The Art Of Revision In Songwriting

All serious songwriters learn at some point that songwriting requires revision, the ability to cull and distill the best work out of what emerges from your songwriting soul.

“The thing is,” Leonard Cohen explained, “before I can discard the verse, I have to write it … even the bad ones took as long to write as the good ones … I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light.”

He then summed it all up with symbology as pure and telling as those in his songs: “The cutting of the gem,” he said, “has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

In other words, it takes a whole lot of work to write anything, and then more work to determine if that writing is worth keeping or editing. Because unless you work on your song until each and every aspect of it is not only good, but as close to perfection as possible, you are not bringing everything you can to this work. A strong song, as Sammy Cahn often explained, has solid architecture. It holds up to repeated performances for decades because it is so finely and perfectly constructed. As Van Dyke Parks said, “A song should not fall apart on the street like a cheap watch.”

But how do you know, when a song is right and requires revision and when it does not.In my experience, this judgment seems almost to be made for me. In that every time I play the song – or listen to a home recording of it – there are often certain aspects,... Sign In to Keep Reading

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