All About Songwriting

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The Joys Of Rewriting Your Songs

Nile Rogers once said “…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.

Not so.

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?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

3 Comments

  1. Hi Corey! 🙂 Thanks for answering my question. I have a few more. As I am an amateur songwriter, do you think it’s worthwhile for me to get a home studio setup like yours? What would I need if I wanted one?

    Thanks again 😀

    Li Ying

  2. Hi Corey,

    Do you know of any situations where an original writer has re-written a lyric, or lyrics, to an existing hit song, and consequently had the song changed (With the publisher) because of this re-write ?

    Please advise.

    Jim F.

  3. Hi Jim,

    Just needed to get some other stuff off my plate before I replied to you.

    So, it seems my assumptions (see below) regarding your situation are correct…

    “You know of a hit song that its writer has stated publicly that some lyrical information is incorrect and you have a possible solution that can help this songwriter out.

    You’re wanting to find out the best way of contacting the songwriter (or representatives of the songwriter) to offer him/her/them your solution and it’s your hope that in turn the publishing information of this hit song would be altered to reflect your involvement in the “correction” of the songs lyrics?”

    With that in mind… Let me go over some points made in your last comment

    1. There are 2 writers involved with this song

    2. The song is a very unique one and “could still be a work in progress”

    3. The song is an old one based on the fact that you say that “this is a MOST unusual song that has taken 85 years to complete”

    4. This song has been proven to be a hit song even with the wrong info in it.

    5. The “fix” for this song is a very simple one to implement

    Without knowing who the writers are, what the song is and/or what the mistake that needs to be corrected in the first place is, I still think that the onus is always with the songwriter(s) of the song to agree to make any changes to it.

    You might think that a simple fix will make the song better but the fact still remains…

    YOU didn’t write the song in the first place.

    Regardless of whether contacting the songwriters (or their representatives) seems like an uphill battle, it’s still the right thing to do, no other person can make that decision for them.

    You ask me who do I know “that is powerful enough in the music business, in the USA who could help with this,” the short answer is that I don’t know of such a person however, if I did know of someone in that position, they couldn’t make a songwriter change their song just so the information in it can be correct anyway.

    You might think that changing the info in the song is important but you’ll need to contact the songwriters to state your case to them and see if they’ll allow you part of the deal.

    What if the songwriters concerned say to you (as you’ve mentioned in your comment) “Oh, it’s already published ; Let’s just let it be incorrect.” There would be nothing you could do about it because (I’m no lawyer and I don’t pretend to be one however, from my understanding of copyright and IP law) the songwriters are the owners of the intellectual property (the song) and therefore can do what they like with it.

    You do say that the song is an old one… Is there some sort of public domain issue here to consider as well?

    Anyway, as I’ve said before, my replies to you are based on the limited information I’ve received from you so if this latest reply of mine is off the mark please let me know and correct me however, it seems to me that this matter you’d like to have resolved is best done between you and the songwriters concerned because there is not much that any other third party can do about it.

    I wish you all the very best,

    Corey 🙂

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