Sunday, September 04, 2016

Revising lyrics, again

At the end of April, I wrote about the ease of rewriting lyrics for old songs, as compared to the difficulty of creating lyrics for new songs. I mentioned in passing "one [song] which is only a sketch at the moment - waiting for lyrics; I even have the title". I developed a very nice arrangement for this song - let's call the style "floral" as it features recorders, flute and clarinet - but couldn't progress because there were no lyrics. Every now and then, I would try to write something but couldn't make any headway. The opening verse took a great deal of effort; this set the tone for the rest of the song.

This is how it all begins
First a smile, then a greeting
Sometimes that smile's returned
Which can lead to a meeting
At which time all becomes clear
How the future will be
How the game will be played

After several months of cogitation, I realised that I could apply my usual song structure to these lyrics: first verse, meeting; second verse, getting in deeper; third verse, problems; fourth verse, splitting. Whilst this created a necessary overview, it didn't help writing the actual lyrics, although the opening line in the fourth verse would clearly be something along the lines of 'This is how it all began'.

In musical terms, this song has two significant differences from my other songs. It begins with a long anacrusis  - all the syllables of the first line except "gins", which falls on the strong beat of the first bar. A simple example of this would be the song 'Epitaph' by King Crimson, "The walls upon the prophet wrote" - the first strong beat is on "walls", thus "the" is an anacrusis. An even better example would be The Beatles' "No reply", "This happened once before"; "-fore" is the first beat, and "This happened once be-" is the long anacrusis. "No reply" also is an example of the second difference: the accompaniment only begins on that first beat, meaning that "This happened once be-", or in my case, "This is how it all be-" is sung acapella. These two devices make the opening very strong.

After great effort, I was able to write the 'missing' three verses a few weeks ago. Looking at them the next day, it became clear that certain changes were necessary in order to improve the lyrics. This revising was so much easier than the initial writing. When revising, I try to enrich the language (which generally means finding more expressive verbs or adjectives) whilst taking care not to repeat verbs. This is what I was taught in English classes many years ago, but never found much use; my first drafts were generally very good. Having written that, I discover that I need to replace a verb in this blog as I used it sentence after sentence.

When the time came to record, I initially used the same configuration which I had used for previous songs, which means my 'new' microphone on its tabletop stand, connected to the mobile computer, on the kitchen table. The results were reasonable but I wasn't very happy with them; the majority of problems stem from the fact that I am sitting while I am singing. A quick search on the Internet revealed a company in Tel Aviv selling microphone stands at a ridiculously low price, even after delivery. This is something which I have long wanted, so without delay, I ordered the stand, which arrived a day or two later. Singing with the microphone on the stand was much more comfortable, although it still took several takes to achieve what I wanted. That long anacrusis was hard to sing! The acapella problem was easily solved: I created a music track with an introduction which would help me sing that opening line. This track was not used in the final mix, so the recording begins solely with my voice (it's quite startling). The first verse is not double tracked, which makes the voice even more startling.

Enthused with the success of this track (obviously entitled "This is how it all begins"), I looked for old songs of mine which could be renewed. I settled on a song written in August 1972 when I was a young and callow lad; I have always liked this tune but for some reason could not sequence it to my satisfaction. This time I didn't have any major problems whilst sequencing - at least, not in laying down the chord changes and figuring out how long each chord lasts - so it didn't take long to create the backbone of the track. I spent most of my weekend working on the arrangement and getting it as good as I can, a task which seems to never end. Whilst listening to it once again this morning, I considered switching the part that the piano plays in the first verse with the part in the third verse in order to improve the track even more; I'll try that this evening.

Once the arrangement was 90% finished, I looked at the words. These clearly required a great deal of rewriting, as most of the existing lines were, to be kind, weak; there was also a metaphor which would not be acceptable in these politically correct times (there was a line whose meaning has changed somewhat in the last 40 years). So I sat down with a computer on my lap and rewrote the lyrics: this took all of ten minutes. Obviously, the resulting lyrics are not a work of literature, but then they're not meant to be. I also managed to change the point of view of the lyrics, which is a definite improvement; in those days, it was always "I" and "my", but now I can write more abstractly.

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