Monday, October 5, 2009

Sobering Truth: You finished the song, but it still needs work

I finished writing my song! All the verses are penciled in, all the chords figured out, and I sang it all the way through. I'm all done, right?

No — sorry. What you have now is a first draft.

It's easy to understand why creative people love their first drafts. The ideas arrive in a flash of inspiration, some kind of mysterious magic. It's almost like you've been touched by the Divine and given this great blessing in the form of a song. Why would you want to mess with that?

Besides, after inspiration fades, songwriting is just another form of work. It's creative work, sure, but it's still work. And many of us got involved with music because we wanted to avoid having to do anything that resembled work.

Sorry to say it, but after the song is "done," you still have work to do. It's time to take a close look and ask questions like these:
  • Does the song hold up well from beginning to end, or are there places where the energy sags a bit? Maybe you can just cut out some of the weak spots, and make it a shorter song. Or consider changes that will give those spots a little more punch.
  • Are there places where the music sounds tired or un-fresh? Maybe you can use some less obvious chords or change the rhythm a little to make it sound less like "I've heard that song before."
  • Are there any spots where the lyrics make you wince a little bit when you listen to the song? Overused cliches, things that don't quite rhyme, extra syllables that make the rhythms awkward? Look for different ways of saying the same thing, so you can remove any "wince potential."
  • Are there places where your words are easily misunderstood? It's not your fault if "she's greater" sounds just like "cheese grater." The English language is full of gotchas like that. But it's your responsibility to make sure the message gets across.
Play your song for songwriting friends or other people who can give you an honest critique. If things stick out and bug them, see if there's a way to fix those spots without hurting the main message of the song.

Hopefully you're not rushing into the studio to record your album tomorrow. It's best if you can live with your song for a few weeks or months. It often takes that long to shake out all the rough spots in a song, and of course it's better to do that before you commit to its final form.

Monday is Sobering Truth day for the Unruly Beast.

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