At Pixar when we were making Toy Story, there came a time when we were forced to admit that the story wasn’t great. It just wasn’t great. We stopped production for five months…. We paid them all to twiddle their thumbs while the team perfected the story into what became Toy Story. And if they hadn’t had the courage to stop, there would have never been a Toy Story the way it is, and there probably would have never been a Pixar. We called that the ‘story crisis,’ and we never expected to have another one. But you know what? There’s been one on every film.
He goes on to explain that this also applies to every product ever designed at Apple. You have to be very confident to admit that something took many rewrites. Most people would rather everyone believe that every single idea they have is golden and comes “ready to go”. This is part of what makes Steve Jobs great: he knows he’s right because he’s done his homework.
The myth of the “strike of genius”
The first thing you learn at design school is that your first idea is almost never the final one. The “strike of genius” type idea is just a myth. It looks good in a TV movie of the week, but it almost never occurs in real life. Great work requires constant redesign. The same applies to songwriting, screenwriting, industrial design, architecture, research, etc.
I once met a budding music producer who encouraged all artists to experiment in the studio instead of preparing their work. “It gotta flow naturally” he used to say. “This is how Bowie does it”, he asserted. Well, the only thing that flowed was the money between the artist’s pocket and his own. His sessions were quite lucrative and he used the artists’ ego to his advantage. Who doesn’t want to be compared to David Bowie?
Rewrites in Xsong
For this reason, I have worked to include rewrite support in Xsong. It’s implemented a bit like the loop play-list feature in ProTools, where for a given song section (verse, chorus, etc.) you can save up to 12 “rewrites”. Rewrites can include lyrics, chords, melodies and can be used to adapt a song for a different gender or key. Yet another use is to adapt for a foreign language translation. As a songwriter, this means that you can keep everything at the same place and not have to save separate documents for each rewrite. Obviously, once in a while you have to clean up the rewrite stack and focus on one final version, but it’s quite handy while you’re getting there.