I recently heard a successful composer say that a song is done when none of it bothers you. Not only do I adore that sentiment and personally abide by that school of thought, it’s a perfect foundation for what I was already intending to write about.
Suppose you have some nuggets of a melodic sequence floating around in your head. You’re now ready to share it and put it on the market, right? Ha! That’s awfully cute and quite ambitious of you. As individual segments, the note clusters do sound nice, but when stringing them together, they feel a bit disjointed, so you call for an impromptu cut-and-paste session.
After shifting blocks of the melody around, you notice that there was one part which you assumed would be the big hook in the chorus, but lately it’s been sounding more natural to insert it at a different place in the song. Before you know it, this decision to “tweak” the song has turned into a full-blown 8-puzzle (you know, that game with the 3x3 grid where you have to move the squares around into different positions so that they’re in numerical order). But if that’s what it takes to improve or even complete your song, it’s worth it.
Is it ready now? No, Malkie.
Feeling more confident that the recent shake-up ensures that the song now has a more logical progression, you’ve decided that you’ve already fulfilled your editing/revising quota and it’s about time you record it, even as an amateur sample take. Uh oh. After you press “record,” you immediately realize that you’re only able to sing the gist of the melody. It’s not yet natural to you, since it’s not the way you had thought it up originally, and to be honest, you kind of miss that version. Hopefully you’re musically-literate enough that you were able to jot down some ideas or even some notation earlier on. Sometimes, though, you’re not as fortunate (or it’s Shabbos), and you continue to hold all the pieces with their updated adjustments in your head.
With excitement and uncertainty, you push forward anyhow and begin to record your fragile melody that has been probed at and kneaded mercilessly. Sadly, after all that, it may still seem fragmented, either because your delivery was lacking conviction, or because there may very well be a second or two of vague notes that you haven’t yet committed to. Oh, no biggie - just keep practicing the flow of the song and keep improving your recordings, right? This seems like an obvious next step, but still, at this point, it is not uncommon to face challenges of forgetting how it starts, and needing to constantly reenact what you had been humming or thinking about when the melody initially came to you.
Regardless, you’ve already convinced yourself that once this recording gets out, every singer and producer will be on their knees begging you for this song… but to your horror, the song seems out of your vocal range when you attempt to sing it properly and you’re wondering how in the world you’ll be able to get through the most basic recording without busting your vocal chords.
This may sound like a songwriter’s edition of the tochacha, but these are all very typical scenarios. It’s a gift - at times an effortless gift - for a melody to start forming in your mind. But you can’t just deposit the song idea somewhere and expect it to accrue interest on its own. You must scrutinize and smoothen and polish and tighten every aspect of your melody. Only when it’s dry and ready can your melody be played with pride. To quote the same musician who was mentioned in the opening paragraph: “Is it worth abandoning a potentially great song in its infancy stage for the sake of quantity?”