Let Your Lyrics Simmer

Change Your Mind

Do you ever hear a song on the radio and think, “You should have slept on that before recording?” Taylor Swift, one of my favorite artists, has a great example from her song Mine:

 And I remember that fight, two-thirty a.m.
'Cause everything was slipping right out of our hands
I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street

The line in bold does not work with the above phrases. Notice the beats of the first two lines both have a 7 beat, 5 beat rhythm. The last line has ten syllables. While “a.m” and “hands” do not rhyme, the way Taylor sings the words blends them to match.

In my opinion, one of Taylor’s greatest strengths is her ability to tell a story. Especially in her country music, she writes ballads. I think what happened here was Taylor cared more about setting the scene for the listener rather than making sure the phrasing worked. When your net worth is over 100 million dollars, you can do that sort of thing, but for this post, I want to talk about taking the time to simmer on your lyrics and making sure you are spending your words wisely.

For Taylor’s sake, I will show a sample of one of her better pieces (here she is also setting a scene while still prioritizing fluidity in her lyrics) from her song Out of The Woods:

Remember when you hit the brakes too soon
Twenty stitches in a hospital room
When you started crying baby, I did too
But when the sun came up I was looking at you

THE BREAKDOWN

Change Your Mind was written about a girl and her relationship with her parents. For a long time, her relationship with her family was turbulent, but when she broke the news to them that she was pregnant, it completely reoriented how the family operated. An important element for this song was about the struggle the girl had trying to communicate with a person who was very dogmatic, my way, or the highway, black and white. It really struck me to see how dramatically the family dynamics changed in the nine months preparing for the baby, how relationships were able to start the road to recovery because the family was gaining a new member.

If one ignores the gray, it can be easy to look at a situation and condemn a person for their choices. To turn away.

This song is a call to embrace the gray and find the blessing in disguise.

I know we fight
but life looks different now
who knew it would take this
to break me down

I could stay
or I could leave home
but then how can I
do this alone

alone

you could hold her in your arms
feel the softness of her skin
let her warm your heart
and never look at me again

never look at me again

change your mind
it wont happen over night
although I never made much sense
the world's not black and white
change your mind
change your life

the worst looks so much better
when looking at this scene
of my biggest mistake
being our greatest blessing

so you could take it in your stride
and do with it what you like
or let it turn tide
in that moment she makes you smile
and she's holding you tight

change your mind
it wont happen over night
although I never made much sense
the world's not black and white
change your mind
change your life

oh I'll come back stronger
and I'll grow up wiser
I'll get it together
Just make me the best mother

change your mind
it wont happen over night
and although I never made much sense
I swear she's worth the fight

change your mind
change your mind
and although I never made much sense
the world's not black and white
change your mind
change your life
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Originally, I had all three verses in the beginning without a chorus. Which, in retrospect, would have meant that I had two verses about dissension in the family and a third verse about reconciliation. I remember playing the song for my songwriting coach and him pointing out that there needed to be a chorus in between the second and third verse. For some reason, I really didn’t want to do that, but my coach was a professor of songwriting at a school famous for songwriting.. so I did it anyway. I am so glad I did because I recently listened to my original recording before the chorus was written and felt something was off right away.

In my original chorus, I used the line:

 change your mind 
it wont happen over night
and although I never made much sense
I swear I'll make it right

I am not sure that, on the surface, there was anything wrong with these lines. The phrases seemed trite. For me, it was that I did not give as much thought to whether this was how I wanted to spend one of my four chorus lines. Like a kid who has only four dollars at a candy shop, I asked myself: If I could spend one dollar on a Snickers bar, why would I choose a box of Good&Plenties? (No offense to the Good&Plenty fans out there)

At the time, I had signed up to sing at an open mic and I was so excited about my new (unfinished) song. I quickly finished it up and performed. I was not proud of that performance and as an added consequence, I let the song go for a long time with second-choice lyrics.

I only recently took the time to replace lines for which I did not care.

One of the first exercises I used when thinking of lyrics was hopping online and doing a quick search for “rhymes with” the lyric I liked. For example, I searched, “rhymes with ‘right'”. I took a note card and wrote down the line I wanted to work with (I’ll make it right). Then, I wrote down all the words that I thought might work for the next line. In this instance, none of these words spoke to me. I was not sure any of them would work, but I wrote them down anyway. I was not discouraged by this. The trick with songwriting and poetry is sometimes words do not work perfectly. You have to get creative. The next step in this exercise is to look instead at words that has similar vowels and consents. For example, the words skin and again. Some poets would argue that these words rhyme because they both end in “IN”, but we know that in English, we do not pronounce again with the “IN” at the end. The “ain” at the end is a type of diphthong called a diaphoneme. We typically pronounce it as the Canadians do /əˈɡain/ or /əˈɡen/. However, even when you pronounce them as they are, notice there is still fluidity and it works.

Once I compiled a list of words, I gave myself time to go over possible options.

I swear I'll make it right - 6 syllables
You and I, we're black and white - 7 syllables
See me in a different light - 7 syllables
Look at me through different eyes - 7 syllables
See me through different eyes - 6 syllables
The world's not black and white - 6 syllables

Ultimately, I ended up changing a different line. I felt like changing the final line actually fit the tone of the song better. In my opinion, revisiting songs can be one of your most powerful tools. Like an author who finishes the last page of his story, only to start back at page one to refine and edit for as long as it took to write the story in the first place, always be open to honing your lyrics.

You may hear my husband cooking and talking on the phone in the background #thinwalls

One thought on “Let Your Lyrics Simmer

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