There’s a saying amongst pro songwriters.
Great songs are RE-written.
One of the huge things that separates the amateurs from the pros is the polishing pro songwriters do on their songs.
Here’s the bottom line. If you want your song played on the radio you really need it to be better than nearly anything else that’s being pitched to the radio stations you want to be played on.
And that means really taking re-writing seriously.
There are a whole pile of different factors you might consider when you re-write a song. Here are 3 lyric re-writing tips that should help you take your songs to another level.
1. Compare Each Line To The Song Hook
Your song hook (often the last line of your chorus) ties the whole song together giving it a coherent theme.
Go through your song and see if each line makes sense if you say your song hook after it.
This will help you to get your lyrics really tight and on theme.
Let’s do it with the monster US country hit and Grammy winner “Live Like You Were Dying” so you can see what I mean.
The first line is…
“He said I was in my early 40’s with a lot of life before me” Compare that to the song hook “Live like you were dying” yes indeed that works.
“I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays, talking about the options and talking about sweet time” “Live like you were dying” Yes again. Tightly on theme.
“Asked him when it sank in that this might really be the read end. How does it hit you when you get that kind of news.” “Live like you were dying” A big yes again.
“What do you do?” “Live like you were dying” Another huge yes.
“I went sky diving” “Live like you were dying” Oh god yes.
“I went rocky mountain climbing” “Live like you were dying” A monster yes again.
You can listen to the whole song here and finish this exercise yourself…
2. Do Your Lyrics Have Specific Detail?
Ideally to bring your song to life every line in the song should have really specific detail or elicit some serious emotion…or both.
Specific place names, numbers, specific details draw your listener in and make your song more engaging, believable and relatable.
In the same song Live Like You Were Dying writers Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols didn’t write “I rode a bull”.
They used detail and wrote “I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu”.
This is brilliant detail. A very specific amount of time, the specific number 2.7 seconds.
And it wasn’t just a bull it was a bull with one of those crazy names they give their star bulls “Fu Man Chu”. A very specific name.
That kind of line is like ear candy. It really gets your attention and draws you into the song.
Go through every word or phrase in your song and ask yourself “Is this specific enough? Can I change this to add more specific detail and make the line really sparkle?”
Often you’ll hear a song at a songwriters night and hear one line in that song that is just pure magic. It’s just full of imagery and detail. It just works.
You probably have them in your songs too.
What you want to do is go through and make all of your lines sparkle like that great line you’ve already got.
This takes a lot of work but you do get better at it with practice.
3. Do Your Lyrics Have Emotion?
Again every line of your song ideally should have detail or elicit emotion or both.
This takes a little more thought because generally speaking you want your strongest emotions in your chorus and ideally if you have emotion in the first verse it should be even stronger in the second verse and stronger still in the bridge.
Again in the song Live Like You Were Dying notice how the last lines of the chorus deliver deeper emotions.
At the start of the chorus you have the fantastic imagery of this guy going crazy jumping out of aeroplanes and getting tossed off a bull in the rodeo.
And it’s just wild crazy abandon.
Then the writers deliver a whole different emotional depth to the song with the lines:
“And I loved deeper and spoke sweeter and gave forgiveness I was denying.”
Not a whole lot of specific detail there but man do those lines pack some emotional punch when you put them in the context of the major song hook “Live like you were dying”.
You don’t have to start out trying to be so sophisticated with your songwriting. You’ll grow into that and it will become second nature after a while.
To begin with when you’re re-writing you can just go through each line and ask yourself does this line have specific detail or emotion?
If it’s emotion you’re shooting for in a line ask yourself “Will this line make people really feel something or can I make it deliver more emotion? Is the emotion I’m trying to deliver coming through loud and clear?”
Here’s a rundown of 3 ways you can rewrite the lyrics in your song:
- Compare each line to the song hook.
- Does each line have specific detail (you want detail or emotion in each phrase or line or both).
- Does each line have emotion (again you want detail or emotion in each line or both emotion and detail).