Hi all.

I have been wondering, how do you guys decide when a song is "done". If you are a recording artist there are literally a million things you can put into your music. Whether it be synth pieces or slightly tweaking the drum beat, or one of the sounds, or adding a part, etc.

I understand that not all music can get this complex. Most times it is just guitar, bass and drums to worry about but I have opened up a whole new can of worms by going into the digital/electronic possibilities. I like the way it sounds but it is pretty complex at times, I'm just wondering where the point of to much is. Maybe it's not enough... I don't know, all I do know is making music in this way takes a while lol but it is a lot of fun. Recording vocals tomorrow.

But back to the topic at hand. Should I set reasonable limits like "no more then 3 guitars simultaneously" "no more than 2 layers on an existing sound"?

I also struggle with repeating parts, I like the parts in my song to be unique and only really go back and have a "chorus" because I feel like that is what needs to be done. A part of me is telling me that music shouldn't have rules and I should just ignore everything and make what I feel but then I think, Damn, people are gona think I'm crazy and make crazy music.
Last edited by Victorgeiger at Jun 17, 2014,
It feels done. I don't know. I mean, I try to make my songs interesting, and sometimes that means they are complex (though not always). But you can just tell when a song is done. Like, is there any part I would change or revise? If so, it's not done. Does it convey the feeling I want it to convey? If not, it's not done.

Make sense?
it sounds like you're just layering as part of the writing process, and you can easily get carried away in this manner. i'm guilty of writing one layer at a time too (in particular, i often write guitars first and then construct other instruments on top of it as i'm listening to the recorded tracks), but i try to conceptualize ahead of time and decide which instruments i want at a certain time.

even if you're not capable of planning a song in detail, you should try to have rough mental outline, in terms of structure and sound palette. think about what you're about to do before you actually do it. think about it when you're on the bus or something.

and keep the listener in mind when you're writing. this doesn't mean to cater to some particular demographic (as might be the case with pop music), but to be understanding of a listener who is unacquainted with the specific song you're working on, as well as your style. this could mean having motifs that the listener can identify and remember, even if the song is entirely progressive. here's a good, nontechnical read on that:

maybe you're adding parts like crazy because you get bored of hearing what you've written already? sometimes those parts aren't so good to begin with - no point dressing up a turd. all the extra parts you add after having written the main parts should generally be supporting the core idea, unless you're totally convinced that your new idea plays nicely with the old.

of course, it's great to explore and do all sorts of crazy things, it probably helps you grow as a musician. but if you want listenable songs, you have to guide the listener into the craziness.

i don't want this wall of text to make you think that i'm really experienced or anything...but i think my songwriting has improved a lot since i first started, by paying attention to these things. also, i'm bored at work.
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Last edited by vIsIbleNoIsE at Jun 17, 2014,
^Yeah you pretty much know you're done when you're completely satisfied with how it sounds in it's current state. Sometimes you have to accept what it is and move on. You can spend months editing an already "complete" song, but in the end it's probably not worth it.

In regard to repeating parts; there are plenty of artists that have flowing song structures that never repeat. It works fine as long as the song isn't directionless (i.e. random sections thrown together with bad transitions).
The most important part of good songwriting is knowing when a song needs more, and when a song needs less. Striking that perfect balance is entirely dependent on the song in question.

Any great song needs a hook or a catch, something for the listener to latch onto, so that they can track the central theme of your song. Even the most progressive-style song has a recurring theme if it wants to be memorable.

And never underestimate the power of minimalism. A moment of silence can be far more affective than an assault of layered guitars and digital effects. Consider well-placed melodic embellishments that bring the listener's attention back to the song, or a slight change in a familiar riff to provide fluidity. Think of Black Dog by Led Zeppelin. Don't think of it in terms of how much, or you'll end up working within restrictions as you've already said, which will also restrict your creativity. Think of it in terms of what, and where.

In regards to repetition, every song needs it to a degree. Your song may need more or less of it. What your song and every song needs is, as I've already said, something for the listener to latch onto. A returning riff or chorus is exactly what keeps a song in someone's head, which is what you want. If your song is "different" and breaks from the norm too much, then it won't be familiar enough for anyone to understand it. Being different does not mean you're effective. It more often means the opposite.
You need to trust your instincts.
You can try something a thousand ways, but almost always, your first instinct is the right one. I've written many songs where I've tried a dozen different bridges, or five different riffs for the verse. Very rarely have I discovered I wrong the first time.
As for layering, you need to be discerning with your ear. Are you just adding stuff for the sake of it, or does every part contribute to a cohesive whole? You've to do your best to listen with a fresh ear - what would somebody who has never heard this before think?
In short, you need to be your own harshest critic.
Wow, thanks everyone for the great advice. I've been working on this one song for a long time. Admittedly I haven't worked on it constantly because life has gotten in the way but I also used to the song to learn many different things about creating music and recording. What koslack said, I need to trust my instincts and I think I have been doing that recently and it is shaping up to be a good song. I don't want to add any more to it musically. I'm just recording the lyrics and then its done and onto the next song.

The reason for posting my questions is because I haven't written a new song in while and now that I am in a position where I can again I want to do it right so I can avoid wasting time and make quality music. So thanks again all
I think deciding when to stop layering or extending gets easier as you get more experience with songwriting. I remember I used to have this issue but not now. It's one of those problems that just gradually evaporates as you learn the craft.
Have an idea of the sound you are after and finding the right instruments gets a lot easier. When I write songs, I try to make it fit our band - though sometimes adding another guitar part is OK. We have one guitar, keys, bass and drums so I try not to go crazy with the guitar tracks because it can't be replicated live.
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