The Merits of Editing Your Songs

The Merits of Editing Your Songs

By Carla Muller

Stories come to me in pieces. I’ll think to myself, “I’ve really got something here!” And then, everything gets out of hand. Certain words or phrases will sneak in; I like to call them ‘Flaming Cookie Jars’.

Let me explain.

For every time I’ve drawn a blank, there are at least ten times I’ve said too much. If I’m honest, it’s not always good. It’s amazing the capacity we have to ignore that little voice that says, “really?”

It was around 2005 that I first came up with the Flaming Banner. I was working on a song with Sean Cunnington, my friend and writing partner at the time, when I sang the lyric that coined the phrase. It was for a song called Kaos, and it went something like this:

She’s riding on a horse named Kaos

Her long blonde hair a banner in the wind

Sean heard me sing it and cocked his head, with a little smile. To his credit, he didn’t laugh. When we finished hashing it out, having gone through several passes, he set his guitar down and gently asked, “Did she have freckles?” I wasn’t sure what he meant at first, but the lesson is one I have come back to a few times.

Now, I was new at writing, so a little grace can be given, but it’s not good. There is literally nothing left to the imagination. It’s way too descriptive, and that’s a problem. Painting your picture without filling all of it in is far more compelling to listen to. I changed it.

She’s riding on a horse named Kaos

Hair behind her in the wind

Much better. And far more relatable. I wrote this song for a friend so I was never the one on the horse, but that doesn’t matter. We’ve all been on that horse, that path, that journey. It was a song written for and about women finding their place in the world and dealing with the chaos around them. By making it less specific, it could be anyone. It could be me. Being a wife, mother, producer, and singer-songwriter can be a little overwhelming at times, so believe me when I say, I can relate. I wrote the song to say, “I see you.” When you share your songs with the world, the hope is that your lyrics make others feel seen, too.

It’s a good lesson; one of many he taught me.

I’m not even going to get into the cookie jar; the banner was bad enough, and we’ve had many laughs about it since. But the message is clear.

Don’t make it all about you. Invite the listener to make it about them.