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The more we do something, the better we get at it. That’s no secret, and the craft of songwriting is no different. But what is to become of those early lyrics we’ve all jotted down and stashed away in a drawer?
I've had something of an epiphany over the summer, and I want to share it with other songwriters who might benefit from it. I'm sure we've all written songs that we felt were trash and shouldn't see the light of day. We may be right about some of those, but when I looked back on some of the early songs I wrote, I realized that they still marked a moment in time, and some actually weren't bad at all.
If you analyze lyrics to some pop songs from today, they really are subpar, but they're masked behind a catchy melodic line and good instrumentation. I wrote my first song when I was 16, and the following year I wrote upwards of 10–12 songs, probably my most prolific year to date. However, I only felt that one song from that time actually sounded "good" enough to record and sell, and everything else was simply going to be neglected.
One night I was going through my old songwriting journal and was taking that journey down memory lane—reading random lyric lines, or songs that did not have a consistent rhyme scheme or intriguing metaphors. The concept or idea of the song was good though, and still held weight. What if I took the knowledge and skill I have now, and brought to my old songs to bring them new life?
Over the next few weeks, I would revise these early songs. I re-wrote more interesting chord progressions, told better stories, and utilized my thesaurus and rhyming dictionary to be as fresh and clever as I could. Some of my old lyrics still stood—I would take one line and create a new line to match its rhyme scheme, or I would find a place for random lyrics that never made it on a song. I even practically wrote a new song from scratch with nothing but a song title I had written down.
The point is this:
By revisiting my old songs and lyrics, I was able to write about six songs within the matter of just a few weeks because I had something to work off of and a concept in mind and another three or four that I thought were good enough, with some better production and instrumentation in mind. Even if I'm not crazy about them, who is to say whether or not someone else may be?
So, if you have old songs or random lyrics lying around, I encourage you to revisit them. Maybe you have a good hook for them, or maybe you can take the concept and make something new. Even if you just have a title in mind, it can be a great launch point to work off of.
It essentially all boils down to recycling your old material and creating something new out of it. It is not only true for songwriting, but for any other writing discipline as well. This is a great cure for writer’s block, as often times we find ourselves stuck with no idea where to get inspiration from. We have all had moments where we feel like a fly can go through one ear and out the other, but we also all have old writings ready to see the light of day. Writer’s block will try to show its ugly face to you, but you may already be sitting on multiple albums of worthy material.
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