While emotion and enthusiasm are an important part of songwriting, being able to hone and refine your work is critical to developing a solid finished product. Here we look at five rules to keep in mind when transitioning from the creation space to the re-write space.
Guest Post by Billy Seidman on Songtrust
Each new song you start is an opportunity to connect your heart and head, your emotions and ideas to an audience. And guess what? You are that “first audience member.” Your judgment and ability to be both an enthusiastic dreamer and a steely-eyed gatekeeper simultaneously leads to writing much stronger songs.
Advanced song craft is your ally in this game of three-dimensional chess played between your head and heart. Keep the following tips in mind when you sit down to write your next song. Let me know how it worked out at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SongArtsA.
My take is that there are two distinct songwriting spaces: the creation space and the re-write space.
1. In the creation space, you’re focused on getting something going, getting a toehold on a melody, chords, track, and words so they flow in the general direction of your idea, passion, inspiration, craft, and lucky creative accidents.
A great tool in the creation space is title ideation, literally thinking in song titles, creating the downbeat of the chorus destination in a title, then musing backwards into creating/thinking/dreaming/exploring how you could make that title pay off.
One of my favorite examples of this is a song called; “Politics, Religion, and Her” performed by Sammy Kershaw. When I first saw that title, I thought, “Wow, how are they going to make that pay off/work?!”
They did and it’s awesome what a great title in the hands of a great tunesmith can accomplish. The point is, the idea itself does the first part of the heavy lifting. So work from solid titles in the creation space, know why they are great, why you want to write the song, and why an audience is going to connect with it before you even start writing…
In the creation space, your frame and focus is on the initial design & construction, on getting a song off the ground, not on placing the finished song in a gift box and tying a ribbon around it.
2. In the re-write space, you’re concerned with the song’s momentum, how it’s building and paying off at critical points. Each line of your song is critical real estate. Some are more critical than others. Can you take a guess as to where are the most critical places lyrically are in a song?
How sensitive are you to this fact? The important thing when re-writing is what you notice during playback.Are you seeing clearly what is adding to the drag on your song’s momentum?
For example, a lot of songs in the creation space are born with way too many notes and words. Those extra notes and words were needed to help get your song going, but now they’re dragging your song down. Advice: be a smart songwriter; don’t absolutely fall in love with everything you wrote in the creation space.
So now those extra notes needed to write the melody in the creation space need to go! They’re not letting the melody breathe, not letting the song become memorable. Let them go and your song and phrasing become more singable.
3. The same thing goes for those extra words that seemed so necessary in the creation space (words such as I, and, or because). They need to go too. Everyone knows it’s “you” singing. These extra words distract from the emotional hypnotism you need to create to make your song stick.
Re-writing is where you take “thinking” out of the listener’s ear and replace it with feeling.
4. The same is true for your song’s tempo. The tempo you wrote the song at will most likely prove too slow for the final version. (It was great during the “writing mode” as your hunt and peck tempo to learn how the song went).
5. The same holds true for accompaniment. That first guitar or piano part you came up with served you perfectly as a songwriter, but now the demands of making a record of the song demands that the accompanying part fit within an arrangement–with other players and current production and programming styles.
Consider the value of this. Everything we hear on the radio is highly vetted. Your song will not be that exception…
Learn to love re-writing. Become your own best gatekeeper and give the real gatekeepers more reasons to like your song. Because you understand the realities of pop music, you better have re-written the hell out of your song!