How do you know when something you create is finished? A painting, a story, a recipe, a poem, a song?
“Lost in the Night” took a long journey to become the song that I ultimately released in September. It all started with a chord progression, with a hopeful rising major chord sequence that fell into suspended sounds and minor chords, implying no tonal home – the yin and yang of belief and despair.
I knew the feeling I wanted to convey through the lyrics for this song, but the words weren’t coming to me.
I set aside the chords and melody for over a year, and when I opened my notebook again, almost instantly, three verses appeared.
I loved the imagery that had evolved in these new words, but still… something was missing.
I set aside the song again, only occasionally picking it up to play through it at the piano, asking my husband or anyone else in the house, “What does it need?”
It seemed everyone was happy with the song except me.
Eight months later, I started working with my collaborators in NYC on my album. The first day together, they picked “Lost in the Night” as one of the songs they wanted to record.
“Great!” I said. Followed immediately by the sighing of my inner voice, “Oh no…”
How was I ever going to finish this song?
What did it need? Or was it actually finished and I didn’t know when to let it go?
I decided to try adding a bridge - a passage with new material that allows the listener to return to previously heard elements of a song with a new perspective.
As with the start of “Lost in the Night,” the chords and melody wrote themselves right away.
The lyrics? I had to work to find those. I read poetry, I took long walks, I wrote large existential questions across my draft lyrics page:
What does this person want?
Why are they seeking this?
Where do we go when love dies???
One day, while washing dishes and thinking about something else entirely, I knew what the lyrics to the bridge were. And I was sure that – finally – this song was finished.
I excitedly sent my demo to NYC to start the process of recording.
When I got the first mix of it back, my heart sank:
It wasn’t right. It was all too much – too long, the story too intense, and most of all – TOO MANY WORDS. If I, the composer, was aurally exhausted listening to it, what could I expect from a listener?
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do…
I grabbed my viola, and with the lyrics to the bridge to guide me, I improvised a solo.
I had been right that I needed a bridge in this song – but I needed the voice of an instrument, where a picture can be painted through sound only.
Now, it all fit together – it had everything I wanted to express in the song, with the space for the listener's imagination to roam.
The song was complete.
After the recording was finished, I found myself reflecting: Was all that time wasted paining over both the larger song structure and the bridge?
And the answer came clearly: Not at all – the song would never have reached this conclusion without making that journey.
Besides – now I’m left with both a song, and a set of discarded lyrics that are surely destined to become the seed of something new.
Enjoy the journey… that’s where the magic happens…
The “ending” of a project is just a place to rest, assess, and realign our intentions before the start of the next journey.