Mind Hacks posted how choice is demotivating when there are too many options.
“Offer students a choice of 6 essays, rather than 30 essays, for extra-credit and more will take up the opportunity if there is less choice of essay titles – and, what is more, they write better essays.”
And if you have 45 song ideas in your notebook, chances are none of them will get finished.
Here’s a few tips for busy songwriters that have trouble finding the time to write and for songwriters who have too many ideas to finish.
1. Have just a few places to capture song ideas
If you have your song ideas in 5 audio recorders, 7 notebooks and 13 computer folders, then chances are all those unfinished “open loops” are unconsciously stressing you out. If you capture your song ideas in a central location, then your songwriting will be better organized and easier to manage.
Here’s the minimum of what you need to capture:
- Song Titles
- Written Music
- Recorded Audio
My advice, capture each written idea on a single index card (a la Hipster PDA). If you have 20 separate ideas on a single sheet of paper, it may save physical space, but it will take up psychological space. Picture having a separate file folder for song titles, a separate folder for choruses, etc. How much easier would it be to collect your ideas when you need them? But if you have various song titles, melodies, and chord changes on a single sheet of paper, when it comes time to recover your ideas, they’re going to be much harder to find. If you do your songwriting on the computer, keep every idea in a separate .txt file in a single folder or with sub-folders like ‘choruses’, ‘verses’, etc.
Try to capture your audio recordings on just a couple of devices. I used to record everything first on my iPod–until it crashed and I bought the new video iPod that doesn’t have a mic available for it yet. Everything was synced in iTunes in a special playlist that I kept organized. If an idea became worthy of development, it went into GarageBand and finally into Logic Pro when it became worthy of finishing. I could probably skip the GarageBand step but I just really like the program. All songs are stored in a single ‘audio’ folder which has sub-folders: ‘archive’ for finished songs and ‘maybe’ for songs that I’ve set aside.
2. Have 1 song that you are finishing at the top of your list
Always be focused on finishing 1 song. If you successfully write more than one song at a time, good for you. But if you struggle getting songs finished, narrowing your choices will be more motivating. Plus, with the above system of capturing your song ideas, you will have a beautifully organized cornucopia of inspiration to draw from when you’re ready to write and finish song number 2 🙂
3. Tag all of your song ideas
I can’t personally speak for windows users, but with Spotlight for the Mac you can find any file quickly with just a couple of keywords. Adding metadata to your song ideas will help you organize them and find them quickly. If you called a .txt file ‘title-windowless-room.txt’ or ‘song-windowless-room.txt’, then you’ll be able to find them by name. But if you tag them with other descriptive terms like ‘happy’ or ‘rock anthem’, you’ll be able to make unique connections between all of your captured song ideas using criteria like emotional content, subject matter, tempo, or key signature.
Before the ubiquity of recorded music, the way we would pass music from one person to another was through written music. And music notation has mood markings like Vivace (lively) and Maestoso (majestic or stately) which also have tempo connotations. These markings/tags can be very useful for tightening the message and tone of your song if you decide on them beforehand. They can also be useful when you’re interested in writing something different than what you’ve written in the past.
Here’s a technique I use to begin writing. Let’s say I have a title, Windowless Room. While working through the rhythm of the title I settle on a tempo marking of 90bpm (Andante). Going to my thesaurus, I see that andante also means slow motion. With a little deeper digging, I have a word list to flesh out my song idea and to tag my song with: crawl, walk, dragging, trudge, shamble, limp, hobble, slow march, linger, delay, take your time, etc.
Now I have a focused tone for my song, a word list to help me write, and keywords to search my other captured song ideas for inspiration.
4. Review your song ideas at least once a week
Your weekly review is the time when you archive finished songs, choose your next song to write, and celebrate all the great song ideas you came up with during the past week. I also add tags during this review to help my song writing during the upcoming week. The weekly songwriting review is good for reevaluating, reprocessing and feeding your intuition.
The mechanics of the weekly songwriting review are simple:
- Organize and process your loose song ideas, i.e. put song titles in the ‘song titles’ folder and so on.
- Review current song(s) you are writing and review your ‘maybe’ song ideas.
- Commit to finishing another new song.
5. Commit to write at least 10 minutes a day and for longer periods a couple of times a week
There’s a small number of things you need to complete to finish a song:
- Song Title: Lyrics, Melody, Rhythm
- Chorus: Lyrics, Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Form
- Verse: Lyrics, Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Form
- Prechorus/Bridge: Lyrics, Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Form
It’s good to know what song sections you have finished and what you have yet to finish. If you print out my ‘Hit Song Cheat Sheet‘, you’ll know exactly what you need to do next.
I hope these tips help you finish more songs and relieve any stress that you might have over the multitude of unfinished song ideas you have floating around your mind. If you have songwriting tips to share, please comment. Happy songwriting. 🙂