Years ago a friend of mine invited me to attend a workshop led by Tom Jackson, a top live music producer. Tom has spent his career working with artists as diverse and popular as Taylor Swift to Casting Crowns to Shawn Mendez. As I watched Tom work with a new band on stage, I knew instantly why his reputation precedes him. He has an uncanny ability of teaching performers how to pull “magical moments” out of a song (performance), and, in turn, create a show that people walk away remembering forever.
As I learned more about Tom’s “Moments” approach that day, it occurred to me this is valuable inside stuff for songwriters!
Singers strive to record and perform songs that allow them to create these magical moments in their shows. So, the odds of an artist recording our songs increase if we understand these moments, right?
Shortly after meeting Tom, I was lucky enough to witness this kind of moment in a Texas stadium. Picture this: a stadium filled with people singing along to one of my songs as country music artist Clay Walker belted out the notes I had written. Yes, Clay sang a song co-written by another Clay (me). Even crazier, the publisher’s name was Clay Myers, too!
My song was a big moment in the show, but I didn’t understand why.
A childhood bandmate of mine was the guitar player in Clay Walker’s band. He had told me that my song was a big part of their stage show. He called it a highlight of the show. But, I didn’t understand why. I mean, my co-writers and I had written it sitting in a small windowless room on Music Row while banging away on our small acoustic guitars. How could that translate into an important moment in a huge stadium?
Back to the stadium…as Clay Walker sang the chorus to “Fall,” the entire crowd swayed and sang along. Okay, I get it, I thought: a big melody and words people can pour their heart into and sing. That’s how we felt. A wonderful moment for me for sure! But…
…when Clay got to the last line of the bridge: “Hold on, Hold on, Hold on to me……” he massaged that last bridge note for all it was worth! Then, he stopped.
He looked to the side of the stage where I stood and grinned. The crowd went nuts in anticipation of him singing that last chorus of the song. The moment hung, frozen in time. When he hit that first note of the chorus, the crowd erupted in a frenzy!
Finally, I understood. I had witnessed an unforgettable “magical moment,” the kind that Tom Jackson helps singers bring to life in a song.
Every person in the stadium that night went home and remembered their part in that moment—when the song stood still as if time had frozen, if just for a moment.
Though we had not realized it during the writing room creative process, we had instinctively written a “magical moment” into “Fall.” Great artists, however, recognize these moments. They want to record and perform these kinds of songs. Since learning of Tom’s approach, I include it in my yearly Melody MasterClasses at SongTown. It has been an important skill for former students to acquire and helped them land staff writer deals and major label cuts.
As I look back at some of my biggest songwriting successes, I can spot “moments” in many of the songs. That also means I can spot missed opportunities for moments in many of my songs—songs that did not see the light of day in a catalog of 5,000 plus songs.
Once these crazy pandemic times are behind us, live shows will roar back with a vengeance. I want to have plenty of songs ready. I encourage you to spend some time each week listening to great songs. Listen for all the ways writers build moments into their songs. Notice how Garth Brooks is singing that ridiculously low note on the chorus of “Friends In Low Places.” Or, check out Billie Eillish’s tune “Bad Guy,” in particular, the two moments where the music stops and she says “DUH.” A definite attitude moment that fans will love to sing!
So, as we all write today, let’s all aim to create those “magical moments” in our songs.
Until next time, write on!
Clay Mills is a six-time No.1 hitmaker and multi-Grammy nominated songwriter/producer. His songs have been recorded by major artists in country, pop, rock, dance, bluegrass, and gospel. His voice and songs have found their way into national ad campaigns and movie soundtracks. He co-founded SongTown, the world’s leading songwriter education site, with fellow hit writer Marty Dodson. Clay is as passionate about teaching songwriting as he is about writing himself.