When you have slaved over a lyric or a recording, a painting or a business proposal, after a while you become familiar and fond of every aspect of it. So much so that you begin to think that removing even the slightest part of it will damage the whole. You guessed it. Editing your own work is not as easy as it might sound.
Because I work in the music arena, I am going to focus on editing there, but the principals apply across the board to everything that everyone does.
And everyone needs an editor. Not the super condensed version that a certain publishing house has been doing to best sellers for decades, but someone to bounce things off of; someone to make some constructive criticism; someone to tell you that this part is boring.
And that is the first and easiest way to see if you might need a little editing. If you are listening to a tape of a song you just recorded and suddenly you find that you are wondering if you left the water running, you have just drifted from your own work…and you are your biggest fan.
All great recordings keep you engaged. From the intro to the fade, you are transported. I read that many of the early Beatles singles were five to seven minutes long when they recorded them and after they edited out the less exciting parts, they were left with two and a half riveting minutes.
When I write lyrics, I always write many, many verses to a song before I select the final ones and I even work on those up thru the recording process. Always looking to make the lyrics say exactly what I wanted to say in the most effective and original way I can find.
When I wrote Last Day of Summer (from my Traces of the Old Road CD), a song about the day before 9/11, I filled literally every page of a steno notebook with verses. I started out being as heavy and political as I could be, then got into the most poetic and obscure I could be and finally began to approach what I was trying to convey…that all the simplest and most mundane things in the world were one way before that happened and another way afterwards. That all these things were imbued with an innocence and an optimism that was shattered on the eleventh of September.
After struggling with all sorts of Dylanesque imagery, I chose to use images that we all see every day, but we saw them thru different eyes on the tenth than we did on the eleventh.
The point being that I wrote perhaps two hundred verses to that song and used three in the final recording. I edited out ninety seven verses and edited the three that were kept.
When John Batdorf and I recorded All Wood and Stones, I recall cutting the solo in half and cutting out the last verse entirely because, as we listened back to Under My Thumb, we realized that the song lost momentum that didn’t pick up again until the last chorus, so we just edited out about a minute of the recording and went right to the last chorus. Even tho I loved what I did in the second half of the solo and felt that the momentum carried up through there, it did not flow into the chorus, so we removed the verse as well.
We ended up with a wonderful modulation for the solo followed by a chorus in the new higher key. You can hear it at www.allwoodandstones.com. Check it out and see if you don’t agree that the song never lets down. We tried to do that with all the songs and all the arrangements. We cut out many things that we started with so that we could end up with the most impactful arrangements of Rolling Stones songs that we could deliver.