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This week I'm going to talk about the part of the songwriting process that separates the pros from the wanna-be's: re-writing.
Dump the Cliches
If you're like me, you have sometimes had to use "filler" lines in your songs for moments when you were not at your most creative. Maybe you had to resort to some cliche rhymes or cliche ideas just to get your ideas flowing out onto the page (or virtual page). Once you have your basic structure together, complete with the rhyme schemes, chords and verse/chorus or bridge chorus framework, it's time to dig in and get the thing finished...and that's usually the first step in the long and arduous re-writing process for me.
Line Up Your Verb-Tenses
After I have eliminated all of the horrible cliches and found better ways to say cliche things, I go through the song and make sure I have verb-tense agreement throughout the song. This can be a huge PITA, because verb-tense issues are not always obvious, especially in modern story songs where the first two verses are in past-tense and the bridge or the final verse is in present tense.
Tighten the Image
Once things are all lined up as far as tense goes, I start to go through the song and mercilessly eliminate all words that DON'T MATTER. Think of it as Strunk & White applied to songwriting.
Here's one of the things my father keeps repeating to me even though I've heard it almost every single week of my life: once you get everything in your song more or less where it's final position is going to be, "tighten the image" by getting rid of words, phrases, lines--even whole verses if they do not contribute to the clarity of the song (he didn't invent it--he stole it from Kris Kristofferson).
I think it would do songwriters a lot of good to revisit The Elements of Style. One thing I keep returning to in that book is the part where they tell you that adverbs will steal your soul (I'm probably paraphrasing).
Play With Pronouns
Once I have made it as tight as I can, I like to play the pronoun game. Luckily, this is really easy with modern word processors. You can do a simple search/replace with all the pronouns and see if your song feels better with "she's" in the place of "he's." Then just save the new versions with a different name.
Fun With Point of View
Another fun thing to do during the rewrite process is to change the point of view and see if that makes the song feel better or worse. For example, while I almost exclusively write my songs in first person, I will always do a rewrite in second or third person and compare the overall feeling with the original. It's a good exercise, try it, you might find new and interesting ways to say the same old stuff.
Even after I've gone through all these steps, I don't think I've finished. I don't finish songs so much as give up on them. Not really. But there can be things that bother me about particular songs for years, until in some moment of lucidity, I rewrite a verse or clarify a chorus and everything becomes better.
Try this stuff out. And get The Elements of Style. It will do you worlds of good.
Omit needless words.
(...sounds like Musashi)
Mostly listening to songs that are in various stages of completion trying to figure out how to...rewrite them...
...how's that for diversity?
As always, you can buy Jodi Ann's latest CD, "A Brief Moment In Time" from her in downloadable-form here: jodiann.bandcamp.com. If you would prefer to have a physical CD, email her: email@example.com.
See ya next week!