Songwriting

Songwriters: Say What You Want To Say

by Marty Dodson
Nov 24, 2017

As a songwriting mentor, I find myself critiquing a 1000’s of songs for other writers.

In most of those sessions, I find myself asking “What were you trying to say?” and then, upon hearing the answer, responding “Why don’t you say that?” I’m firmly convinced that many of us make songwriting harder than it has to be. We are more concerned with trying to be clever, adding “furniture” into our lyric, or copying something on the radio than we are with simply communicating what we want to say.

As an exercise, I challenge writers to write a super simple and clear lyric that just says what they want to say. It’s harder than you think, but it can yield amazing results. When you write, try putting communication at the forefront. First, say what you mean to say. THEN, go back and see if you need to make it more fresh or more interesting. Many times, you won’t even need that.

I always use the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me” as an example of clear, strong communication.

Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t
Here in the dark in this final hour
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
But you won’t, no you won’t
Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t

Nothing wild or crazy. No furniture at all. Clear communication. I don’t know how many times I have had writers tell me “Well country music has to make sense but pop music doesn’t.” My answer is always “But what if it did?” How huge would some of those big pop hits be if they made sense? Ryan Adams recently released a cover of a complete Taylor Swift album. The WHOLE album. That has never happened in the history of music that I’m aware of. Ryan Adams is a great songwriter. I’m guessing that he covered Taylor’s album because she writes great songs that make sense. This week, challenge yourself to be clear and concise. Put communication ahead of clever. And write on!

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

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