4 Common Songwriting Mistakes – And 4 Fast Fixes

songwriting mistakes


Are your songs not getting results?

Is that latest greatest song you’ve written not having the impact on your audience that you were so sure it would? Often the difference in a good song and one that moves the listener is a simple quick fix. Here are 4 fast fixes for 4 common songwriting mistakes.

Keep your intro under 15 seconds.

One of the most common mistakes in commercial songwriting is the long intro. As a rule, intros should be 15 seconds or less. You will only have the listeners valuable attention for a short time. It’s important to keep that attention and get to the meat of your song. 15 seconds gives you enough time to set the mood and groove of your song and whet the listeners’ appetite for more to come!

Point of view recheck.

Do a quick pronoun check of your lyric. If your verse is first person “You and I” then the rest of the song should not be “She & He.”  This seems like a basic idea but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen potentially great songs confuse the listener by mixing up pronouns. We’ve all done it and in most cases, it’s a really quick fix.

Fix this songwriting mistake by adding more furniture to your verse.

While feelings are an important part to any song, it’s important to set-up your song with enough details or “furniture.” As the songwriter we already know all the details of the story of our song and it’s easy to forget the listener has never heard our story. The listener needs to see as well as hear that story for the best emotional impact.

The Verse Shuffle.

Often by the time we get around to writing the 2nd verse of our song, we are much clearer on what our song is about. Look at your lyric honestly. Is the 2nd verse better? More focused? No problem, just make that your new 1st verse! And see if you can salvage a couple lines from the 1st verse to start a brand new 2nd verse. This simple reshuffling can many times transform a good song into a great song.

At the end of the day, songwriting at its best is a true art form. And while there are no hard and fast rules, these basic guidelines will help your song have a greater impact on your audience.

Write on! ~CM


Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay Mills is also the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

10 thoughts on “4 Common Songwriting Mistakes – And 4 Fast Fixes

  1. Nicely done Clay, thank you for your great tips and advise.
    Question: I was curious if you have ever had a song idea that for one reason or another got tabled ( Back Burnered ) for later, then turns up again years later in a writing session and became a cut and or hit record?
    Thanks again for all you do…!

  2. Four great tips to make our songs much better. Thanks! I heard before about making Verse 2 the first verse and thought it was a great idea. Trying to use some lines from the original Verse 1 for the new Verse 2 is another great idea.

  3. I think of the Introductory Movement as having a function, and it should be just long enough to serve that function, which is Introducing the Song. Those first sounds the listener hears have ‘Hook Factor’. They ‘hook’ their interest, and only need to do so long ‘enough’ to get to Verse I.
    People argue that “Hotel California” and “Stairway To Heaven” have long Introductory Movements.
    “Yes,” I tell them. “Write a Song like that and make your Intro that interesting and you can have a long Intro too.”
    Otherwise, follow the Rule-Tool: “Don’t bore us! Get to the Chorus!”
    That ‘enough’ judgment call is one Songwriters have to learn to make, in the Intro, in the Verse, in the Chorus, in a Bridge if the Song needs one. How much ‘Lyrical Exposition’ in a Verse (or two Verses?) is ‘enough’ before it’s time to get to the Chorus? How much longer can that Intro keep them ‘Hooked’?

    Point-Of-View is a great opportunity to practice the ‘Craft’ of Songwriting, taking what you were ‘inspired’ to write and deliberately changing it to a purpose. Change it from a Male Point-Of-View to a Female Point-Of-View. Some Lyrics don’t need changing. Either sex can sing it just the way you wrote it. Others may benefit from a Crafting from a third-person narrator to a first-person Singer-Character, not you, the guy in the Song, telling HIS story. His story can be a fiction you imagine yourself in, assuming the persona of that guy. He can get the girl you never did, lose her, and get her back again, and tell it in an interesting way.

    Furniture. Props on a stage set the scene for the actors, and the action. Nouns. Adjectives. Action verbs. All that stuff you thought wasn’t important in high school can help you tell interesting stories about that girl you thought WAS important in high school. Let the listener hear it, see it, taste it, touch it, smell it if you can. ‘Crafting’ in that sort of detail is possible. Looking for it as you write, inspirational ideas, can come to you to, once you know you’re looking for them.

    Verse Shuffle: I’ll add that to the list. It can work. Sometimes you don’t have to rewrite the original Verse 1. It works as Verse II or the elusive Verse III.
    But recognizing the more interesting content of a Verse as more effective to open the Song with is a great judgment call. Is it more effective to introduce the ‘You and I’ Characters in Verse I, or start with vague ideas, abstract concepts, and not introduce the ‘actors’ in your ‘play’ until near the end? The Singer-Character is the ‘actor’ (noun or pronoun) to do the ‘action’ (verb) described (adjective/adverb) in the story. He may be talking…maybe should be talking directly to or about a Love-Interest Character. Love and the pursuit thereof is what makes the world go ’round!
    Sometimes it takes a while for a Song idea to ‘incubate’. A Songwriter creates a Singer-Character telling his story, but YOU, the Songwriter, don’t know his story. Not yet. You’re just the First Listener. You got Hooked by whatever you started with, the guitar work, that first Lyrical Line. You keep going back, taking it from the top, coming up to that stopping place and wondering what happens next. You can force your way on Lyrically, employing the stepping stones of the Melody you’ve created so far, Repeating the Musical Movement of your Verse I with ‘words’ for a Verse II.
    But are you just Rhyming now?
    Is it truly an advancing of a storyline? Or just words?
    Is it going to logically land you at the Chorus?
    Is it going keep your listener ‘Hooked’, wondering how the story’s going to come out?
    More Inspiration comes with patience. More Crafting can influence your Inspiration. Just Rhyming abstractly forward can make Jack a dull Song.
    Then, sometimes…wait for it…you pop through the looking glass…and You ‘assume the Character’ of your Singer-Character. Instead of him being an idea in your head, you’re in his head. You ‘get’ his situation, and how he feels about it, and where he wants his story to go, and where it does go, for better or for worse until death do you…no wait…until the Song ends.
    Good lessons as always Clay!

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