One ordinary Tuesday, I drove to a co-write with really low expectations. My co-writer, Jason Matthews, and I were going to try to finish a song that I wasn’t really in love with. But, we had decided we would finish it, so I drove to his house.
We started working on the song and when lunch time came, we had not even added one word to the song. So, we decided to take a break and come back to the song after we ate. On the way back from lunch, Jason asked “Do you like the song we are working on?” I replied “Not really, but I thought you liked it.” He laughed and said “I don’t like it – I thought you did!”
We were both relieved that we didn’t have to work on a song that we didn’t like any longer. When we got back to his house, we talked about music we loved and we discovered that we both really like R&B feels. Then the conversation turned to the lack of that kind of feel on modern country radio. At that point, Jason said “Let’s just write something with an R&B feel that people can make out to.”
In an hour and a half, we had written what would become our and Billy Currington’s first #1 hit song. Looking back on the experience, I realize that the reason we wrote a hit song in a short period of time when we had been laboring over another idea for two days was that one idea inspired us and the other idea was just being written to try to make a dollar.
The first idea was one that was born from a desire to chase what was on the radio. The second idea was born from what moved us. I realized that day that if the song in the room doesn’t inspire the people in the room, it’s not likely to inspire anyone else. If it moves the people in the room, then it has a real chance of moving other people as well.
Every day when I write, we dig deep to try to find an idea that makes us feel something. Then, and only then, we start writing. If you want to write commercially, you do have to write songs that fit with current radio and you have to write songs that a singer would want to sing. But that doesn’t mean you have to “sell out”. Find an idea that moves you and makes you feel something. Then write it in such a way that it connects to other people. That’s your best chance at a cut.