Songwriters And Artists: Writing Real Vs. Really Clever Songs

by Clay Mills
Feb 7, 2024

Perhaps the most common songwriting mistakes 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 someone 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.” This could also be looked at as writing from the head instead of the heart. 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 a songwriting community like SongTown where members and pros will support your craft.

Writing Real - SongTown

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

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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