Today’s Music Sucks! A Songwriter’s Cautionary Tale

by Clay Mills
Dec 16, 2019

When I first moved to Nashville nearly 20 years ago, my publisher convinced two different Hall of Fame writers to write with me. Little did I know it would lead to this songwriter’s cautionary tale.

I was literally the new kid in town. And even though I had been writing for years and written hundreds of songs, it was never with writers on that level. I was pumped. 

Appointment with songwriter #1.

I showed up to write with writer #1 and he invited me into his office and I noticed on the wall were about 10 gold records. I was blown away. That’s what I hoped for one day. A wall-like that! It looked like a Christmas tree to me. I knew this writer’s work. He’s had a great run of hits for about ten years. I sat down and took my guitar out of my case. And writer #1 asked me point-blank.

“You’re not one of these new pop-country writers are you? Because this crap on the radio today ain’t music.”

Honestly, I didn’t quite know what to say. So I said, “We’ll let’s write some real music then.” But, the whole time we wrote he complained. He complained about the radio. About how no one today can sing. Songs aren’t any good. They all sing the same stuff. (Even though this was 20 years ago, sound familiar?) As a result, I finished a decent song with writer #1 that day and played the song for my publisher whose response was that it was an okay song. I agreed.

The next week in this songwriter’s cautionary tale included an appointment with songwriter #2.

I agreed to meet him at his home studio in Bellevue. As I walked into his recording studio/writing room, there were no gold records on the wall. Hmmm.. I know he’s had a ton of hits. We sat down and started talking and he was excited about 2 new singles he had coming out in the next few weeks. He then asked me if I had heard this new young artist that just got signed to Sony. Writer #2 loved how this new kid was gonna change everything. How he doesn’t sound like anything he’s ever heard. I thought to myself, writer #2 wrote classic country songs I grew up listening to as a kid.

He’s been in the Hall of Fame for years. And he likes this new kid that’s gonna turn country music upside down?

Wow. We sat down to write. The whole session he was focused on writing something fresh. In fact, if a line sounded like it’s been said before, he wanted to figure out how to say it in a new way. And boy did he love writing. It showed in the song we came up with too.

My publisher was jumping up and down with excitement when I played him the work tape. So, it was not surprising to me when eventually, the song did get recorded.

The more I wrote with Hall0f-Fame writer #2, the more I learned about his positive and humble attitude. He even took a songwriting class the month before!

Really? A Hall of Famer? He preferred working with young writers who could teach him new tricks. Every day was a chance to grow and take chances. And furthermore, I found out that he had written hit songs in 5 different decades. Whoa, now that’s incredible.

Finally, my personal takeaway of this songwriter’s cautionary tale?  The one thing I NEVER heard writer #2 say, in all the years I wrote with him- “Today’s music sucks.”

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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