Your Ticket Into The Music Business: Writing Better Songs

by Clay Mills
Feb 21, 2024

Marty Dodson and I spend a lot of time preaching the gospel of “writing better songs.”

Each time we blog about the power of a great song, we inevitably get several emphatic comments stating something like this: “I have lots of great songs, but I don’t have the connections you guys have!” While this is true now, I want to let you know that both Marty and I started out in this business much like many of you –with zero connections and no real money! In fact, we both did not make the decision to chase the songwriting dream until we were in our thirties. It seemed impossible when considering I lived 1300 miles from Nashville when I decided to start writing Country music. So how did I open doors, not knowing anything about the music business and having zero connections?

My first step towards becoming a songwriter…

My first step was to find a songwriting class. I knew I needed to write better songs. I was working in New York City (not exactly the capitol of Country music, lol), so I went to the Songwriters Guild to sign up for a Sheila Davis class. Sheila had written a book called “The Craft Of Lyric Writing” and taught regular classes at the Guild. I learned a lot from her. She had once written a big song and has a brilliant mind for lyrics and why they do or do not work. After the class, I started seeing my writing improve a little. I met another person in the class who wanted to write Country songs.

Writing Better Songs - SongTown on Songwriting

I think we were the only two in New York City back then who wrote country music!

My new co-writer, George, played a song we wrote for his friend Bill. Bill is a lyricist and wanted to write with me after he heard that song. After Bill and I wrote 20 songs, we had one we felt really good about. Bill went to a workshop and played our song.  A TV actor, Ken, who was at the meeting approached Bill. He wanted to know who wrote the song, because he was thinking of being a Country artist, and the song blew him away. He felt he needed “better songs.”

The power of writing better songs…

Well, Ken and I eventually started writing. About ten songs later, we wrote one called, “Not Even Monday.” Because Ken was a TV actor, he was able to arrange a meeting with an up-and-coming producer, Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts). Mark was working at EMI publishing at the time, and he flipped over the song Ken and I played for him. He didn’t understand how two guys in New York were writing “better songs” than his staff writers at EMI in Nashville. Mark ran out and got that song cut with a new artist and that was the start of my songwriting journey in Nashville.

So, what connected the dots for a guy in his early thirties living in New York with no connections to a Nashville publishing deal at a major company?

Every step of the way it was a “song” that opened each door, and my desire to take classes to strive to “write better songs.” In fact, I spent zero time worrying about how to get my song to Tim McGraw, or thinking my songs were as good as radio… All I thought about was being the best writer I could be. I wanted to write as well as my heroes. After 200 plus major artist’s recordings and 16 radio singles, I still want to write as good as my heroes. And that feeling of still having so much to learn keeps me burning to “write better songs.” And it’s this same approach that led Marty Dodson and I to start the SongTown community. We enjoy sharing the things we’ve learned in our classes and help other writers write their best songs. Here’s a great  Writing Better Songs Checklist that Marty is sharing with you…

Great songs have always been the magic that opens doors and hearts. And it will always be.

Write on! Write better! ~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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