Why Do You Write Songs?


Almost all of the people I write with are trying to get their songs recorded and make a living by doing so.  It is easy to get so caught up in the pursuit of something commercial that I lose sight of the reasons I started writing songs in the first place.  Those reasons, if lost and forgotten, take away the very foundation of any commercial success I might have.  So, I wanted to share my original reasons for writing songs and to challenge you to consider your own and to keep them at the forefront of your writing instead of making the “holy grail” some form of commercial success.  Here are my foundations:

Writing Songs Helped Me Say What I Couldn’t Say

Lee Ralston lived up the street.  We met in kindergarten and were friends all through elementary and middle school.  I thought she was really cute, but I was scared to death of her because she was a, you know, girl.  I never could find the words to tell her that I really thought she was beautiful and that I wished I could be her boyfriend, but sitting in the stairwell at my parent’s house with my guitar in hand, the words came out.  No one ever heard them unless my mom was eavesdropping through the kitchen door.  But I poured out my heart to Lee Ralston and others who came later.  On those steps, I was not an awkward teenager who was scared to death of rejection and girls.  I was a smooth tongued poet who could put words and music together in a way that REALLY spoke what was on my heart.

Writing Songs Helped Me Make Sense of Life

My dad was a drug addict.  That was the “family secret” for my first 35 years of life.  I didn’t know anyone else who had a drug addict dad.  I guess they kept their secrets as well.  So, the walls of that house on Colemont Drive were the keepers of the really difficult story of the Dodson family.  Outside those walls, we never spoke of it.  But on those steps with my trusty Ovation 12 string, I could be angry.  REALLY angry!!!  I could be hurt.  I could ask the questions that you couldn’t ask in real life like “Why are you choosing that over us?”  Those songs gave me power and a voice in an out-of-control situation.  They were healing.  Again, no one ever heard them, but they were my lifeline in a crazy time of my life.

Writing Songs Felt Good

Even when I wasn’t struggling and hurting over something, it just felt GOOD to pick up that guitar and make something up.  It was a happy pursuit.  At some point in high school, I mentioned to a friend that I wrote songs.  She said “We should write one sometime.”  We did and we formed a band.  Writing with someone was a whole new experience.  That first co-write was with SongTown’s own Conner Sweet’s mother.  Again, it just felt good to write a song with someone and to share that experience with a friend.  No motives.  No concerns about “Who might cut this?”  We just wanted to create something beautiful.  It wasn’t great, but it was ours and we loved it.

So what about you?

What made you want to write songs in the beginning?  If you can stay grounded to THOSE motivations, your chances of commercial success increase greatly.  People who chase money often come up empty handed.  Those who chase beauty, art, and meaning often find those things and financial rewards as well.  Don’t chase the golden ring.  Follow your heart.

Write on!

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson - pro songwriter/instructor - SongTown

Co-Founder SongTown

22 thoughts on “Why Do You Write Songs?

  1. It’s a puzzle.

    I hear a hook – a “good hook” – and am immediately challenged to solve the puzzle.

    Like Sudoku, I can’t stop until I win

  2. we write because we must state what we see others need to say and hear and relate to. We try to say it differently as well.

  3. I write songs because it’s like breathing to me…it’s in my blood. If writing songs for money was my goal, I would have stopped doing it years ago. That being said, at some point I would love to write a song so universal that it resinates with the masses. But if that never happens, I will still be proud of the body of work that I have created….!

  4. Hey Marty – thanks for your transparency and honesty. I really appreciated your post and the reminder to revisit what made us want to write in the first place… I do believe however that over time our motives can change. Hopefully it never becomes “just about the money” because if that is our goal – whether successful or unsuccessful – I think we will always wind up empty. However I do believe that motives can change; songwriting can go from being a form of our own personal expression and release to a place of wanting to help others get through whatever they are going through and making the world a better place. Writing for money is a short-lived fulfillment. I think we will always find the greatest satisfaction in writing songs that impact others.

  5. The first song I remember writing came to me very quickly. Words and melody at the same time. I was 22 with an infant and a husband that was a truck driver. I was alone a lot. After that first song others just seemed to pour from me. I just enjoyed the creation process so much and others seemed to really like my songs. I joined NSAI and sought out other songwriters. I started making trips to Nashville. I’ve had so many doors open and shut over the years. Putting my family first, I had 3 daughters a husband and a business to run,made traveling to Nashville more difficult. Demos became more expensive and royalties started paying less and less. I haven’t written in a long time. Writing is definitely an outlet for emotions, a healing for hurts, a tug on your heart and a Praise in the storms. It is a passion and ignoring your passion is like dying a slow death. Even though I’m not writing now it never leaves me. You’re right when you say it comes from a place much deeper than the need for money. We write because it’s a part of us given to share!

  6. I write because to me music is life! No matter what kind of emotion you experience your music is always there. The feeling of how the right song can change the your mood from sadness to making you want to dance or painting a picture for someone to understand how feel. The right song could change everything!

  7. Thank you so much for this Marty! I am in a place of remembering the “why” so this couldn’t be more timely for me to get in my email. Thanks again!

  8. When my father passed away I wrote a song about the profound loneliness that I felt because we had been so close. The song came out of the emotions I was feeling and some how it made me feel better. People who have heard the song don’t know that I wrote it for my dad but I think of him every time I play it.

  9. Marty,

    I’ve never commented previously but have enjoyed many of your posts. Truly enjoyed your willingness to be vulnerable here with this post. I too found songs were my voice in a home where I was adopted as an older child and wasn’t allowed to speak up or back to a mother who was emotionally abusive toward me (i.e. constantly calling me stupid, worthless, inept etc…) and a father who was too passive to defend/protect me. Music became my outlet both to comfort myself and to express myself as I’d improvise on the piano. I now try to remain vulnerabe in my songs to hopefully help others relate and find their own voice. Thanks for sharing!

  10. My mom was a single parent through most of my developmental years and got married in my teen years. Music was there for me when no one else was by the time my mother remarried I was dropping out of high school for a traveling band then finished high shool almost exactly a year later when that same band imploded. I wanted to support myself making music and finally achieved that goal but I wasn’t creating my own music which was missing. For the last 5-6 years I’ve been try to balance being a performer and a writer and trying to improve at both

  11. Marty, thank you for another golden post. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The why behind what we do. I have the common paralyzing bug called “perfectionism.” It has stopped me from creating and sharing my work so many times. Recently however a friend pushed me into singing at her art exhibition and sharing some of my own pieces of art (I like to sketch with pencil). Joining her and receiving the recognition and encouragement at the event made me realize how special it is to share our gifts, however imperfect they are. I have vowed that my goal is to not just create but to share now. Create and share. Becuase someone out there, even if it’s just one person might connect with it in a special way. Thank you for sharing your experience and your thoughts. Look forward to reading more from you.

  12. Hey Marty
    What advice would you have for someone that’s in the beginning stages of writing and knows zip about the business and also doesn’t play any instruments. It definitely flows from my heart …
    Thanks in advance Liz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *