I’ve just written the best song of my life! Hell, I’ve just written the best song of anybody’s life! I can’t wait to share it with someone. So, I grab my guitar and go to find Lynn. You know what I’m going to say: "Hey, Lynn, listen to this!" I take a big breath (you need lots of air to sing this baby) and launch into what will soon be known as the greatest song ever written. She’s not impressed. She kind of likes it, but she thinks the second verse is a “let down.” She doesn’t “get it.” (I always knew there was something wrong with her.) Only slightly deflated, I insist she come up to the studio so I can play it on piano. I’m sure she’ll hear the brilliance if I add more sound. Sadly, her opinion doesn’t change. Even more sadly, she’s right. Damn that second verse!
How do you know when your song isn’t the best it can be?
If you co-write with one or more writers, and their abilities are equal to yours, they will tell you. Listen to them. Rule number two for me when I’m writing with others is: If one of us doesn’t like it, it’s gone. No arguing! Most writers I know want to protect their “great idea” and defend their “genius” and they tend to get stubborn or shut down when faced with criticism. Get over it and open your mind to something new. Rule number three is (and yes, I know I haven‘t mentioned rule number one): Find a new way to say it.
If you’re working with a publisher, be open to their needs and be willing to change your song to fit the artists to whom they are pitching. Also, study those artists and be familiar with their songs. I can’t tell you how many times writer friends have said, “Hey, Kerry, listen to this,” then played me their latest demo, complete with a bumpin’ R&B track and six Black chicks rockin’ the chorus. But when I asked them which artist they heard singing this song, they got that deer-in-the-headlight look and responded, “George Strait?”
If you work alone, it’s tougher. You can find someone you trust to give you an honest opinion, a spouse, best friend, etc, but, if they don’t love it as much as you do…I think we all know how that ends.
I work with co-writers all the time. I’ve been with most of the major publishers. But, for me, it’s a little voice in my head that says, “This can be better.” That voice is always right, and the changes I’ve made to any song have always improved it.
The famous playwright George S. Kaufman said, “You don’t write a play, you re-write it.” That works for songs, too.
P.S. Before I “published” this blog, I ran it past my son, Chris, who is a wonderful author in his own right, and his close friend, Jessica, who is a wonderful editor, and they both had comments about it. So I re-wrote it!