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Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting the lyrics right

I'm sure you've read lyrics while listening to a song and noticed that they were different. That's because the artist made a change from the original version either during the recording or while performing it—and someone forgot to edit the changes. 

I prefer to write songs and perform them live first so that the songs have a chance to grow into their final forms before being recorded. On "At Home," the only song I haven't performed live is the instrumental, "Chapter 11 (T'ai)". "Just A Little Bit" was performed twice before I recorded it, after which it went through a considerable rewrite before recording—so I hope it sticks!

Many of the song lyrics did change slightly during the performance period, often because certain words would just pop out because they were naturally easier to sing, and I would leave them that way. In "Hard Task," I wrote:

The flames in the furnace are belching
The steam will burn the flesh off your bones

But when I sang it, this is what would come out:

Flames in the furnace are belching
The steam'll take the flesh off your bones

Even though lyrically I preferred "burn" to "take," "take" rolled off the toungue easier, so I left it.

When those natural changes happen I usually don't remember to return to my original lyric file and update it. So if I were to record the songs and then copy and paste the lyrics into my CD booklet, you would read things like "burn" when I'm singing "take."

To make sure the final printed version is correct, I copied the original lyrics to my CD production file, opened it, and read the lyrics as I listened to the final recorded version, correcting whenever I saw a change. It was tedious, but important, because when a song is first recorded, that's the definitive version.

Sometimes singers will make accidental changes while recording and decide to keep them. In "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da," McCartney did not intend to sing,

Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face
And in the evening she's a singer with the band

but all The Beatles loved the weird switch, and the rest is musical history.

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