Is there anything more frustrating for songwriters than when a song starts easily, but the whole process grinds to a halt before even half the song is finished? There are several potential causes for this sort of thing — and to be honest, you’ll likely encounter each and every one of them at some point.
The hook is probably the most important part of a pop song’s success, so getting it right is crucial. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how the best hooks work, and how to get them working in your own songs.
But problems and challenges in songwriting are no big deal if you also have solutions at the ready.
If you find that you’ve been suffering from Unfinished Song Syndrome more than normal lately, here are three possible reasons that’s been happening, along with some solutions you can try:
1. You may not be clear on the structure of good songs.
All songs have a kind of structure, which means that for most of them you’re writing verses, choruses and bridges. The common structures of songs usually means that we don’t have to think too much about it: your song is likely going to start with a verse, move to a chorus, return for verse 2, repeat the chorus… that kind of thing.
But the problems can arise if you’re not clear on why a verse sounds like a verse, or why a chorus sounds like a chorus. For example, we know that verses usually sit lower in pitch than choruses, but if you’ve written a verse that’s higher, it can be hard to make it sound right. That’s often because your chorus doesn’t have enough musical energy to steal the spotlight from the verse, as it should do.
Part of what makes a song successful is the alternating of high and low musical energy, and so you need to be sure that you’re putting your ideas together in such a way as to allow this. If you’re not sure how to do this, give this article a read: “Musical Energy in a Song is Emotional Energy”
2. Your song might have too many ideas.
This one often surprises new songwriters. Most songs in the pop genres have just two or possibly three basic ideas. Each of those ideas constitutes the main theme for each section of your song.
So problems can happen if your verse goes on too long, takes too many detours, or provides too many changes. Each time your song goes in a new direction is a chance that your audience might “lose you.”
If you think of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep,” you can hear a basic idea taking shape with the first line. Each line that follows bears a resemblance to that opening line. So once you’ve come to the end of the verse, you’ve been hearing variations on that one idea. The chorus then provides a new idea, and so on.
Not only does this make it hard for an audience, it’s hard for you as the songwriter to make sense of a song that has too many ideas. And in the process of juggling all those ideas, your songwriting process can grind to a halt.
Take a close look at what you’re writing, and see if it’s possible that your song simply has too many ideas. It could be why you’re finding it so hard to finish it.
3. You might simply need a creative break.
The creative process is a complex one. In a way, writing a song is not unlike dipping into a well of water. Even if the well is deep, you need to allow some time for it to replenish or it might go dry.
The creative brain is a small well that’s full of musical ideas. And you need to refill that well from time to time, or you run the risk of running out of ideas.
The best way to replenish your own musical brain is to listen to good music and other creative works from other songwriters, poets, composers and authors. The more you listen, the more your own brain gets stimulated and inspired.
I think daily songwriting is good, but allow yourself some days where you step back a bit and take a break. I like to think of daily songwriting as meaning five days a week, with two days to recharge.
If you have some good ways that allow you to feel more inspired to write, I’d love for you to share those ideas here in the comments below.
Written by Gary Ewer. To get website updates and songwriting tips, follow Gary on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle shows you every aspect of good songwriting, and how to take your songs to the next level of excellence. Comes with a Study Guide to help you work through all the materials.