When to Fix a Song, and When to Toss It

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” E-book Bundle

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Manfred Mann - Roaring Silence - Blinded By the LightThere are certain songwriters that appear to have nothing but great success. This is not reality, of course. We’re not usually acquainted with songs that miss the mark, so a songwriter with a lot of hits looks like a songwriter where nothing goes wrong. But even the world’s best writers can create a dud. So when it happens, the question is: do you try to fix it, or do you toss it?

It’s a tricky question to answer because so much of the success of a tune has to do with the magic that occurs at the performance stage. In other words, is it really a bad song, or is it a great song waiting for a different kind of performance?

For example, “Blinded by the Light”, written by Bruce Springsteen, was not even a minor hit for Springsteen, failing to place at all on any music chart.

But in the hands of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, it soared to number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The enormous success of the song begs the question: how many more songs have been neglected forever, songs that might have been hits if performed by someone else in a different way?

It’s hard to determine at the songwriting stage if a song is a potential hit, or if it’s a dud. If for no other reason, I would say here what I’ve always said: never throw anything out.

The first step in a song’s success is to ensure it is structurally sound. The chord progression supports the melody, the melody supports the lyric, and the lyric takes the listener on a journey. But there’s the next component, which some might call the “magic” – when a song becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And part of that magic is the performance of it.

And because of performer’s magic, it can sometimes be hard to look at music objectively, apart from what a great performance might add, knowing that the song has got what it takes to be a hit.

This makes it all the more important to have a good grasp of solid songwriting technique. And ask yourself some key questions:

  1. Does the verse melody reside lower in general pitch than the chorus melody?
  2. Does the chorus chord progression feature the tonic chord, with a predominance of the tonic note in the melody?
  3. Does the energy of the song generally move in an upward direction?
  4. Does the chorus lyric answer the questions and issues presented in the verse?

There is much more to consider, but even if you feel that you’ve missed the mark on those four questions, don’t throw out what you’ve written. Fragments of hit songs have sometimes come from songs that never made it. You’ll likely find that a small idea you’ve written might simply be living in the wrong song.

And in that regard, don’t feel that everything you write has to be a complete song. There are times when small ideas, scraps of melodies, or word combinations will occur to you. Write them down and save them. You’ll likely find the song that suits them eventually.

Gary Ewer’s “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” is part of a six-ebook bundle that shows you everything you need to know about songwriting, complete with hundreds of progressions you can use right now in your own songs.

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