How to Finish a Song

How to Finish a Song

The trouble with finishing a song is that songwriting is hard. Possible, manageable, achievable. But hard. It’s hard because songwriting, like any kind of creativity, means making something that doesn’t exist yet. And the trouble with making something that doesn’t exist yet is that – because it doesn’t exist – you don’t know how to make it. In a nutshell, that’s how creativity works. And that’s why creativity is hard. There’s no formula. There’s no rulebook. There’s no IKEA-style instructions. You just have to figure it out. One of the most common questions I get asked both through the site and as a songwriting coach is ‘How do I finish a song?’ And the honest answer is, you keep going. You finish a song by coming up with ideas until the song’s finished. I know that’s not a sexy answer. I know that’s not an exciting answer. I know that’s not an answer I can explain in a three-step WikiHow article with nice pictures.     If you’re confused about your song’s structure, I suggest you stick to a simple Verse-Chorus structure – like Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus or Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. If you’re not sure what to put into your song’s verses, have a think about your song’s story and try brainstorming details about that story – no lyrics yet, just words and phrases! – that might inspire a full lyric. If you’ve written your first verse but are stuck on your second, think about a shift in time or place or topic you could use to frame your second verse. What other focus could help inspire you to write something new? If you’re struggling to...
Be Restless

Be Restless

Be restless. Dream big. Want more. Go new places. Meet new people. Try new things. Never settle. Life is too short not to. Now don’t get me wrong. Dreams are earned. Dreams are fought for. They’re not wishes granted by some motherfucking genie in a bottle. The bigger your dreams, the harder you have to graft to make them come true. The more you have to struggle. The more you have to sacrifice. But will it be worth it? You betcha. At eighty, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do way more than the things you did. So be stupid. Be unthinking. Be fearless. And be ready to fuck up. Because you will. Nobody ever did anything worthwhile without making mistakes, or enemies, or a total ass of themselves. Which would you rather: Fuck up a hundred times, learn a hundred new lessons then use those lessons to create something amazing? Or fuck up never and create nothing? Because you have to choose. It’s one or the other. You can’t make zero mistakes and something amazing. So embrace it: in a life well spent, things are going to go wrong. You’ll be told ‘no’. You’ll be told ‘fuck no’. You’ll be told ‘fuck you’. None of these are reasons to settle. None of these are reasons to stop exploring. None of these are reasons to stop trying new things. Life only stops if you decide to stop living it. Be restless. Never settle.   Photo by Bryan Minear on...
How to Come up with 100 New Song Ideas

How to Come up with 100 New Song Ideas

Here’s an important truth about coming up with new song ideas: you should write about what interests and inspires you, not what some internet listicle tells you to. So if you were expecting a 100-item list, I’m sorry to deflate your dirigible. Instead, I’m going to show you how to come up with your own (much smarter) list of your own (much more interesting) song ideas. I call it the ‘Give it a twist’ technique. Let’s take a look. So as you might know, songs tell stories. And the hallmark of a good song is that you can summarize its story, or central message, or central idea, in a single sentence. Try it: It’s a song about a single mother who’s forced into sex work to support her kid while she dreams of a better life for him. (Rockabye) It’s a song about a girl who’s lonely at night and wants to dance with somebody to fix that. (I Wanna Dance with Somebody) It’s a song about a guy whose significant other left yesterday, and now he wants to rewind the clock because he was so much happier then. (Yesterday) And how, you might ask, do you turn these old song ideas into new song ideas? The way you turn any old idea into a new idea: give it a twist. Write a song about a recently single mother who’s scared to go into sex work but thinks she’ll have to to support her kid. Write a song about a guy who’s lonely at night and wants to dance with somebody to fix that. Write a song about a...
Why You Should Study The Classics

Why You Should Study The Classics

When I was 17, I ordered a copy of Beethoven’s Complete String Quartets from Amazon. Amazon was pretty new back then, and I remember opening the packaging and pulling out this thick blue book and thinking how cool it was to own a big chunk of history. It was the first time I’d owned any sheet music to study it, and not because I wanted to play it myself. I picked the first movement of one of the quartets, Opus 135, from right at the end of Beethoven’s life, as the subject of my university application essay. So I just started taking it apart, using everything I knew about harmony, melody and structure to try and understand how Beethoven’s mind worked and what made this particular string quartet tick. Every time something came to me, I wrote it on the score until the entire thing was covered in lines, circles and scribbled observations. (I was an intense seventeen-year-old, I know.) I knew probably 10% of what I know about music back then, but it did the trick: it helped me get accepted to study music somewhere really cool. And honestly, I learned a lot of the other 90% I have now by doing this over and over again throughout the past decade. My observations these days are usually more mental than written, and since then I’ve studied everything from Brahms to Bernstein to the Beatles to Clean Bandit. But early on, I realized that that’s a big part of learning to write: studying what already exists and figuring out what it can teach you. As I say in my...
To Begin, Begin

To Begin, Begin

William Wordsworth said it best: “To begin, begin.” And, if I may, I’d like to expand on his pithy philosophy. To begin, begin. To continue, continue. To finish a song, finish a song. To write something new, write something new. To write in a different genre, write in a different genre. To learn something new about songwriting, learn something new about songwriting. To keep going even though it’s hard, keep going even though it’s hard. To keep going even though you worry you’ll never be good enough, keep going even though you worry you’ll never be good enough. To turn off your brain long enough to let go and create a first draft full of imperfections, turn off your brain long enough to let go and create a first draft full of imperfections. To improve your first draft even though rewriting is even more painful than writing in the first place, improve your first draft even though rewriting is even more painful than writing in the first place. To rewrite that bridge for the seventh time on the off-chance this rewrite will be the one that cracks it, rewrite that bridge for the seventh time on the off-chance this rewrite will be the one that cracks it. To write ten songs so you have enough material to choose the four best for your first EP, write ten songs so you have enough material to choose the four best for your first EP. To reach out to that potential co-writer or venue or manager even though they might say no, reach out to that potential co-writer or venue or manager even...

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