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Revisiting Earlier Songs… As A More Experienced Writer

I try to do my best when I write a song. When I feel it’s as good as I can make it, knowing what I know as a songwriter at that time, then it’s ‘done’

In a way, my focus is on the next song or songs – maybe to a fault. I’ve never spent much time rewriting older songs – once it’s done, it’s done. It seems more important to me to keep writing, to move forward to the next song, to get better as a writer that way, than to try to improve something I wrote a few years ago which is, writing-wise, kind of like ancient history to me, even though I may still be performing it.

But lately I’ve gone back to some of my less recent songs, mostly because I’m interested in playing them again. Some seem fine as they are. With others, I find myself eagerly rewriting a line here and there; sometimes a whole Verse. Or rephrasing a melody, trying a different harmony. And I do think the songs are the better for it.

I think this is happening because I’ve become, if not a better writer (though I hope that’s true), certainly a more experienced one. Sometimes I now know how to fix, or at least improve, things in a song that always bugged me but I didn’t have the chops to fix or improve.

Also, when I write a song, I’ve got my nose deep in it so there’s a question of perspective – I may have been so close to it that I missed certain problems that I can now identify.

It’s a bit of a paradox – my rush forward to write more songs, to gain experience, to get better has perhaps left holes in some of my past songs (or maybe the holes are there simply because I didn’t know how to plug them at the time…?). But that rush forward to write more songs has also given me the experience to improve things that I thought were settled (but don’t have to be).

When it comes to writing, my preference is to not look back. The next song might be the best one yet! But I’m starting to see the benefit in revisiting some of my old friends.

Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below:

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7 responses to “Revisiting Earlier Songs… As A More Experienced Writer”

  • Gil

    I recently rewrote one of my first songs that was a good song, and now it’s a GREAT song, and one of my favorites to play for others. Nice post, Tony.

  • Wayne Somerville

    I have a big “trunk full” of old songs and song ideas that weren’t going anywhere and I do think it’s the new perspective and distance from the song that is the most valuable asset when it comes to re-writing them. I love finding an old cassette with a song idea near the end of the tape that I had forgotten about. I think I remember an article about Steely Dan digging out old song ideas and re-working them. We all know the feeling of getting “stuck” with a part of a song and getting nowhere. When you hear the song now you’re not weighed down with all those failed attempts and it makes it much easier to move on.

  • I do plenty of rewriting before I decide the song is done. I have a habit of getting stuck with two or four lines left, and I go through many versions and ideas until those last two lines are finished. (Just a pattern, I guess.) So I don’t usually rewrite old songs.

    I tend to think that the older songs don’t represent who I am now, and that’s the me that’s writing today, so I usually start fresh.

    But I did take out one song that I felt had failed, and I rewrote it. That song won me the Abe Olman Award. So I’d have to say, let’s take a look in the trunk when fresh inspiration isn’t happening. You never know…

  • I do plenty of rewriting before I decide the song is done. I have a habit of getting stuck with two or four lines left, and I go through many versions and ideas until those last lines are finished. (Just a pattern, I guess.) So I don’t usually rewrite old songs.

    I tend to think that the older songs don’t represent who I am now, and that’s the me that’s writing today, so I usually start fresh.

    But I did take out one song that I felt had failed, and I rewrote it. That song won me the Abe Olman Award. So I’d have to say, let’s take a look in the trunk when fresh inspiration isn’t happening. You never know…

  • Geroy Davis

    Annie Dinerman, (if it’s okay for me to reference her reply), mentions frequently getting stuck with 2-4 lines left in her rewrite process, and then finishing those lines after trying many versions and ideas. I like her use of versions, but with my own spin: I like to write whole versions of a song, sometimes written from the perspective of other characters in the song. Annie Dinerman further expounds upon her reasons for not revisiting older songs, saying, ” I tend to think that the older songs don’t represent who I am now, and that’s the me that’s writing today, so I usually start fresh.” I think the exact opposite…I often write olds songs from the new, and more experienced version of myself. To me, that is starting ‘fresh’! It is “fresh inspiration” happening now. A song is never completed…that’s my perspective as a songwriter. Thanks to Annie Dinerman for her thoughtful and inspiring comment that triggered my own comment.

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