Writing songs used to be like having Vegemite toast for breakfast. I would put the bread in the toaster, let the toaster devour its ghost white skin turning the slice golden and crispy, remove the toasted bread when it had “pop-popped”, then I would spread a reasonable amount of butter and Vegemite on it before eating it. Sure, there are steps I could have changed on the way but there are no steps I could change once they had occurred. For me, this meant that once a song was written it could not change. Sure, the arrangement of different instruments would spice things up a little but truthfully it remained the same old Vegemite toast.
At the song-writing course, Pat Pattison spoke about editing a song. He started with telling us to just finish the song with whatever we came up with at the time. If you had a song, even if it was bad, that was at least a song to work on. This shouldn’t have been, but was, a complete revelation. I had never edited my songs before. Truthfully, I found it impossible to change my own mind. If a melody went like this, then it couldn’t go like that. If the lyrics were this then they sure as hell weren't going to change. I was ignoring those hints from my body when my organs would shuffle squeamishly and my flailing arms would form an obscure, unseen and terribly uncomfortable shrug. My first indication that something wasn’t right in the song.
That evening, I looked over a few of my old songs, letting myself see the missed opportunities, the lack of storytelling (which was evident throughout almost all of them) and laughed. It was hilarious and oh so obvious. I realised I was relying on the strength of the music, melody and my emotional connection to the song rather than giving weight to the lyrics themselves. It was like succumbing to that possessive loyalty that flares up inside of you when you see a fully sick book cover design convincing you the book is surely too good to put it down.
So, I started editing songs and saw how much they benefited from it. It was blaringly obvious in retrospect and continues to amuse me. Of course I should edit my songs. Since when was the first draft ever the final draft?
Realising I can make changes has really influenced how I write songs now. It puts those squeamish organs and flailing limbs at ease, while continuing to let them point out problems in the song so I can fix it when I’m done.
Who would have that thought at songs aren’t Vegemite toast?!