I did “behind the song” blog series for both of my last two albums, and some people seem to like them, so I thought I would do it again! “Make It Right” is the second track from my latest release, Better. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.
Like many of my songs, “Make It Right” started out as a random idea for a line that I previously didn’t know what to do with. However, each of my songs is usually built with more than one such idea, but in this case, it was just this one line (words and music) and I wrote the rest of the song from scratch: “I’ve been waiting for a long time, waiting for a long time, you’ve been standing on the sidelines, standing on the sidelines.” I also knew that at the end of the song I would change “long time” to “lifetime” for a cool escalation.
At the same time, I was interested in writing more songs about relationships. Personally, I’m not a very romantic person, and right now I’m so focused on building my music career that the idea of a relationship barely even crosses my mind. I do believe in writing about what you know, but I can also only write so many songs about solitude. I felt like a good solution was to think about other people’s stories (fictional or not) and do my best to tap into their emotions, because then I have a good chance of writing about it almost as though I was writing about myself.
I sat with my “waiting for a long time/standing on the sidelines” line for a while trying to brainstorm different directions in which I could take it. I mean, really, it could apply to a million different situations where one person is waiting for something and another person is being indecisive, but it really seemed to fit best with a romantic relationship.
A common TV trope, sexist or not, is a man and a woman being in a casual relationship where the woman is waiting for a committed relationship that the man has zero interest in. Boring as it is, that’s what I had in mind. But my intention wasn’t to tap into that trope, but to challenge myself to tap into the emotions involved and write about those, not the story. I’ve always been interested in developing this skill, of focusing in so well on the emotions that it ends up being relatable to countless situations. Storytelling is important and I love story songs, but many extremely successful songs focus on emotions or symbols and tell no real story. I think I did a good job because nobody really seemed to view it as being about a casual relationship until I told them. One of my first listeners said it reminded them of their estranged parent.
So that idea of the emotions I wanted to express was all I really had when I sat down to write. I did finish the chorus first, because the lines I had, ending with “standing on the sidelines,” didn’t feel decisive, like the end of a chorus. It felt like it needed another line to define the song, so I brainstormed and improvised a bit, and “tonight is your last chance to make it right” is what I came up with.
Then it was just a matter of filling out the rest, which (unusual for me) was pretty much just improvised on the spot, with a little bit of attention to rhyme, but you will notice I rarely use perfect rhymes anyway. I just write what feels right to me. Normally though, I do write some kind of outline of where I want the song to go in each verse/part. But in this case, I basically wrote the first three lines and decided that was going to be a verse, and then just improvised a second and third verse that fit the same melody. Finally, I decided it needed a little bridge to change things up and make the song a little bit longer, so I added the “You can make this right” part, very bare bones but it did the trick for me.
The chords and melody were actually the result of a songwriting game I’ve started to play with myself to increase my output and creativity, where I randomly select an artist from my music library to try to emulate. In this case, I chose Ashlee Simpson – yes, I still like her debut album from 2004 and I’m not ashamed of it! Of course the song didn’t really come out sounding anything like her, but the exercise helped me come up with a sound that, to me, felt different from what I’d usually do. Perhaps the melody was a bit uncreative – I admit that’s one of my weaknesses and I do work on it, but it largely stems from my love of punk/rock songs, which tend to be extremely simple beneath the noise and production. I do like what I did with the rhythm, though.
I actually tried pitching this track for blogs and playlists using the paid version of SubmitHub (the free version is essentially useless in my opinion). For the unfamiliar: when you pay for SubmitHub Premium, outlets have to respond with non-copy/pasted feedback if they don’t approve your track, or your credits are automatically refunded. I basically just wanted to see if it was worth it. I got a handful of placements, but to be honest, the quality wasn’t great, so whether it’s worth it depends on how desperate you are just to say you were on some blog or playlist somewhere.
Anyway, I actually found the feedback interesting and somewhat useful (though not necessarily worth the cost). I had to read between the lines because plenty of the feedback canceled each other out. I literally got comments telling me my voice was amazing but the song was boring, and other comments telling me the song was interesting but they didn’t like my voice. It seems like people who are into rock/punk music are the ones who like my vocals – and I’m painfully aware I don’t sing in that style that nearly every upcoming successful female singer seems to sound like right now (not because I’m too cool, but because I literally don’t know how to sound like that, haha). That said, because my vocal and songwriting technique is apparently more pop/rock or even pop punk than folk (at least in this song), the biggest feedback I got was just that it should be filled out with other instrumentation besides just vocals and acoustic guitar. (That’s something I’m definitely working on for my next release next year, if finances allow it.) Some also mentioned the lackluster melody that I conceded earlier. However, nearly all the feedback on the guitar was positive, so that’s something at least!
It’s a lot to take in for future reference, but I still like the song. It feels like me, it expressed exactly what I set out to express, and that’s honestly my primary goal every time I sit down to write.
We’ve been down here so many times before
A roller coaster for so many years
And it’s not like I could ever think of asking you for anything
Oh lately, it’s been taking its toll
I’m finding gray hairs that I’ve been letting go
But it’s not like you would ever notice if you caught me worrying
‘Cause I’ve been waiting for a long time, waiting for a long time
You’ve been standing on the sidelines, standing on the sidelines
And tonight is your last chance to make it right
I woke up this morning, I straightened out my hair
I haven’t heard from you, unspoken words are clear
And it’s not like you could ever argue that I owed you anything
And it’s not like you have ever helped me with the weight I’m carrying
You can make this right, you can make it right
You don’t have to give up the fight, please don’t give up the fight
‘Cause I’ve been waiting for a lifetime, waiting for a lifetime
And tonight is your last chance to make it right