Does Your Songwriting Focus Need Tweaking?


One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over my songwriting career is that my songwriting focus constantly needs tweaking. It’s easy to lose sight of the important foundational things and veer off into the worlds of negativity or procrastination. So I have a short checklist of things I remind myself of daily…

No matter what your goal is, learning to improve your craft will get you closer to that goal.

My SongTown co-founder, Marty Dodson, and I started our songwriting careers later in life than most folks. Heck, I didn’t even know there was such a thing until my late 30’s! I just loved writing songs! And although we are pro songwriters, we realize not everyone wants to be a “pro.” So we’ve never focused solely on the “pro aspect” of writing. That usually doesn’t work anyway. 

Whether you want to just have fun or are looking for a big artist cut… improving your craft makes it a much better experience.

If you do dream of being a full-time songwriter, then do what real pros like Marty and I do. Focus 99% of your energy on learning something new about songwriting every day. And have fun doing it! We made it our mission when we started SongTown to bring you something of real educational value every day – from writers that walk the walk and love what they do. But remember, striving first to be a “pro” can get you distracted.

And, if you just wanna have fun? Great! Acquiring more skills makes it a more enjoyable experience when you write!

Co-writing with great writers will help your songwriting focus in specific areas.

I was blessed with instincts to write catchy melodies. But when I landed my first staff writing job, I was expected to write with all types of co-writers and artists. I knew that some of the artists I wrote with were not really lyric writers. So I needed to up my lyric writing game fast. So I made it my mission to co-write with killer lyricists like Tia Sillers (I Hope You Dance). Co-writing with her allowed me to see first hand what was important to a great lyricist! Co-writing taught me to be a better lyricist myself and eventually I was having hits with songs that I wrote the lyrics for!

Striving to be the best writer you can get you anywhere you need to go as a songwriter.

Write On!



Clay Mills is co-founder of SongTown and a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter. He has 2 Grammy nominations and is the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

24 thoughts on “Does Your Songwriting Focus Need Tweaking?

  1. Yes, I agree with your first paragraph…. It can be very easy to get lost in other distractions, other priorities and/or procrastinate. Your last paragraph reminded me of Tia’s class on SongTown(really enjoyed her and her animated air guitar playing!) Just looked her up on You Tube to see her perform, I Hope You Dance. Clay, thanks for another important article! : )

  2. This is perfect timing for this post, Clay, because having had a year’s worth of several ST classes (including the Master Melody and Lyric ones) and write 40-50 more songs than my starting point last year (about 15 songs), I want to start narrowing my strategy for the coming year! But daily tool building, or at least as often as I can tool build when I start teaching again in a couple months, is on my list of things to do!

  3. Brother Clay, My goal is ALWAYS to try and write a better story than the last one I wrote. If it can’t be better, then it can at least be different and unique. When I was fronting bands back in my teens I tried to sing just like Robert Plant, or Steve Perry of Journey,….until one day I realized, “These brothers all ready exist. Why am I tryin’ to be like them?!” So, why give artists stories with story lines they get pitched all the time to cut? I gaurantee Reba had never seen another story line like “Fancy” when she got pitched that one from Harlan Howard. And that song became her 1st mega hit single. Story themes always stay the same (love, lust, loss, happiness, sadness, being together, being apart,…..), so it’s how they’re told that makes the difference.

  4. In the vein of bettering songwriting craft: How to write deeper.

    I write the first draft of a verse. It’s top-of-the-mind writing. I look at the draft and think, how do I write this deeper, more meaningful?

    Are there a set of questions (or exercises) you ask yourself that help dig out more meaning?

    Are there examples somewhere that show a lyric line from 1st draft to finished, and the thinking involved to get there?

    1. Yes Blane, we have many courses and lessons on the website that will get you writing on a deeper level.


  5. This writer also gave an interesting analogy. He said in the literature world we purposely try to avoid what’s already been written. Most of the music industry does the opposite, its like a bottle neck in a fast food drive through, if a burger, coke and fries was ordered then other writers pile on. Ed Sheeran and Nora Jones come along and give people a fresh piece of salmon, salad and baked patato and they take home Emmys. Moral of this story,
    Be you.

  6. I find that I write better songs when something happens in my life or write about someone else.I know that means I don’t write a lot of songs that way but they come from within and to me it has more meaning.

  7. Clay, thanks for the encouraging words! Let’s all remember why we’re doing this in the first place. Because we enjoy it!

  8. I had a chance to talk recently with a literary genius. I asked him.. how can I read your books for hours and every page I’m more captivated and you use no rhyme, melody or music to keep my attention. What makes you so great?. His response, after laughter. Paul, I’ll tell you a secret most writers don’t know or use consistently. I run everything I write through this filter and then my editor runs it through again. Everyone’s writing would exponentially improve in both content and consistency, if they used this same filter.
    1. Why are you telling me this?
    2. Why are you telling me this now?

      1. PV: That implies that every song should have a “message,” direct or implied. I’m actually not sure. Wrote a song about 9/11 once (“Some of Us”) that just showed three scenarios of people in three places (Kansas, Denver, Harlem), all different, and at three different distances from Ground 0, but experiencing grief in their own circumstances. I was satisfied with it at first, but, over time, started to feel that there really wasn’t enough connection among them or with the listener. But there was another song (“The Benefit of the Doubt”) that just warned us to listen to those little instinctive misgivings, because they’re often right. This was much more general (addressed to “you”), but seemed to have a wider focus — and thus, maybe more “useful,” despite the timeliness of the first.

        1. Yes, point of view should be chosen for each idea on the basis of what works for that particular idea.

  9. This is a inspiring article! I have been trying to find a producer because I am unable to record music that is broadcast quality and the cost to hire a producer can be expensive. Do you have any ideas to find a producer who be interested th receiving a percentage of the sync fees and royalties?

    1. Jeff, SongTown members collaborate a lot. Finding a co-writer that does music tracks cuts down on that demo cost. You should get involved with the community and get that ball rolling.

      Cheers, Clay

  10. I think focusing on being the best you can be as a writer is absolutely the goal. I think running your own race is very important as well. Thank you for all of your insights and knowledge, It’s been so helpful and encouraging. Very appreciated.

    1. while I am not a ‘bluegrass’ guy, I do write some Christian Country with some ‘bluegrass rhythms. I would suggest that you go to every bluegrass ‘festival’ you can. At every one I’ve been to, especially those that last several days, there are always groups of pickers sittin’ around a campfire, picnic table or just in a circle of chairs swappin’ songs … most are traditional bluegrass tunes but I have found that folks are always interested in hearing original songs … good luck and keep writing !! Blessings on ya <

    2. Hi Myrna:
      It has been my experience as a self-publishing songwriter that bluegrass bands are a bit easier to contact. I search online for festivals first. Those websites typically show the bands that are performing. Once you have a band name, google it to find their website. On their website you will either be able to contact the band directly or a band manager. Do not send an MP3 or lyric sheet on first contact. Ask them permission to email a song for consideration.Send your very best songs.

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