The Song Is King


If you’ve been hanging around SongTown for a while, you’ve heard Clay and I talk about the idea that “The Song Is King”.

When we say that, we mean that, when we write, we are there to serve the song, NOT to serve our own interests. I believe that music and songs have a “life” of their own. As we are creating, we come to hundreds, if not thousands, of junctions where we have to choose one of the forks in the road.  When co-writing, if everyone in the room is choosing a fork that makes the song better, you are on your way to a strong song.  If ANYONE in the room is holding on to something that doesn’t make the song better, you’re doomed. 

The fork you take can radically alter the course of your song.

Many times, we start out with a title for our song and realize as we get into the chorus that the song doesn’t really support the original idea very well. Or perhaps that there is a better choice for the title. Hanging on to the original title could kill the song.  Same goes for a killer line that just doesn’t work in your particular song.  It’s hard to let those things go, but it’s imperative if you want a great song.

Sometimes, in a co-write situation, one person or the other develops a “sacred cow” mentality where they hang on to their idea or their line for dear life. Often, even if it makes the song weaker to keep it! If you, or your co-writer are so adamant about a line or idea that you can’t let go of it to make the song stronger, then you are making yourself, and not the song, the king. This is an important lesson to learn when both mastering the art of co-writing or writing solo.

Even in solo writes, I have critiqued people’s songs and found them to be so in love with their “sacred cows” that they won’t remove them even if it destroys their song.

Whether you write by yourself or co-write. Whether you write commercially or for yourself, your songs will be better if you put the song FIRST as you write. At every little fork in the road, make the choice that makes the song stronger, even if you have to toss out a KILLER line in the process.

If you’d like to hear a song I wrote with hit artist Eric Paslay where we started out with a title something like “This Old Guitar” and we let the song lead us to another title, check it out below!

The song is king!

Change These Strings – Eric Paslay, Marty Dodson. Dylan Altman


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

18 thoughts on “The Song Is King

  1. I’ve had pretty bad luck with “sacred cattle” haha.. It’s almost as if it needs to be an agreement to add to the split sheet and have all co-writers sign off on it! Good advice! Cool Tune! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’m scared to co-write. Maybe this is an issue a lot of writers who’ve never did anything but write (selling, performing, etc) have. I don’t know. I just know that songs sort of work through me, A to Z, and it just ends up spilling out on the page. I’m afraid I’d be “that” guy trying to hold onto the thing he thought made the song better, while everyone else was like “No, let it go.” I think my issue is that I’ve never did it for money or recognition, just as a hobby most of my life. I’m not on some high horse about my integrity or whatever. Songs just feel sort of personal to me. My point, as long-winded as I am: I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel this way. Any chance of a future blog post from Marty, Clay or another amazing writer about how to maybe tackle that obstacle and let go of that deeply personal aspect of “it’s mine!” to work as a team?

    Or maybe there’s already a post like that.

    I mean, I get it exactly. Let go of those sacred cows for the good of the song, not the pride–or good, whims, etc–of the writer. But for many of us, it’s a bit tougher than just saying it. Especially guys like me, who have zero incentive for songwriting other than pouring our hearts out onto a page, which is inherently, deeply personal.

  3. I have found co-writing challenging, rewarding and sometimes disappointing. One of my strengths is song ideas/titles/hooks. Just like Marty and Eric’s song above, I have started with a title and via the writing, the song found its own title. Sometimes when I know I have a great song idea, except for a couple of other co-writers I write with, who are willing to “kill their darlings” as Marty often says. I’m a bit fearful of handing an idea over to co-writing sometimes. I have found I love solo writing…one, for the challenge of seeing if I can fulfill the needs of this work of art I see in my brain and because I will always do what the song needs and am not afraid to change a line/hook, and because I’m the type of person who can become reserved in the room when there are stronger louder personalities present. I do well with just one other writer at a time. I’m just one of those people who does best when it’s quiet and my ideas can flow freely. I’m still in the process of finding more co-writers that I gel with well because when it works it is a thing of beauty! Thanks Marty, for everything you do for songwriters!

    1. I totally agree, Ariel! I’m the same way. Although, I think you’ve cowritten a lot more than I have. I’m also sort of on a self imposed cowriting hiatus to try to just get better on my own and get so I can produce more songs in a shorter amount of time. Plus, have been taking crash courses and the two recent masterclasses, so time is an issue as well. I’m hoping to get back into it in the near future. I also love being able to write a whole song by myself, since I am trying to improve my melody writing and my ability to use tracks and write chord progressions, too.

  4. Nice song!

    Couldn’t remember who said, “Murder your darlings” as writing advice. Thought it was maybe William Faulkner, but found that it actually goes back to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. (Today’s trivia nugget.)

  5. I want to ask this question in all sincerity because it’s something that troubles me every time the subject of co-writing comes up. If you co-write, how can the art that is produced be considered your own? I think of the great painters and sculptors who have created art and I just can’t imagine them ever considering co-painting, or co-sculpting. If our songs are our art, can you help me understand why it’s different in songwriting? I’m honestly curious.

    1. Hi Judson, Co-writing is different from painting or sculpture… it’s not about being solely your own. Especially if another singer performs the song. Another painter doesn’t typically go out and re-paint the Mona Lisa for large crowds or in small dives. Music is often a shared experience… And many of the biggest songs in the history of music have been co-wtitten by teams. John/Taupin, Jagger/Richards, Sager/ Bacharach, Rogers/Hart, etc etc etc. If you want a song to be solely your art, then write alone and record it yourself. That’s all good too! But co-writing is a powerful thing when done right and can touch many hearts 🙂

    2. Judson, I would add that the reason many people co-write is that it makes a song more universal. If you are pitching your songs to artists, being universal is crucial. The artist has to relate to the song just as the writer(s) did. Sometimes solo writes are too personal and specific to be recorded by another artist. And, there are not many writers who are world class at melody and lyric. So, we work with people who ARE world class where we are weaker in order to create a better song. Great question!

  6. Yeah! I love this song. I love the message, I love the guitar riff that’s still playing in my head (totally inspiring a whole new way to approach my playing/writing). Brilliant! Thank you.

    1. Hello. M . Dodson

      Ricky here please answer this for me.

      A music company licenses one of my songs/work?

      October 2019 . Is that good news for me the writer?

      When will that company , or artist reach out to me?

      1. Ricky, first of all, you have to grant the license. So, you get to decide if you think the project is one worth being on. It can be good news or bad news. If it’s a legit company, then it’s usually good news. If it’s not, you risk tying your song up in a black hole forever. The company needs to reach out to you BEFORE they release your song. If not, something’s amiss. Hope that was helpful.

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