How I write a song (part two)

I’ve got a melody, chords and lyrics for several verses and a chorus, and I am happy with them!
But now I need a bridge.
And a good edit.

The bridge is always actual work. It doesn’t come in any flash of inspiration. I have to think it out. A bridge (in my view) must do a couple things: musically, it should be a real shift from the rest of the song. That might mean a key modulation, a change in intensity, or a change from major to minor or vice versa.

Lyrically, a bridge is the turn in the story; it’s the “but…” or the “and then.” It’s the subconscious dipping in to say “this is how it really is.” An example of that is “Lose Your Love”, where the verse asserts resilience in the face of unrequited love, but the bridge expresses longing over distance.  Looking at my songs, it’s not uncommon for my verses and chorus to be saying “I’m fine” while the bridge says “I am totally not fine, really.”

Once the bridge is written and I play the song over a few times, I need to start looking for clichés. A cliché can be musical — a chord progression that’s just a little over-familiar (did I accidentally copy another song?) or too expected. Sometimes I can change the chords without changing the melody; sometimes the melody, too, needs to be altered. Sometimes I was singing a phrase in one octave and I need to sing it lower or higher for contrast or interest.

Of course, some clichés can be found in the lyrics. In addition to overused phrases, I look for weak language that doesn’t punch, lousy rhymes that were expedient in the moment, and near-rhymes that just aren’t satisfying to the ear.

Once those are addressed, I’m done with the songwriting for now, and ready to make a first pass at arranging.

(But every once in a while, bits of a song change when I’m actually recording — sometimes even years later! I’ve been known to remove a verse, totally alter a bridge and even change a melody a decade or two after the fact, all in the name of trying to hit home, to better communicate the emotions inside my own head to the head of the listener.) 🎵

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