Songwriters: You Must Bring Something New to the Party

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I’ve played this song for several publishers and they all said it sounds like the radio, but not one took my song…‰

Recently, while doing a mentoring session, a talented SongTownian prefaced her song she was about to play with these words, “I’ve played this song for several publishers and they all said it sounds like the radio, but not one took my song.”‰ As the song played through the first verse and hit the chorus, I knew exactly why the song did not excite any publishers. It was a well written for today‰’s radio that‰’s for sure. But…the song didn‰’t bring anything new to the party.

Bringing something new to the songwriting party…

Here‰’s what I mean. In my case, I was blessed with signing my first publishing deal at a young age of 33! I decided to move to Nashville and throw myself into writing full-time. And, I admit, after a year or two of no major cuts, I was worried. I was about to lose my publishing deal. So, I started writing songs I felt were perfect for the radio. I wrote songs that sounded like they should be played on radio. And, guess what? I got no cuts that year and lost my pub deal. Almost a year later, I was still without a deal and trying desperately to do anything I could to support my family. One day, I happened to be writing with a signed staff writer named Irene Kelley. Her publisher was looking for a song for a new TV show. They wanted something with a haunting melody, piano-driven, and hopeful. The show was titled ‰”Second Chances.‰” So, we took our cues and wrote a song called ‰”Second Chance.‰” Because they weren‰’t looking for a Country song, we took it in a folky-pop-big-melody direction. Well, guess what? It became my first song ever recorded by a Country superstar. Why? Because it brought something different to the party. Country artist Trisha Yearwood gave it the Country sound, but the song was bigger than that. It was different and real. And I wasn‰’t trying to sound like everything else on the radio.

I was free to be creative and speak from my heart.

While I think it‰’s crucial to understand radio, your audience, and all the other things you‰’ve heard Marty and I talk about, you can never lose sight of the fact that you must bring something different to the party.

Write On!

~Clay

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Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, and Kimberly Locke. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Follow him here: www.songtown.comat www.claymills.com

3 thoughts on “Songwriters: You Must Bring Something New to the Party

  1. So agree with this, Clay. Be who you are because there’s only one formula to follow -yours. Thanks for always sharing your wisdom and encouraging others.

  2. Excellent advice! I’m brand new to writing lyrics and I had been writing fun pop ‘sounds like the radio’ stuff but I need to bring more to it. those songs could have been written in house— I need to infuse my own perspective into them. After reading Shelly Peiken’s book the other day, I wrote a country song with her tips in mind : use ‘furniture’ for country lyrics, and write ‘a universal sentiment in a unique frame’. It’s my best one yet.

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