So you wrote a first draft. Now what?
You’re flying high after finishing your latest song. It’s awesome, you love it, you’re excited to bring it to the stage or put it on your EP. So you play it through about a billion times to relive the awesomeness over and over again, until you have to go to work or bed. So you put the song aside, proud of your new tune, and head off to live your life.
Then you come back to it the next day… and somehow, your song isn’t as awesome as you remembered. What the heck was I thinking in that chorus? You may ask yourself. This melody is not as engaging as I thought it was.
You may have loved your song right after you wrote it, but now you’re beginning to doubt if it really is any good. You’re frustrated! What the heck should you do?
Enter: The re-write.
What is a re-write?
A re-write is when you go back to a finished song and adjust it to make it better. That may mean tweaking a few lines here and there and finagling the melody. Or, that may mean completely tearing it apart, deleting whole sections and starting all over again. Whatever the songs needs, you make it happen.
Should you re-write your songs?
The scenario at the beginning of this post is something that happens to a lot of us songwriters. We think we love our newest song until the next day – and suddenly, we realize it’s not as great as we thought it was. That’s a great opportunity for a re-write. Here are some other situations where you should consider a re-write:
- If you loved it yesterday and hate it today
- If you wrote it a long time ago and kind of like it
- If you really dislike the song but like the title or hook
- If you get the same feedback over and over from different people (“I liked it except this one part…”)
- If you’re writing for an EP or record
- If you’re writing with cowriters
A re-write is really never a bad thing. In fact, you should make it a habit to always come back to songs that you’ve finished and see if there’s anything at all you can do to make them even better.
But what if you love your song just the way it is?
It’s certainly ok to be proud of your songs. Sometimes, by chance, fate, or divine intervention, our songs come out amazing on the first go. But that’s usually a rare occurrence, even for professional songwriters. Most songs can benefit from a re-write or at least a second look.
If you truly love your song the way it is, I challenge you to play it for your songwriting peers or mentors and ask them their opinions. What can be done better, if anything? Once you’ve collected that information, weight it against your heart: Will this advice truly make my song stronger? Or am I holding onto a version of it that’s not that great because of my pride?
Sometimes, a song is just personal, and we write it to get something off our chests, with no intention of ever sharing it. That’s therapy, and it’s up to you if you even want to take the time to re-write it!
How much time should you spend on your first draft?
As much time as you need to get it all finished up! Some writers can knock out full songs in a couple hours or less. Others take days. How long it takes you to write a finished first draft is dependent on your and your process. However, I do encourage you to work diligently and not let perfectionism get in the way of finishing the song.
How do you know when the first draft is done?
Again, this is dependent on the writer, but typically your first version of your song is finished when each section has been filled in:
- You have all lyrics in place: Verses, chorus, bridge (if you choose to include one), etc.
- You have a melody for each section
- You have all your chords mapped out
You don’t have to make a demo recording of your first draft to consider it “done.” As long as the song has all it’s pieces in place and you can play it from top to bottom, you can consider your first draft has been written.
I do encourage any writer to make a quick and dirty recording of every song you ever write, however. This is called a worktape, and is a quick way to make a copy of your song so you don’t forget it. More on worktapes here.
How to approach a re-write:
So you’ve got your first draft, and you’re wondering how to even begin to edit it. Here’s a list of some things to consider going into a re-write:
- Is the concept strong?
- Does it effectively communicate that concept?
- Does the structre make sense? Is it confusing or hard to follow if you’ve never heard it before?
- Does each section sound distinct? (For instance, can a listener easily tell where a verse ends and a chorus begins?)
- Are there extraneous lines or sections that could be removed?
- How long is it? Is it a good length for your purposes?
- Have you played it for friends? Cowriters? Peers? Mentors?
My biggest piece of advice for you as you approach your re-write is this: Don’t be afraid to strike anything out! Remove the filler. Be ruthless. Get rid of anything that just doesn’t work. Don’t cling to lines that shouldn’t be in there just because you think “it’s a cool idea.” If you really do think it’s a cool idea, remove it from this song and save it elsewhere for another. Be unafeaid to delete parts and move on – it’s the only way to truly grow as a writer.
Pin this guide so you always know what questions to ask yourself when you sit down to re-write a song!