You stare at your song’s filename. GoodSong.2016.EDIT5.VOCALMIX.FINAL-3.EDIT2. It’s in a sad, sad folder where only your most angry, obsessive and most heart-wrenchingly imperfect compositions live.
Every musician has that one song that continues to defy finishing, no matter how many tweaks and touches you apply. You, like many others, have found yourself looking down the barrel of a creative roadblock that ceases to ease up.
In partnership with JMC Academy, today we’re bringing you five tips for finishing that unfinishable song.
Here are five ways to worm yourself out of musical writer’s block and finish that song you’ve been sitting on for way, way too long.
The perfect gear does not exist
When we spoke to Nick Franklin, a freelance audio engineer who also teaches at JMC Academy, he pointed out one of the most common mistakes new songwriters will run into.
“The [mistake] I love is ‘oh I can’t finish my record because I need to get this guitar pedal’ or ‘I need to get my microphone and then I’ll finish the vocals on my record’. Just finish it, I think it’s better done than perfect.”
If you think the guitar line in your song’s bridge needs that chorus pedal you’ve been saving up for, it’s time to take a step back. Is this a problem you can fix with the tools at hand? Are you projecting some of your own indecision onto that poor pedal?
Whatever it is you’re playing, producing, or singing, it’s always best to work with what you’ve got. Some of history’s greatest albums have been recorded on setups that would make your home studio look like Daft Punk’s.
Tweak the performance itself, or try out a parameter you had been leaving alone. There’s always a way to pull a great sound with what’s under your nose.
Find some fresh ears
It can be hard to share your own music, especially a track that you feel isn’t quite perfect yet. But the benefit of a third party can be huge, and sometimes you simply have to bite the bullet.
Plus, the songs you’ve lived with for the longest are those you’ll have the hardest time unlearning. You’ll have every edit ingrained in your psyche to the nth degree, at which point it becomes almost impossible to see anything objectively.
Phone a friend you trust, tell them to be brutally honest. It will save you a ton of pain in the long run.
Share the load
Speaking of phoning a friend, outsourcing a part of your process isn’t often a terrible idea. Engaging a professional studio, chatting to an engineer, or asking a different instrumentalist or singer to help out with your track isn’t compromising on your integrity – the song will still be yours.
Again, Nick had some advice to share:
“I see a lot of musicians never finish their songs because they recorded it at home, and they tweak it and tweak it forever but it’s never quite right and it’s not the way they like it, and they might have been better to take it to someone who mixes records every day and say ‘here’s my home recorded tracks, can you mix it for me?’, and then at least it will get finished and it’ll probably sound better than what they could have done themselves at home.”
Laying down some drums in a professional environment, recording a backup vocalist, or handing the mix over completely to an engineer are all options for you. Don’t forget them in a hurry.
Be kind, rewind
Diving deep on a track can be a double-edged sword. What starts as a simple enough thought like ‘I need more crunch on this lead part’ can quickly and exponentially lead you to a place you never needed to be in the first place. And just like that, your hit has become a 129-layer monster that’s impossible to wrangle.
Simplification is key to good songwriting, and sometimes rolling back to a previous edit will be exactly what you need. Who knows, the act of listening to that old edit might even lead you in the right direction.
It pains me as much as you to say this, but in rare cases the absolute best course of action is ripping off the bandaid. Even Prince had thousands of songs locked away in his vault, knowing he would never release them because they weren’t up to scratch.
Deciding that a song will never be released can be a beautiful feeling, like finally scratching an itch you couldn’t reach. Maybe it’s better suited to a live jam, or maybe you were delusional about it the whole time – it happens to us all.
Let it be gone. Extinguish it from your life. Throw it into the fire like the One Ring of Mordor. Only then will you find peace.
Find out more about how JMC Academy can help your music career here.