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[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric
by Cliff Goldmacher

TomKimmel.jpg
I’d like to introduce you to Tom Kimmel. Along with releasing several major label albums as an artist himself, Tom has written songs covered by Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Randy Travis among others. Tom’s insights into the lyric-writing process are well worth a good read. Enjoy!

Re-writing A Lyric.jpg

For some of us, a lyric rushes out into the world before we can think much about it and sometimes it’s a fine lyric, just as it is. Other times, even if we feel a strong personal connection with the lyric, it could be strengthened with a little work.

On the other hand, often a lyric comes in dribs and drabs, and once we have a complete draft we might be so relieved that we declare it finished prematurely.

In both cases, a lyric might benefit from a fresh perspective and a willingness to tinker a little.Songwriting Tips

Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, says that even when one of his poems comes out in one piece he still plays with it a bit to see if it might be improved. He hastens to add, however, that no matter how much or how little re-writing the poem requires, he wants it to read as if it flowed from the pen.

We songwriters have a similar goal. We want our songs to slide by easily without calling too much attention to themselves even if the lyric has real content and depth. To that end, there are a couple of references I return to.

When I’m re-writing a lyric I first ask myself if the song has what I call a strong through the door factor. In other words, I want the words to sound good and to sing well so well, in fact, that if someone heard the song through the door they’d enjoy it!

In order to achieve that, I may record a working version of the song-in-progress and listen to it softly or from a distance not analyzing the words, but listening for the sound and flow of the words. Do the words seem to roll off the tongue or do I stumble over certain sounds, words or phrases?

Chances are that if a lyric doesn’t sound good from the other side of the door, it won’t sound good up close either. So, in my book, it’s very important that a lyric sound and feel good. If it doesn’t, I can begin my re-write by asking these questions:

1. Do the syllables I emphasize when singing my lyric coincide with the notes emphasized in my melody? If not, I’ll try to adjust.

2. Do the number or words or syllables I’m placing in my lines and phrases make it easy for me to sing the song? If I’m cramming in too many syllables in a line or phrase, I can experiment with simplifying by making my phrasing less busy.

3. Likewise, I may need to add words or syllables to more closely coincide with notes of melody that I’m emphasizing.

4. Are most of the vowel sounds in my words easy to sing? For example, I’m probably going to avoid placing the words hat or it over a very high note!

Of course, strong lyrical content is extremely important to most songwriters, so the second way I approach a re-write or edit is by examining how the lyric unfolds as the song develops. I may ask myself, “Does my lyric and song unfold in a way that is satisfying, that holds the listener’s attention as well as my own?”

To consider this when I coach songwriters and lead workshops, I suggest that a song is very much like a three act play. Some of the story – be it a literal tale or an emotional or spiritual narrative – is revealed in the first act, which most often is the song’s first verse and chorus. The second act usually the second verse and chorus is a new beginning; more of the story is introduced and then summed up in the second chorus. The remainder of the story is then told in the third act often the bridge and final chorus.

In my own work, if I then see that I reveal too much, too soon in my songI make changes. One technique espoused by a friend of mine is to take the first verse and make it the second verse… and to write a new first verse that is more of a prologue… so that the story has somewhere to go! Likewise if the song is slow to develop, I have the option of trying my second verse as the first verse. Experiment!

Bottom line: a song is not a painting. It doesn’t exist all at once. It has a beginning, middle and end, and it needs to flow, rise and fall throughout its lifespan. (In filmmaking they call this advancing the narrative.)

So let’s say I’ve got my song sounding good and I’ve got my story unfolding in a nice way. There’s still one question I ask about my lyric and that is, “Are all the lines in my lyric relevant to my theme?” In other words, does my whole lyric support the point or theme of my song? If I have some filler lines or phrases I’ll probably want to work on the song a bit more.

Finally, I have found that considering the above questions gives me a context for my writing. There are numerous details I can attend to, but if I don’t place the work of re-writing into this larger context, then all my work on the details likely won’t bring about the hoped for result.

In closing, I’ll share a technique I use over and over in the process of finishing or re-writing. If I’ve come to feel that I’ve been trying too hard to complete something that I’m using too much mental muscle because I’ve lost the creative thread then it’s important that I step away from the song, let it rest and come back to it fresh.

The single most helpful way I know to do this is to make a rough recording of the song, singing only the words I’m happy with and humming in places that might need a stronger lyric. It’s important that I don’t force words that don’t sound right or make sufficient sense. Then and this is keyI listen to my rough recording at bedtime. (And by that I mean listen last thing before I turn off the light.)

It’s amazing how often the right words will bubble up from the subconscious the next day… or soon thereafter.
 

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, Cliff Goldmacher, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Tom Kimmel, syllables

Songwriting Tip: 4 Dos and Don’ts When Writing Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 @12:20 PM

4 Dos and Don’ts When Writing Songs

by Cliff Goldmacher

Songwriting, writing songs
Go with your inspiration, but don’t neglect these other elements that will make your song the best it can be..


“Which do you write first, the music or the words?” This is the classic question that all songwriters get asked. In my experience, there’s no easy - or correct - answer to this one. Sometimes it’s the music, sometimes it’s the lyrics, and, often, it’s some mystical, organic combination of the two. More importantly, there is no one way to write a song. Some of the best - and worst - songs ever written were created using the same techniques. To that end, I’m going to cover four different ways to approach writing a song and some of the “dos” and “don’ts” you’ll want to keep in mind as you go through each one.

1. Writing based on a title idea/lyrical hook

Coming up with a really catchy title or lyrical hook is an art in and of itself. If you’ve got one, congratulations. Now that you’ve got it, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Do remember to make sure that everything in your lyric points to and supports your lyrical hook. Having a catchy hook only works if you build a foundation around it so that when the hook arrives, there’s a sense of drama and release.

Don’t forget to give the song real emotional content. It’s possible to be so focused on the hook and setting it up that you forget to be sincere. While the average listener might not be able to tell you why, the song won’t move them in the way that a song with genuine emotional content would.

2. Writing based on a general idea/lyrical concept

Sometimes you’ve been through an experience or have an idea for a song that feels important enough to write about. That’s as good a place as any to start.

Do capture the feeling and emotion of your concept. You obviously felt strongly enough to want to write about this idea, so immerse yourself in it and really tell the story.

Don’t be too vague. Because you haven’t started with an actual lyrical hook, you’ll need to remember to bring your overall concept to a very sharp point by summarizing it with a phrase or hook line. This hook is something you’ll hopefully come to as you’re developing your lyric around your idea. A story without a summarizing point or hook risks being too unfocused to keep your listeners’ attention.

3. Writing from a melodic idea

If you’re a melodic writer, then you’ve got a different set of challenges. Beautiful, catchy melodies are a rare commodity and should be treated with the appropriate respect.

Do honor your melody and build your song around it. Remember, people will learn your melody long before they learn your lyric, so having a good one is not to be taken lightly.

Don’t let the melody box you into awkward words or watered-down phrases. While a beautiful melody is one part of a song, it’s not the only part. Cramming in words or compromising on your lyrical integrity isn’t an acceptable approach when writing from a melody. Remember, it’s the give and take of a catchy melody and a natural, conversational lyric that makes for a great song.

4. Writing from a chord progression/groove

When you pick up your guitar or sit down at the piano, often it’s a chord progression or groove that comes first. Great!

Do dig in and develop the groove and feel. This can really set the mood of a song and inspire all kinds of interesting melodic and lyrical ideas. Also, a good groove is the very first thing the average listener will notice when they hear your song.

Don’t rely on a chord progression or groove at the expense of your melody and lyric. This is no time to get lazy. A chord progression and groove in and of itself is only - in most genres - an arrangement idea, which doesn’t really constitute a song. Without a strong melody and lyric, it’s entirely possible to have a great sounding track, and, unfortunately, a mediocre song.

As I stated at the top of this article, there isn’t one “right” way to write a song. I’d highly recommend trying every possible songwriting approach you can. Often, as songwriters, we find ourselves in a rut where we go back to the same approach over and over. While this may be comforting and even result in increased productivity, in the long run, it might not provide you with the most inspired or unique songs you’re capable of writing. Why not leave your comfort zone and try a couple of different ways of writing? You never know what you’ll get.

Good luck!


Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. 

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Melody, writing songs, songwrite, chord progression, Cliff Goldmacher, title idea, melodic idea, lyrical concept, lyrical hook

Songwriting Tip: The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 @06:09 PM

The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing

by Cliff Goldmacher

 

The top winning song of the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition was written by six different songwriters. Collaboration on writing songs have been around for years. Cliff talks about the dos and don’ts of co-writing. 

Songwriting

Looking back over twenty years to my first songwriting efforts, I remember my creative process as so personal and fragile that I was dead certain I would never open it up to another songwriter. This would have seemed like co-painting or more like co-dating...just not going to happen. However, two things DID happen. One, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, the co-writing capital of the world, and, two, I wrote a lot more songs which stopped me from thinking of each of my song children as untouchable and precious. Ultimately, I simply wanted to create more and better songs and co-writing became a big part of the process. Over the years, I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) a few of the big “dos” and “don’ts” of co-writing and thought I’d cover a few.

 

Dos

  1. Decide in advance if you’re going to bring ideas or start “cold”

There are advantages to both approaches. If you’re new to the co-writing process or possibly a little nervous about how your upcoming session will go, preparing in advance with anything from a list of song titles to lyrical and/or musical hooks can go a long way towards a smooth-running session. However, as a more experienced writer, I go into sessions with younger artists without preparing ideas because I anticipate that our initial discussions and time spent getting to know each other will provide the material for our collaboration. All this to say, there is no “right” way to do this.

 

  1. Show up on time and ready to work

I know we’re all artists and we’re all supposed to be flaky, creative types but you’re now writing to hopefully generate income from your music so it’s also a business. Treat it that way. You wouldn’t show up late for work or cancel because you didn’t feel like going so don’t do it with your co-writing sessions either. Showing respect for the process and your collaborator goes a long way towards setting the tone for a productive co-write.

 

  1. Make a plan on how you’ll both promote the song

The reality of the music business is that collaboration doesn’t end with the finished song. There will be subsequent discussions about demo costs, pitch opportunities and any one of a number of other details. What this really means is that in order to make yourself an “attractive” co-writer, you should remember to bring as much to the table as possible. This could mean bringing an industry connection or pitch opportunity or even having a recording studio where you and your co-writer can do the demo for free. It’s helpful to remember that the actual co-write is easy/fun part and it’s all the other parts of the process that ultimately make for a successful collaboration. Truly successful collaborations often extend beyond just writing the song.

 

  1. Discuss percentages for each co-writer

After writing close to a thousand songs, my assumption is that all my “from-scratch” collaborations are even splits. This means 50/50 if there are two of us, 33/33/33 if there are three of us, etc. I consider it bad karma (and frankly exhausting) to count words or try and figure out who created what when the song is done and then try to adjust percentages. Just know that some days you’ll contribute more and some days your co-writer(s) will and that it all evens out in the end. If the song is brought to you mostly (or even partially) finished, then be clear on what the split will be in advance so there isn’t a misunderstanding later on. It’s simply better to just deal with this stuff. Also, it’s considered bad form when discussing your collaborations later to state that you “really wrote most of it” or any variation thereof. The bottom line is that without your collaborator the song wouldn’t be the same song that it is no matter what was directly or indirectly contributed.

 

Don’ts

Putting the business aside again for a moment, the collaborative process, at its root, is about trust and chemistry. The following “don’ts” are suggestions about how to avoid damaging or compromising that trust.

 

  1. Don’t ever criticize a co-writer’s suggestion

This is the ultimate vibe killer. There is vulnerability in trusting someone with your ideas and it only takes one “that sounds stupid” or “that’s a bad idea” to kill the goodwill that should be part of the process. This is not to say that you won’t hear (and suggest) dumb things in the process of a co-write. It happens all the time but it’s enough for you to simply say you’d rather keep looking for another idea or try something else at that point in the song. There’s no percentage in saying someone’s idea is “bad” or “wrong.” First of all, this is art and it’s subjective but more importantly (and I’ve seen this more times than I can count) you could crush an admittedly weak idea that was only going to be a stepping stone towards a truly great one. Be patient with your collaborator and yourself and you’ll be amazed at the results.

 

  1. Don’t insist on one of your ideas if your co-writer doesn’t seem interested in it

You may be in the middle of a co-write and come up with a snippet of lyric or melody that you absolutely love but for some reason your co-writer just doesn’t get it. My suggestion is to make your best case for it and if your co-writer doesn’t like it, let it go. It’s that simple. There are too many ways to write a song to derail the process over a simple disagreement. The key to collaboration is making sure you’re both on board with an idea before moving forward. That being said, if you feel your collaborator consistently doesn’t like ideas that you feel are strong, there’s no rule that says you have to keep writing with this person.

 

  1. Don’t edit too harshly early on in the session

There’s real value in keeping a co-write moving along. Squeezing too hard on a single line or section of the song too early in the process can take all the creative energy out of a session. Better to either keep in a “good enough” line with the understanding you’ll come back to it when you begin to review what you’ve written or take a break if the line just isn’t coming. There will always be time for editing but I’d suggest not going too deep on that front at the expense of getting the shape and form of the song together first.

 

 

  1. Don’t push too hard to collaborate with a more established/successful songwriter

As songwriters, we all know who the hot/marquis writers are. We hear their songs on the radio, meet them at music conferences and, in some cases, came up with them from when they were “nobody.” The unwritten rule I’ve observed is that it’s better to be asked to co-write by a more established/successful writer than it is to ask them to co-write yourself. If your personality is such that you just can’t wait for that to happen, my recommendation is that you should ask once, politely and don’t take it personally if the writer isn’t interested or doesn’t have time. It’s abundantly clear what you, as the less experienced/successful writer, stand to gain from the collaboration but it’s up to the more successful writer to decide if your talent, motivation and, yes, connections warrant them taking the time to collaborate with you. It’s simply the law of the jungle. Hopefully, you’ll be in a position to write with a less experienced/successful writer yourself one day and you’ll treat that writer exactly as you’d hope to be treated yourself.

 

Conclusion

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of co-writing rules but simply a few guidelines to help those new to the game to understand it a bit better. The best kinds of co-writes are the ones where both collaborators feel like they’ve written something better than either could have written alone.

Good luck!

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for the latest schedule. Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos. You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.  Facebook: www.facebook.com/EducatedSongwriter  Twitter: edusongwriter

 For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, hit song, co-writing, Cliff Goldmacher