Songwriting

Are You Too Close To Your Song? Good Songs Need Perspective

by Clay Mills
Jan 14, 2020

Have you ever poured your heart into a song about a traumatic experience you’ve just experienced, barely able to hold back the tears as you write, and then rush out to play it for someone only to get a lukewarm reaction? How does this happen?

While singing and capturing that great rush of inspiration, it touched every fiber of your soul. How could someone else not be moved?

And then, the next person isn’t moved either? The answer is PERSPECTIVE.  Songs need perspective. Joni Mitchell says it like this, “You could write a song about some kind of emotional problem you are having, but it would not be a good song, in my eyes, until it went through a period of sensitivity to a moment of clarity. Without that moment of clarity to contribute to the song, it’s just complaining.”

Often when we are in the throes of a life-changing event, we’re too close to the raw emotion, and therefore, lack perspective.

We might write the words “you broke my heart” and choke back tears in the writing room, but have we written a great line for our song??? Perspective gives deeper meaning to our song.

A year later, you might sit down to write the same song and write ‰”You broke my heart, but you didn’t break me.‰

Well, now you’ve added perspective and depth to the same idea! Co-writing is a great way to avoid this songwriting snag. I love when an artist walks into the room and is going through something emotional in his or her life and wants to write about it. I’m not living the same heartbreak as the artist, so I can offer the perspective a great song needs by drawing on a similar situation from my own past.

Marty Dodson and I recently wrote with an amazing artist where this exact situation occurred. She was tearing up telling us her story. We had chill bumps, the lump in our throats, and felt her pain. But we also had just enough distance to offer some depth and create a beautiful story.

It’s not that you shouldn’t write about the pain you’re in today or next month. In fact, it’s tremendous therapy for dealing with and expressing pain. But if the song that means the world to you, isn’t touching others the way it touches you, perhaps you can revisit it six months down the road. Just don’t view it as a finished product. Songs need perspective and time tends to afford that. Give it some space to develop perspective, find the good parts of that initial inspiration, and build a great song around those elements that are working.

Write On! Live On! Clay

Clay Mills

Clay Mills

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

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