Rewriting - The Hat Trick

You’ve just finished a new song, and you think it rocks. Unless you are a veteran songwriter, however, it probably doesn’t - yet. Completing a song - getting all the pieces assembled - is only half a songwriter’s job. The other half is writing the song again. And again. And maybe again. You see, great songs are not written; they are re-written.

The Illusion
Great songs sound so simple - like they must have been written effortlessly. This is almost never true. A great song sounds that way because a writer somewhere put in the hard yards, working and reworking it until it was perfect. Let’s get this out in the open right now: everybody hates rewrites… amateur and pro alike! It’s akin to finishing the drywall on a new house, only to find the plumbing needs fixing. The good news is, for those who press on there is a better song just up ahead.

The Hat Trick
We’ve already talked about your creative hat, your editing hat, and how they don’t work together well. This is your editing hat’s chance to shine, but there’s also a third hat that people sometimes wear during the re-writing process. It’s called the “ego hat”, and it doesn’t play well with the editing hat at all. When your editing hat (or a co-writer) says, “this needs to be fixed because it isn’t working”, your ego hat will immediately jump in with, “What are you talking about? I worked on that for hours and it’s perfect!” It’s time to take off the ego hat and throw it in the closet; and trust me… it won’t go without a fight. Don’t give in. Your ego hat doesn’t care about your song; all it cares about is itself. If you acquiesce, your song will suffer.

In order to judge their work more objectively, artists must distance themselves from it. Painters do this with distance, by standing back from their easels and squinting. Songwriters must do it with time. Give your song a day or two, and then approach it with fresh ears.

If you’ve been performing or listening to your song arranged a certain way for a while, it may become difficult for you to hear it any other way. If you find this is the case, try this: rewrite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had a Little Lamb, or Happy Birthday. Changing the melody to a song you’ve always considered unalterable is a good ice breaker. It also lets your mind get started without the pressure of working on something that “really matters”.

It's a Juggling Act
Don’t be in a hurry, and trust your intuition to know when it’s perfect. Many times there will be one line that just bugs you every time you hear it. That’s your intuition trying to tell you that that line needs more work. Don’t ignore it. If your song gets left that way it will haunt you every time you hear it for the rest of your life. A bad song cannot be fixed later or “in the mix”, and it’s important to make sure everything is just right.

Strive to refine your song to a point where all its elements are doing their part, and not a single note or lyric seems out of place or odd. Rewriting is both the most difficult and most rewarding part of the songwriting process. It is the refiner’s fire. Don’t sell your songs short by accepting the first draft.

*Photo by Lorrianne DiSabato


Post a Comment