Songwriting

5 Ways To Know If A Song Idea Is Worth Pursuing

by Clay Mills
Jun 23, 2019

A lot of folks email Marty and me asking if we can tell them whether a song idea is worth pursuing. Though I’d love to give an answer, I generally believe it’s better to teach a man to fish, than hand him a fish. This is what my mentors did for me and I’m lucky they didn’t give me the answers. Instead, they gave me questions! So I’d like to share with you some questions I ask myself before spending too much time on an idea.

Does your song idea feel real or clever?

Real always trumps intellectual or clever in my book! I like to find a lot of ideas that happen naturally in conversation. Like when I, or the person I’m talking to, says something with conviction. I’ve gotten some of my biggest songs this way. Especially with artist co-writes. Artists are great at expressing themselves. That’s their job! So I like to take things they say and feel—and then write it!

Have I heard this idea before?

I make it my mission to not write a title I have heard before. Even though a writer cannot copyright a title, I still want my titles to be fresh. Often I will search a prospective title on ASCAP and BMI’s web sites. If there few other songs by that title, I know I have something unique.  If there are NO songs by that title, then I have struck gold! But, if I find 200 songs with my title, then I usually move on to another title.

Does the idea have legs?

Once I get an idea, does it make my mind race with the next line, and then the next? Or do I get stuck immediately? I find that the idea I’m supposed to write that day will usually take off with a creative burst and have the legs to get a good bit down on paper before the creativity stops. If an idea bogs down too quickly or has a hard time getting started, then I search for another idea.

Is the idea believable? 

People want to listen to a song that is believable. They want to be taken on a journey. And the listener won’t do that UNLESS the idea is believable. I always try to avoid ideas that can be called into question.

For example: “Everyone Knows Love Is Just A Game”.

I would not write this title because not everyone believes this. A lot of people believe in real love and don’t think it’s just a game! This may seem like a small thing, but I’ve witnessed it kill a tune because the song idea was not worth pursuing.

Why should someone care about this title?

What is the power in this idea? Will it move the listener. Will it make them feel the emotions you want them to feel? Do you want them to laugh, cry, dance, etc? If not, it’s probably not unique enough. A great idea causes some sort of reaction in the listener because it has power behind it. Writing about things YOU care about increases the likelihood that the listener will care as well. Provided of course, that you write it well!

Write on! ~CM

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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