Published on September 23rd, 2012 | by Tom0
5 Steps to Better Songwriting – Step 4 – Editing
Previously we’ve looked at:
Now we’ll look at Step 4, Editing.
Once you’ve sorted out a rough arrangement for your song, I’d definitely advise you let it rest for a day or two so that you can listen to it fresh.
Once you do, you’ll discover it needs editing – there’ll be things you need to cut, areas you need to tidy up.
How do you tell what needs editing?
Listen to the song, trying to imagine yourself as the listener. Is there any point where the pace of the song drags, where we’re just vamping on a chord uneccessarily? Cut there – you don’t need that bit.
Is there any section that’s an exact repeat of another? You might need to change it. The chorus needs to repeat of course, but does it need to be exactly the same? Why not an extra harmony line, a counter melody, an interesting drum fill? Make it different on every repeat and the song will feel like it’s going somewhere.
Of course, exactly what kind of editing you need depends on lots of different factors, not least what you’re trying to achieve with a song. If you’re aiming is to write a sprawling epic that keeps the listener entertained for 10-20 minutes, listening with the critical ear of a top 40 pop song fan is going to be counter productive.
When Editing goes Wrong
As an example, I’d like to share something from my favourite prog rock band Dream Theater.
Dream Theater had a lot of disagreements with their record label when writing their fourth album Falling into Infinity. Outside writers and producers were brought in because the label wanted short radio friendly hit singles from this prog metal band (despite their fans wanted huge complicated epics).
In the long run the band stuck to their guns and have become most successful with long ‘non-commercial’ songs. However, very usefully for us they’ve released the demos from the Falling into Infinity sessions so we can compare the songs before and after the producer had edited them into something quite different.
For example the original version of ‘Burning my Soul’ had the middle section completely removed to create a seperate instrumental, turning the song from a long ‘composite’ song that took you on a real journey into an arguably less interesting verse -chorus verse chorus metal song.
Here’s the original demo (Only a demo, not a polished studio recording:
Here’s the finished studio version:
I’d argue that the artistic merits of what was done to that album are subjective, but you can’t dispute that the editing process, in particular the decisions about structure, were vital to the final effect the songs had.
Editing is where you decide what kind of song you’re trying to create – this is where you make decisions, cut parts out, extend and balance. This is where you pin the song down.
So listen to your song with a critical ear – do you need 16 bars of guitar solo, or will 8 do? Do you need that fifth repeat of the chorus, or would the ending be too abrupt without it?
For the comments: Have you ever had to agonise over editing decisions when finishing your songs?