Nile Rodgers once said that “…I know how to write and rewrite songs, and the genius is really in the rewriting.” This statement is something that I totally agree with.
I reckon, if you’re at the stage with writing your song where you need to go through it and start revisiting parts to ensure that you’re happy with it, then you’re almost at the end of the songwriting process and your song will be the better for the rewriting.
However, I didn’t always think of the rewriting part of the songwriting process in such high regard. When I was starting out on my songwriting journey, I was one of those songwriters that didn’t really like the idea of rewriting my songs.
I had heard stories of great songs that “almost wrote themselves,” and hit songs that were written in ten minutes and in one sitting and because of these stories I was under the impression that all great songs must be divinely inspired and that songs which needed to be rewritten and are hard work to complete must be doomed to failure.
I used to think that once a song is completed, that was it. To me, the concept of rewriting something that came from my heart and my soul somehow meant that I had failed in getting my message across as a songwriter.
I was introduced to the concept of rewriting songs a while back through a writer friend of mine while having a conversation comparing the creative activities of songwriters and authors.
I told him my philosophy that once a song was completed I would just leave it and go on to the next song.
My friend then proceeded to tell me that in his world, the average word-count for a novel is between 60 and 100 thousand words. Plus, add to the mix the fact that normally he would need to complete at least three drafts of a manuscript before submitting it to a publisher.
Compared to what I did as a songwriter, there was a lot of work involved in creating the end result and I was resisting the concept of rewriting a four minute song.
What I got from the conversation was that there should be an extra step in my songwriting process. The editing/rewriting stage.
He then continued to make the point that songwriters, like authors, should look at their creations as a series of drafts. Some songs will need less editing and some will need more.
This started to make a lot of sense to me.
That conversation was a few years ago now but since then, I’ve pulled out all of my old songbooks and unreleased demo recordings I’ve made and started to go through every song I’ve ever (half) written, looking for ways in which these songs can be improved upon.
Through doing this exercise I’ve discovered that:
1. There’s always one or two lines of a song that can be strengthened. When I read through an old song and notice myself cringing at a line, that’s the time to change it for something better.
2. Older songs that I’ve written where my musical knowledge was much more limited benefit greatly with the musical knowledge I have now
3. Some of my songs were crying out for a bridge or a pre-chorus that I had not even considered before.
4. Some of my songs needed to be simplified and in doing so other songs were written from that.
When you think about it, your songbook is the aural version of a photographers portfolio. It’s always good songwriting practise to look over your completed songs from time to time with a new set of ears and edit and adjust as necessary.
It’s done wonders for my songs.
This exercise is still something that I continue to do to this day. When I’m feeling a little stuck on something I go through my old stuff to find new inspiration.
So, what do you think is the purpose of a songwriting process? Is it a competition to write a song in the shortest space of time and on the first attempt?
Or, does it exist to facilitate the creation of the best song possible at the time with all of the information and tools at your disposal? Let me know what you think.
Until next time, keep on writing,
All About Songwriting