When most of us start out writing songs, it’s pretty difficult for us to know when a song is officially finished. The more songs you write and the better you know your own process, the easier this will become. That being said, here are some things you can do right away to help you know whether the song you’re currently working on is done or needs a little more creative love. I’ve listed a few questions you can ask yourself to help you decide where your song is in the process.

1. Have you had your song critiqued?

While I most certainly wouldn’t suggest accepting any critique comment as gospel, I would recommend that you consider a professional song critique on songs you believe are close to finished. The insights that experienced industry professionals provide can serve multiple purposes. First, they might help you make your song more commercially viable and if your goal is getting your song cut, this can be useful. Secondly, even if you don’t change your song based on a critique comment you receive, you might keep that comment in mind and apply it on future songs. At the very least, it’s good from time to time to have an outsider listen to your song to make sure the message – both lyrically and musically – you’re trying to convey is coming across to someone who wasn’t involved in the writing process.

2. Have you played the song live?

I know that not all songwriters are singer-songwriters but for those of you who are, performing a song live is a great way to know/observe whether your song is having the intended effect. Are the parts of the song you were hoping to create an emotion – laughter, tears, etc. – working on your listeners? Is your song holding their attention all the way to the end? These are the sorts of questions a live performance of your song can answer in a way that is markedly different from sitting in a writing room and wondering.

3. Have you listened to it as an audience member would?

I don’t care how many times you’ve played your song while you’re writing it or even how many times you’ve performed it live. Until you’ve had a seat and listened to a rough recording of your song and heard it like an audience member would, you’ll be missing a vital part of the process of completing your song. It’s amazing to me how many little tweaks present themselves when I’m simply listening back to a recorded version of my song and looking at my lyric sheet. I’m not talking about making a professional recording, I mean a simple guitar or piano and vocal recorded to your smart phone. It’s the process of disengaging from the performance of the song that makes things clear.

4. Did you achieve your vision for the song?

Something to keep in mind when you set out to write a song is what you’re hoping to achieve by writing it. Are you trying to create a three-minute snapshot of a moment? Make a broad statement about humanity? Whatever it is, keep your vision in mind throughout the creative process and make sure when you’ve finished your song that you’ve stayed true to this original goal. Often, we’ll start out with an idea and then meander a bit in service of a cool rhyme or musical approach. Part of the process of determining your song’s level of completion is how closely you’ve stayed true to your original goal for the song.

5. Have you put it away and then revisited it?

Often, if you’re stuck on a song that doesn’t seem to want to be finished, what the song really wants is to be put away for a while. This becomes easier when you have several songs going at the same time. Letting your subconscious chip away at the problem spots in your songs can be incredibly useful and cut down on the frustration quotient significantly. It can be as short a span as overnight or as long as years. Sometimes our songs have to finish themselves at their own pace no matter how hard we try.

Bonus Tip: Make Finishing Your Song A Goal

Sometimes it’s as simple as having the intention of finishing a song that gets you there. Whether it’s a self-imposed deadline or real one, the more strict you are with yourself, the greater the chance your focus and decision-making process will get you to the finish line. Nothing like a hard stop to clarify your creative process.


Being a songwriter isn’t only about the creative process, it’s also about consistency and follow through. The more songs you complete, the more songs you can ultimately get out in the world and the greater the chance something good will happen. With that in mind, hopefully the above questions will help you finish your existing songs with greater confidence.

Good luck!

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2 responses to “Five Questions Songwriters Can Ask Themselves to Decide If Their Song Is Finished”

  1. David Wayne says:

    thanks Cliff, right on the coconut too, friends and family have been trying purely outa love, to hit me there for years. i did a cd, with studio one, in my living room. i played all theinstruments and vocal/harmonies, cause my rockin buds wouldnt touch the Manilow/croce piano and guitar tunes i’d written all my life. they talked me into putting it on youtube of course , swearing that if neil diamond got a listen to “true Love” he’d scoop it up pronto. i was raised “merle H, (dads album stack), and thru theyears the instruments kept calling and the work on one of them as a band member or session work was pretty fluent, but ya know as well as i do that when ya go to make plans? God laughs! and i was raised by a Mother who was a mom to all and a friend to any who met her, and she raised us to know that if God DID laugh it was ok, cause HE had it all under control anyway. I read your 5 things to do, and as thought to myself how it was all loving points of encouragement that i myself would tell the next kid with those dreams in his eyes, i also felt the cringe of guilt i would tuck away now and then that i never took it to that one step of asking “hey , whada ya think?”,,, so , i dont know where your e-mail came from, maybe the nashville songwriters clips they send me or from a music store promo, dont know,,, but i didnt have to, the page and thoughts nailed me , confronted me with nowhere to run. my name is david wayne, the tunes are under my name followed by true love, thats how a cousin of mine listed it. yes sir, i would be interested in hearing from you, you didnt put this on the net because u were bored, i think it would be right nourishing and positive stepping to follow thru with the buzz ya put in my ear. when i would hit nashville 2 or 3 times a year to just embellish that intoxicating hold that only a stage can give, and that only a musician can understand, i always left feeling blessed that i was thought worthy enough by our Father Himself to wear the humble pride of being one of the folks who could have a part in spinning the gears of what makes this world go round , and such a grand design it is huh?! hope to talk with ya soon Cliff,,, and thanks for the few moments i just had with some really awesome memories.

  2. Michael MacBean says:

    These are great suggestions. In regards to #3 I find it very instructive to have a music colleague sing my song. This can be in my home studio, an informal gathering, coffee house, etc. I’m not a singer so it’s very exciting to me to hear what someone can do with my song with their phrasing and interpretation.
    Thank you

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