How to avoid the endless songwrite… and what to do after your song is finished!
Finishing songs… it’s easier to start songs than finish songs!
As a songwriter, the goal of writing a song can feel open ended, it’s hard to tell when you’re done and your song is finished.
If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to fall into a trap of endlessly tinkering and tweaking it, instead of finishing the song.
In this article lesson, I’ll help you avoid the trap of the “endless songwrite.”
The problem with “finishing a song” is it’s not a well defined goal.
- What exactly is a finished song?
- How do you know it’s the best you can make it?
- Once it’s written, what do you do with the song? How will it be heard?
Below the video is a summary of the discussion with more details to help you finish your songs…
What Does My Song Need To Be “Finished”?
It might feel obvious, but first we need to define what a finished song looks and sounds like.
If you’re a lyricist, only writing the lyrics, a finished song needs a complete set of words for:
Pre-Chorus (if you’re using one)
Done… except you need to find a co-writer to create the music.
Sing and Play On My Own
For a song that you intend to sing and play yourself, a finished song requires a set of lyrics you’re satisfied with and:
Lyrics for verses, Pre-Chorus, Chorus and Bridge
Melodies for each section
Arrangement (How to Play It)
So: lyrics, melodies to sing, chords to play and a way to play them (arrangement). For a band, you also need to write parts for each musician to play.
Many songwriting struggles revolve around getting to this point, completing a song that can perform…
The danger is a form of perfectionism where you tinker and tweak the song without making any significant improvements.
At some point you have to be a little harsh with yourself and decide that the song is as good as you can make it for now.
The next step is recording your song, either on audio or video.
Audio Recording for Your Songs
Smartphones are a wonderful invention, you can record yourself singing and playing your song and get a pretty good recording with a click or two. But with a tiny little microphone and few editing features, it will never be radio ready.
D.A.W. (Digital Audio Workstation)
A D.A.W. or DAW is specialized software to record and edit multiple tracks. Multi-track recording lets you isolate and edit one track at a time and balance them together for a final mix.
DAW’s have a steep learning curve, there are so many variables and ways to edit sound that it’s overwhelming when you start. I describe it as learning to do multivariable calculus by ear. Multitrack recording lets you record a vocal track and as many instruments as you want.
If you’re just starting out, begin with entry level software and pay to upgrade when you become more confident. There’s no reason to spend big bucks at first. GarageBand (included on every Macintosh computer) and Cakewalk (for PC, I’ve used SONAR since 2010, it was rebranded as Cakewalk in 2018) are the best starting points. They’re both free, you can purchase more powerful options when you’re ready.
So a DAW offers better sound quality because better microphones give you better recording quality and more control of the mixing and mastering phases.
Read more about the gear you need to set up a home studio, including choosing a DAW in “6 Must Haves for Home Recording”…
Professional Audio Recording for Your Songs
For the best quality recordings you’ll need professional help and a professional studio. The main difference is the sound quality of the recording and the abilities of the mixer and mastering engineer. Imagine how great your songs would sound if your favourite guitar god or vocal deity was performing it… that’s the difference between a homebrew and a professional recording.
It starts with a professional studio built for sound recording, unlike your spare bedroom, basement or garage. They’re designed for music to sound great as it’s recorded and to minimize the echoes that make your bedroom recording studio sound terrible.
Professional grade microphones (that can each cost thousands of dollars or more) and professional recording engineers that know how and where to mic an instrument to get the best sound (instead of trying to find the best sound like you or I have to) also yield better sounding raw recordings.
Then a mixing engineer with years of experience creates an awesome balance of all the tracks, each with processing to make it fit into the overall mix.
Finally a mastering engineer ices the cake… the Mastering Process is the final “mix” of a finished mix to make the overall volume level and sound ideal and ready for broadcast. My favourite analogy is: a mastering engineer takes an excellent painting (mix) and puts a frame on it, so when you hang it in a gallery the frame (mastering) takes it from okay to awesome.
To get the best quality sound recording, you want:
- Your Band or Professional Session Musicians
- Professional Recording Engineer, using
- Professional grade microphones, in a
- Professional Studio built for sound quality, including offset walls and acoustic treatment that reduce echoes and sound reflection.
- Professional Mixer
- Professional Mastering Engineer
How Will They Hear Your Song: Distribution
Social Media (Play for No Pay)… this is largely for video… sure there are YouTube versions of official albums, but social media loves video!
With the exception of monetized YouTube channels, social media is more getting others to hear your music for free so you can build a tribe. Instagram and FaceBook can also get your music to the world.
Creating a Video for Your Song
The most basic level of video production is a simple performance video recorded on your phone. You can upload it straight to social media, or you can edit the video with some simple edits (at the beginning and end) and you can process the audio to remove any hiss, background noise and to equalize (EQ) it to improve the sound quality.
Using a quality Digital Camera with higher resolution and a better quality microphone instantly level up a phone video. It’s worth investing in video editing software to improve your post production phase, including noise reduction, EQ, compression and leveling the audio.
I used a lavalier microphone wired directly into my Canon Rebel DSLR camera. To improve the audio further I could use a large diaphragm condenser microphone plugged into my Focusrite audio interface… but then I’d record the video to my camera, audio to my laptop and then combine them in post production in video editing software. Recording on a good (not excellent) microphone works well enough for my YouTube videos.
Video Recording Pro Tip
Find the best settings to record your video on MANUAL… the difference is amazing when you get it right. I struggled with the audio quality for quite a while until I started recording on manual. The auto-gain or automatic volume control used by smartphones and digital cameras creates a great deal of background noise that’s difficult to edit out.
Video Recording Pro Tip – Lighting
The first thing to upgrade is the sound with a better microphone. The second thing to upgrade is your lighting set up. Don’t waste time trying DIY solutions… save up and buy a lighting kit. There’s virtually no way to create enough light with household lights unless you use a dozen light bulbs (that create a bizarre set of shadows) or you start playing with halogen bulbs that create a huge amount of heat. DIY options aren’t worth the time for the unsatisfactory results you’ll get. Just invest the money for an entry level lighting kit.
The two main lighting options are:
LED – quieter and smaller, great for a small space or if you need portable or easy to leave set up all the time.
Softbox – a lightbulb with a reflective “fabric-like” frame, larger and sometimes louder (the bulb often has a fan to cool it that’s loud enough to get picked up with my microphones).
Both options are similar in price, from $200-400 USD for a pair of lights. Two lights are the minimum, ideally you want three lights (check YouTube for Two Point Lighting Setup & Three Point Lighting Setup) to figure out what will work best for you.
Types of Videos for Your Songs
There’s the basic performance video, one camera (or phone) with the same shot through the entire video. You can make a more sophisticated performance video with multiple shots,
The next level up in terms of production is a Lyric Video, where you take a finished DAW mix and put pictures or video footage into video software to create a lyric video. The better your photos and video and the stronger your editing skills (or those of an editor you hire) the higher the quality of your video.
To get more professional results, you’ll have to hire professional help. It’s more expensive and time consuming to produce quality video than audio. Professional bands often produce “official videos” for the singles on an album, not for every song… because of the production costs.
Digital Distribution for Your Songs
If you want Play for Pay… share your music and get paid, the choices include: streaming, digital sales and physical (CD) sales.
There’s still a controversy about artist royalties for streaming, where each stream pays only a fraction of a cent. This is so low compared to a spin on the radio because only one person is listening at a time. Each streaming service has a different payout rate, but it still requires multiple-millions of streams for a viable living. Streaming is presently more important as a convenient way for people to hear you than a way to create an income stream.
Digital sales are more lucrative, but you’re only earning a percentage of a dollar for a sale on iTunes… and they’ve started streaming too!
Some services like CD Baby offer physical sales along with digital downloads, so if you have an album you can add CDs to your merchandise offerings.
The way to get yourself into this world is through a digital distributor. Do your research, there are different advantages and disadvantages to each service. For a fee, they submit your tracks to multiple streaming and digital sales platforms, like Spotify and iTunes.
Start your research with these services (these are not affiliate links):
Bigger Goals for Your Songs
To achieve bigger goals takes time and effort, building relationships and long term work. You have to build one step at a time, if you want to hear yourself on the radio, you need a professional quality recording.
You won’t get there on your own, you’ll need professional help to work towards major goals. You need to spend your time writing and performing your songs. When you’re ready, search for representation whether it’s help with booking shows or getting your songs to the right ears… there are things you can’t do on your own. Work your way up from where you are now, to where you want to go… and ask (and hire) help when you need it, or when someone else can do something better, faster or more effectively than you can do it!
Finishing Your Songs: Summary
To properly answer the question: when is my song finished?
You need to decide when your song satisfies you (in the writing phase) and then decide how much farther you want to take that song…
Just a phone demo or live video performance on your phone?
Do you want to run it through a DAW and use your skills to create a home brew demo?
Or is the song ready for the investment of a professional studio recording session?
How far do you want to take your song?
- What can you do yourself and what do you need to pay for to get professional help?
- How will people hear it?
- Do you want to make money or are you just interested in getting people to hear you?
- There is no right answer, just the right answer for you and your songs…