Songwriters And Artists: Are Your Songs Real or Really Clever?

themusiclab_songtown-real songs


Perhaps the most common songwriting mistake that I’ve seen kill a song…

If I had to choose one songwriting mistake I’ve seen over and over in mentoring sessions through the years, it would be “writing clever instead of writing real.” Throughout the entire writing process I am asking myself, does this feel real? Could this have really happened? Does this sound like something would say or does it just sound like a clever line? When someone hears your song for the first time, real hits them first before they even fully understand what your song is about. Nothing loses the listener faster than a line in  song that’s not believable or sounds “written.” Here are a few ways to make sure your song is “Real.”

Always write true statements.

“Everyone knows love is just a game” is not a true statement because not everyone feels that way. But- “Some may say that love is just a game” is true because some people feel that way. This may seem like a small point but it is huge. Always write true statements. People can’t argue with truth. It’s real and affects people, even if they don’t like it, it affects them.

Write the songs truth and not your truth.

If you start out writing a song about something in your life that has happened. A breakup, etc; don’t insist on writing your story exactly the way that happened. The song is going to have it’s own heart and soul and you must learn to follow the song’s truth. Again, this is a subtle difference but one of the most powerful things to remember. The song is KING. Always. Learn to listen for the truth in the song. Letting go and being flexible will make you a better writer.

Follow your voice.

Every successful writer I know has a VOICE. Not a singing voice, but an inner voice. A style of writing that is unique to only them. And it is the most honest place a writer can come from.It’s a deep real place. How do we find our voice? By experimenting. Writing a lot and paying attention to the way your songs affect the people who hear them. We are not an island. We need feedback to grow, so play your songs for your peers, band mates, or co-writers.

A few of the things that have helped me create more believable better songs…

Join an organization like SongTown where members and pros will support your craft. Take a class where you can share your songs and get positive pro critiques. Read a book like Marty Dodson’s “Song Building.” I did not learn to be successful with my writing  overnight but once I mastered these elements, they have taken me farther than my dreams thought possible.

Write on! ~Clay



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. 

22 thoughts on “Songwriters And Artists: Are Your Songs Real or Really Clever?

  1. Great for me to read this now, as I often struggle and progress is so slowly with lyrics.. Very much looking forward to exploring /trying these concepts ,insights you’ve shared here. Thanks much for this lesson!

  2. Thanks Clay. Your Blogs are very helpful. I have Marty’s book and will have to find some time to read it.

    Whenever I have written what I feel is “real”, the feedback is a bit confusion. Not writing or explaining or providing the image of what it “Should be”? It can be a bit confusing but I certainly have been getting a lot out of being a member with ST so I’m hoping I can pull out my inner-self to be a better outer-self when it comes to writing. 🙂 Thanks again.

  3. Clay, great advice. I ask my self every time I write a song, is this conversational? Would someone say that? I will ask the artist I am writing with especially, is this something you would sing? It really helps to keep your lyric simple and the focus on making the story a great one.
    Thank you,

  4. Thanks Clay. I am really striving to write honest songs. In country music especially, I seem to hear a lot of clever lines. I really appreciate listening to writers who write from the heart.

  5. This is so timely. I’m just finishing a co-write about a situation my co-writer went thru with a significant other, and at first as we wrote lyric lines he kept hesitating saying that’s not how it really happened, and I would tell him it doesn’t have to mimic life exactly…that our song has a life and a story of it’s own. He got it, but I’m gonna copy the paragraph Write The Truth and Not Your Truth to him as a reminder.
    I always love your posts Clay, great stuff.

  6. Great information. I always find it easier to just write what’s true and give little spins on my words.

  7. Thanks for the great advise Clay, I usually am my own worst critic after completing any given song’s 50th draft….I use a 200 point lyrics checklist and a 70 point music checklist…but even after this mountain of self scrutiny; I often sit with a song for months until I finally ask myself the question…”Is this music that really matters”….?

  8. The truth of the song – I once offered to tell someone the story behind a song of mine they loved. He said, “No thanks, I already have my own version.” Once we put a song out there the listener owns the the meaning.

  9. Thank you for the excellent advice Clay. Sharing songs is so important. I’ve been writing songs for over 30yrs but just recently began to share them. The few people I have shared with gave me positive feedback and now I have more confidence in my song writing. I’m still very shy and have difficulty singing in front of people.

  10. “Write the songs truth, not your truth.” This is the same as in writing a fictional character-the writer has to be true to each character, wherever that leads, and not worry about how one ‘wants’ the character to be written.

  11. I remember being in a co-write with you, Clay, and I kept throwing out all these clever lines, and you would often say, “I don’t think people would say that in real life.” Very helpful to me.

    It has guided me since. Great post and good reminder.

  12. Great advice, Clay! Thank you. I struggle between the clever lines and the poetic lines that sound ‘written’ and the conversational lines. I think it’s because I’m always looking for a cool and unique way of saying it.

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