.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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