As songwriters, we so often get bogged down in the micro-details of our songs (whether to use “and” or “but,” should the last note of the chorus melody go up or down, etc.) that we tend to overlook the big issues that can help us tighten, streamline and otherwise improve our songs in major ways. I’m going to bring up a few of the commonly overlooked issues that I see time and again in my role as songwriting consultant. Still, it’s always worth mentioning that songwriting – and songwriting success, for that matter – is highly subjective and there is no “right” or “wrong” way when it comes to rewriting a song. My reference points are simply the common traits of a large number of commercially successful songs.

Rewriting A Song

1. Cut your intro in half

One of the most important things to remember if you’re writing songs for the commercial market is how VERY little time you have to get your listener’s attention. We, as songwriters, necessarily give our songs our full, loving and undivided attention which is why a long, winding musical intro feels perfectly natural as a way to set the stage for the song to come. The reality, though, is that our listeners rarely give a song they’ve never heard their full attention which is why you, as the songwriter, have to go and get it. Quickly. A short, to-the-point intro which leads directly into the verse of the song is the first step towards pulling your listener in.

2. Put more concrete details into your verses

The verses in your song are there to, more or less, tell the story. While feelings are an important part of any story, so are the actual details. In other words, give people images to hold on to so they know what your song is about. Since you’re the one writing the song, you already know the story so it’s easy to forget that your listener doesn’t. While you’re at it, I’m a big believer in the “show ’em don’t tell ’em” approach. This means if you can use an image rather than a long explanation to describe a situation, do it. Whoever wrote “a picture is worth a thousand words” had it right.

3. Make certain your chorus makes a point

In another effort to help you keep the big picture in mind while you’re writing, I’d suggest making sure that your chorus really drives the point of your song home. This is the place where your message becomes clear and memorable. Ideally, the listener should be able to start singing along after they’ve heard your chorus once or twice. Another, less delicate way of putting this is to think of your chorus as the equivalent of tying the theme of your song to a baseball bat and beating the hell out of people with it.

Rewriting A Song

4. Make sure similar sections have a similar structures

In general, it’s a good idea to keep similar sections in your song similar in structure. In other words, your first verse should match your second verse in number of lines and rhyme scheme and your choruses should have the same length and lyric. There are always exceptions to this approach but here’s the reasoning behind it. The simpler and more clear your song is, the more memorable it will be. Memorable is a good thing. I’m in no way suggesting not to tackle complex topics or musical themes, I’m simply saying that “complicated” and “different” don’t, in and of themselves, mean success. The real challenge is to tell your story, whatever it may be, in the simplest, most effective way possible.


At the end of the day, songwriting is art and, as in all art, there are many, many ways to create. However, sometimes guidelines and limitations can be a blessing rather than a curse. Mozart didn’t invent classical music, he simply refined it within the existing boundaries into something that is still moving and memorable over two hundred years later. That sounds like a good goal to me.

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12 responses to “Four Simple Tricks For Rewriting A Song”

  1. Great advice, especially about the detail in the verses. It’s important to think of the song from the listener’s point of view as the writer already knows the story.

  2. Dan Morgan says:

    Excellent advice . Thank you. Somthing else I notice in my own writing is trying to be too clever. Clever is good but i can get to bogged down trying to make it to clever instead I should just tell the story like I’m talking to a friend but just in rhymes. Seems like these days it’s simple and applicable to ones life is the way to go . I’m not a world renowned writer. But I’ve had a lot of local success . Maybe some day. Just tell the story .

  3. Jolie Ozbun says:

    Thanks for your clear advice on focusing on what’s important in songs. My choruses have improved immensely since I’ve concentrated on making them more singable, repetetive, and less wordy. I try to picture people singing my choruses in the car or at the beach with little thought, but simply a desire to sing it over and over again.

  4. Rick Erhart says:

    I have a few two version songs. The full-length ones have elaborate intros and a full complement of instruments in some cases Orchestra, choir harmonies, overdubbing , extended solos and long endings. The radio ready versions have a lot of the extravagances removed but nothing is wasted and I can still go back and indulge myself listening to an extended album version. On a few occasions I’ve taken a section from an elaborate version and started a new project off of it using a key change and/or Tempo change and a new set of lyrics.

  5. Pete Papageorge says:

    With all due respect, the above seem like the basic, best approaches to songwriting. I was expecting something else regarding tricks to re-writing a lyric.

  6. Ron Smith says:

    I write traditonal country but Taxi says it will be hard sell. Is there any reason to continue to write traditional country?

  7. Ray says:

    I don’t write a lot of country, but I do have one traditional country song that is pretty good, ok, it’s a hit. I’m also a member of Taxi and have never seen a call for traditional country. I guess it’s been surpassed by contemporary. If you know anyone looking for traditional, please let me know!

  8. I’ve submitted to a lot of Traditional Country requests on TAXI. Here’s the problem – when I submit traditional songs, the reviewers call them contemporary and not fitting the request. But when I submit more modern tracks that clearly meet the requirements of the request, they say they don’t meet the requirements because they are too “dated” and “classic” for a contemporary request. TAXI reviewers are hard to satisfy if you’re not already a somebody.

  9. Michael MacBean says:

    “Tying your theme to a baseball bat and beating the hell out of people with it”!!
    Thanks Cliff, that’s the most vivid explanation of the job of the chorus I’ve every read! Great image to keep in mind when I write.
    I’m still getting a lot of inspiration from our consultation!

  10. Rich N says:

    Great advice as usual Cliff.
    I’m also glad to see in the above comments that I’m not alone in thinking that Taxi is not the place to get traditional country songs out into the marketplace. That’s not a knock on Taxi, I’m a member and I think that they are great at what they do and how they do it. But I just don’t see them looking for anything that isn’t contemporary in their requests. Take a listen to the playlist at Thirty Tigers, someone is listening to all of the traditional and Alt-Country that they promote.

  11. Claudia J Hearn says:

    Appreciate all your creative points in writing great advice as always Cliff, it very nice to receive emails with a new or different perspective. Thanks

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