Don't Fear The Song Re-Write

In a recent consulting Skype session, we talked about the importance of embracing the re-write and having the courage to do it.  

For beginning songwriters, I’m all for writing quantity more than quality at first, to know the feeling of starting and finishing a song.  But after a while, a switch needs to turn on in the songwriting process.  There has to come a point when you set a new bar for your songs.  I know this can seem intimidating, because you will re-write a lot, but your song will be better because of it.  

In Nashville, it seems like we do SO many writing sessions, hoping that a few songs really stick.  I much prefer writing fewer songs and trying to make them great.  Even after a day chasing and finishing a song, we still revisit it to make sure it’s hitting the mark.

Here are a couple songs that show the value of the re-write.


Teenage Dream  

Whether you are a fan or not, this song was a massive worldwide hit for Katy Perry.  In the span of 10 days this song was re-written 5 times.  Katy and Bonnie McKee repeatedly brought the song back to Max Martin (her producer and co-writer), and he kept sending them back to make it better.  

But this is nothing new for Max.  He is known to write only a few songs a month but turns them all into radio hits.  Seriously, all.  If you don’t know what he’s written, click here.  He’s had pop hits in every decade since the 90’s, even with huge songs on the radio right now as I write this.


The House That Built Me

This Miranda Lambert hit is a song masterpiece to me.  But it was not a one and done writing session on music row.  This song simmered for over 7 years with multiple drafts.  Genius writers Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin demoed their first version, but didn’t get the response they felt worthy of the idea.  

So they went back and kept chiseling away… year after year.  

The line “If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave, won’t take nothing but a memory” was not even in the first few drafts, but came near the end of the 7 years.  That line kills me.  Their persistence is something we can all learn from.


This Is Not Always The Case

Now let me debunk everything I just said!  There are always exceptions to this. 

Photograph by Ed Sheeren was written in 10 minutes then recorded.  See You Again by Charlie Puth was also finished in 10 minutes.  I've had songs come out in 30 mins fully done, without one single re-write.  But for me that is so rare.  Most songs take work, tweaking, writing and re-writing.

Sometimes the first thing that falls out is the gold, but when that doesn't happen, don’t be afraid of the re-write.  Learn to set a bar and be able to recognize a worthy idea to chase down, and don’t let go until it’s right. 


Jess Cates3 Comments