Rewriting a song can be an extremely powerful tool and learning experience if you embrace it.
A couple years back, I started writing a song titled “Lie To Me”. I got the initial inspiration from a FOX TV show by the same name. I wrote the bones of the song and the band fleshed it out and demoed it. We called it “finished” and planned on cutting it with the next album release.
Fast Forward to the present and you will find that the first version of “Lie To Me” was never officially recorded and released. Why? What happened?
Around the time we recorded a live version of the song (which is still viewable on YouTube as of this writing), our entertainment agent approached BMG / Cherry Lane Publishing to find out if there would be any interest in pushing the song to TV, Film, or Radio. It didn’t take long to get a response and what the publishers had to say completely took us by surprise.
Typically, if a publisher doesn’t have an outlet or doesn’t see potential for a song or artist, they will respond with a simple “pass”. Instead, we received a full page letter and critique from THE music publishing executive of BMG / Cherry Lane Publishing and why they were passing on the song. This was and is an extremely rare event. Even our agent was taken aback that an A-list music business executive took the time type up such a detailed and thorough reply. I’m not going to lie (haha! see what I did there?), the criticism stung and definitely left a mark.
We were faced with a couple choices at that time; we could throw up the proverbial middle finger and quip back that “he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about”, quit songwriting altogether, or process the criticism and use it to get better. I don’t know about you, but burning bridges with music business executives and quitting are not things I like to do. That only left one choice; be courageous and swallow our pride and try to absorb everything the publisher said.
We decided to shelve “Lie To Me” and take time to work on the areas of songwriting the publisher pointed out that were weak. Over the next couple years, I did a lot of co writing with other established songwriters in Nashville and LA. I learned a ton of new techniques in those sessions. Eventually, the band started going back over our unreleased songs and rewriting them one by one.
When the time came that we needed to select songs for our 2016 releases, I really wanted to revisit “Lie To Me”. I still believed the song could be something fantastic. I had written a lot of songs since the initial version was penned and I wanted to give it another go.
Long story short, I’m proud to say that after many rewrites, “Lie To Me” transformed into something completely different. Almost every aspect has been changed; from lyrics to melody lines. Like a Phoenix from the ashes, the new version is a better, more refined, and focused. It has stronger lyrics, beats, and melody lines. It might not have ever seen the light of day had we not been willing to rewrite it.
Over time I came to realize that, while the response from the publisher was a “pass” on the first version of “Lie To Me”, it wasn’t a “pass” on my potential as a songwriter. I’m glad I took the hard road and chose to listen to the criticism. I’m glad the publisher was honest with us. This all brings me back to my original statement. Rewriting a song can be a powerful tool and learning experience if you embrace it. It has the power to improve your skills as a songwriter and communicator. It has the power to make a mediocre song into a “hit”. So the next time you think a song is “finished”, revisit it with fresh eyes and ears. Listen to the constructive criticism. There might be a better version just waiting to be uncovered through a rewrite.