I heard a great quote recently from songwriter Dan Wilson (Adele) about not worrying too much if there’s a line you can’t get right: “Just sing it a few times… It’ll probably fix itself.”
It’s easy to look at a song, when you’re writing it, as if it’s something on exhibit; under glass, or in a frame. You want to get every detail right before you open up to the public… or even just invited guests.
But a song is more like a person. Or an animal. A living, moving bundle of sound, emotion, nerves.
When the song gets to certain point – close to being finished – then, just like a child, if it’s going to be ‘complete’ (whatever that is) it may need to live in the world before you (the parent) think it’s ready.
Once I’ve cracked the code on a song – that is, I have the structure, Title line and/or Chorus, almost all of the melody, harmony, and lyrics – it doesn’t make sense to get too hung up on the final details. Not that they don’t have to be taken care of – they do, and well.
But often the final ‘coloring in’ is best done by just playing the song, practicing it either alone or with others, and in the process let the song tell me what it needs (which is often what happens, in a different way, in the earlier writing stages too).
Sometimes the best thing for a song of mine is to get it out of the fishbowl of me, my mumbling voice, and my crappy guitar playing.
Since I’m a bass player and play bass when singing at a gig, rehearsing the song with the bass – more like performing – will often suggest to me possible solutions for problem spots in the melody, chords, or lyrics. Just by trying stuff out while the song’s in motion – not at rest.
And sometimes, if I feel the song is together enough, I’ll commit myself to performing it in public even if it’s still only 90%-plus done. If all that’s left is detail work, I’ll take the plunge.
And trust the rest will ‘fix itself’. It usually does.
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