Editor’s Note: This is the first part of an article on re-writing, written by hit songwriter Jon Ims. “Professional songwriters take re-writing for granted,” Jon Ims says. “All the songs you hear on the radio have been thoroughly sifted through to remove any obstacles that might hinder their ability to communicate clearly and effectively.” Toward that end, Ims offered “Tools For Successful Re-writing,” a pro teaching lesson presented at Thursday’s Nashville Workshop. He told the assembled songwriters to complete thoughts before moving to the next thought in the verses, and to be sure all the verses lead to the chorus without distraction. “You want the audience to say, ‘Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, OK.’” NSAI members can watch his presentation in our video library to hear his thoughts on “Tah-da,” “Kaboom” and other effects.
TOOLS FOR SUCCESSFUL RE-WRITING
By Jon Ims
Professional songwriters take re-writing for granted. All the songs you hear on the radio have
been thoroughly sifted through to remove any obstacles that might hinder their ability to
communicate clearly and effectively. What many pros do instinctively during this process can be
learned. What follows is a song-sifting guide in the form of questions.
THE FOCUS: Everything in the song must point to the title.
1. Is the title unique and specific? The title is the compass point. Is your title pointing at
something specific? Example: Choose “Do You Want Fries With That” over “Food Choices.”
2. Does the song make one point? Eliminate whatever is pointing somewhere else. If you have
two points, you have two songs.
3. Is the point clear to others after one listening? Eliminate obscure passages and references. The
listener wants to know who, what, when, where and why, and the reason behind it all.
4. Is the melody hum-able and simple enough to grasp after one listening?
THE ARCHITECTURE: Proper structure ensures that the audience will not get distracted or
confused. In this section, make notes where applicable.
1. Have you mapped out your song form so that you are following a structural plan? Check to see
if the song is set up in sections: intro, verses, pre –choruses, choruses, turnarounds, bridges,
Does each section do its job and only it’s job? Remember: verses, pre-choruses, and bridges
DEVELOP. Choruses SUMMARIZE. Eliminate summation material from the verses. Eliminate
verse material from the chorus.
2. Is there a consistent point of view? The audience needs to know who is talking to who at all
3. Is there a discernable time frame? The audience needs to know where they are in terms of
time. Clear up any confusion in regard to past, present and future tenses.
4. Do the verse sections work together coherently to develop the idea? Eliminate redundancy
between verses. Create forward motion. Does the idea develop in a coherent order within the
verses? Complete thoughts before moving to the next thought, line to line. Do all verses lead to
the chorus without distraction? Eliminate subplots that lead to loose ends.
5. Are the lines so wordy that they don’t sing well or require a melody that’s too complicated?
Eliminate unnecessary words to make lines more singer friendly. Are there any forced syllables?
Eliminate mispronounced words that stress the wrong syllable. Are there any forced rhymes?
Do an awkwardness check. Eliminate obvious attempts to rhyme that draw attention to
6. Is the verse melody consistent verse to verse? Make sure the same rhythmic pocket applies to
all. Is the melody consistent line to line, verse to verse? Example: does the second line of the
first verse match the second line of the second verse?
7. If there is a pre-chorus, does it create a clear transition to the chorus?
8. Does the chorus summarize the idea? Does the chorus “prove” the title? Does the chorus sing
well? Does the chorus melody stand out from the verses, pre-choruses and bridge? It should with
bells and whistles. The Tah-Da effect.
9. Is the title obvious? Does the title sing well in its placement? Maximize the effect of the title.
The Kaboom effect.
10. If there is a bridge, does it contain a new or broader perspective, or further the song’s idea
in a way that differs from the verse approach? Is the bridge too long? Does the bridge melody
ramp up to the chorus? Keep the momentum going. Does the song even need a bridge? Don’t
add sections just to add sections. They must be necessary.
11. Is there a rhyme scheme for each section: a verse scheme, a chorus scheme? There should
be. Variety keeps the audience’s attention. Do the verse rhyme schemes differ from the chorus
rhyme schemes? They should. Contrast is power. How about the bridge? Strive to make each
section unique from the others, even in small ways.
About Jon Ims: Singer-songwriter Jon Ims moved to Nashville in 1991, and immediately came in to prominence when Trisha Yearwood became the first female country-music artist to have a debut single reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts with Jon’s “She’s In Love With The Boy”. This was quickly followed by Reba McEntire taking Jon’s “Fallin’ Out Of Love” to the top of the charts as well.
“She’s In Love With The Boy” was named BMI’s Song Of The Year in 1992, and is now one of BMI’s Top 20 most-performed Country songs of all time. As a result, Jon received BMI’s Robert J.Burton Award, and Music Row Magazine’s Breakthrough Writer Award in 1992.