I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.
We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.
Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.