Every new song I finish is the best one I’ve ever written and is destined to become a life-changing #1 hit—at least that’s the way it feels while the proverbial ink is still wet. In many instances my excitement has led me to rush to record a demo because I am certain this song will be instantly snatched up by one of the artists who is slated to record. I’ve heard many other songwriters confess that they experience this phenomenon.
But typically, as time passes, the shortcomings in my masterpiece tend to surface: the concept that might have benefitted from a fresher angle, the lines of lyric that might have been more compelling, and the melodies that might have been more memorable.
The only way I can gain any semblance of objectivity is to allow a song to marinate before pronouncing it “done.” After at least several days have passed, I revisit the song and assess whether there are any elements I can improve. Then I seek feedback from trusted professionals and other writers.
I’ve heard a mega-hit songwriter say, “I examine every line. If anyone else could have written it that same way, I throw it out.” With this in mind, after you have gained a bit of distance from your latest song, circle the lines of lyric that are fine, but not exceptional. Then highlight those lines that make you feel, “That is an awesome line—a completely original way to express that idea.”
After years of screening songs and watching publishers do so at my workshops, I am convinced that no element of a song is more important than its melody. Without a fresh, burn-in-the brain melody, it won’t matter what your lyric says—because no one will hear it. Yet many writers scrutinize every word of their lyrics but settle for the first melody they think of. It is unlikely that the very first melodies we think of couldn’t possibly be improved by altering a note, a chord, or an element of the rhythm.
Treat every line of melody and lyric as if it has the power to change your life—because it does. We don’t need one more perfectly crafted song in our catalogs. We need songs that will find a special place in listeners’ hearts; songs an artist would choose over those written by the current crop of hit-makers; songs that will compel an artist to bump his or her own song off the album; songs that jump out of the pile and scream, “I’m a HIT!”
Approach rewriting like a puzzle. Challenge yourself to revise each line of lyric and melody until it as strong as you can possibly make it. Then place your song under the proverbial microscope and assess whether it is truly as strong as you can make it.
Use this checklist to see if your song is finished—and as strong as it can be.
- Does your song have an intriguing title?
- Is your lyric built on the foundation of a fresh angle—an original way to approach your concept?
- Does it include lines that are “WOW”—or just “good?”
- Have you included details, imagery and action—or unique images and phrases to express yourself?
- Have you included forced or predictable rhymes?
- Are there gaps in the storyline?
- Does your verse lyric set-up and lead to your title?
- Is there one clear, consistent emotion expressed?
- Is your lyric style and tone appropriate for the genre you are targeting?
- Will your opening lines of lyric and melody tell a listener they are listening to something special?
- Does your melody incorporate rhythmic and melodic repetition, making it stick in listeners’ brains after hearing it only once?
- Have you pushed the melodic envelope by including chords, rhythms, and melodic intervals that set your song apart from the competition?
Only when I have checked off all of these boxes do I proceed with recording a demo because the more time and money we invest in a demo, the less likely we are to change the song—especially when it sounds great, and family and friends say it sounds like a smash. Maximize your chances for success by being sure your songs are truly ready before they represent you in the world.
After you’ve received positive feedback from trusted sources, you’ve reviewed every line of lyric, you’ve explored various chords and melodies, you can’t get the melody out of your brain, and most importantly—you love the song—congratulate yourself. Your song is finished!
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on https://tinyurl.com/yckat6fc. Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.