“As a songwriter, nothing is more important than writing the song in the room and keeping the songwriting flow alive.” ~Clay Mills
“Let’s write a romantic song. Your record is 80% done and there’s no song about romance and falling in love.” Those are the words I said to Darius Rucker and producer Frank Rogers while sitting in a writing room on Music Row in Nashville. I’d never written with Frank, but he’d co-written some of my favorite songs on radio.
A week earlier, I’d been invited by Frank to hear most of Darius’s first country solo project. I was blown away by the songs, Darius’s smooth vocals, and the big sound of the record.
I had written one song on the project with Darius called “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” and I knew if I was going to get another song on the record, I couldn’t write a song they already had. I needed something they DIDN’T have—and I thought I had it all planned.
So, here we all sat when I excitedly let the words fly, “Let’s write something romantic!” Frank looked down at his notepad and threw out the title “History In The Making.” Silence (seconds ticking by). More silence (more seconds). I was thinking, ”Hmmmm…this title does not strike me as romantic at all.” It didn’t conjure images of cozy fireplaces, did not make me want to “make out” with the love of my life. Still no one was talking.
Then, I had a revelation: “Write the song in the room. Go with the songwriting flow.”
I’ve always believed that creativity is a river. It’s always flowing and always present. This river was flowing through the room that day and it carried the title, “History In The Making.” It’s not my job to judge or question it. It’s my obligation to trust it, to respect and trust my co-writers, and jump into that river. So, I dove in headfirst and began playing a groove and chords on the guitar. I followed where that title was leading me. As I was playing, I threw out the first lines:
Don’t move, Baby, don’t move,/ Awww, look at you/ I just want to take this in.
And, we were off! Frank liked the groove I was playing. Darius threw the words:
moonlight dancing off your skin
Frank chimed in with the next line. The verse melody flowed as easily as a conversation with a lover. But, I knew we needed a chorus with mega hooky rhythmic patterns. So, I pulled inspiration from my Line+ method and forged ahead. If you’ve read my past American Songwriter columns or my book Mastering Melody Writing, then you’re probably familiar with my method for creating rhythmic patterns that hook the listener. In this song, I used Line+ 3.
Baby I got a feeling… This-could-be
One of those… Me-mo-ries
Baby I got a feeling… 1-2-3
One of those… 1-2-3
The syncopated tresillo beat at the ends of the vocal lines are pure ear worms. For a clear sonic picture of what a tresillo beat is, check out Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.” The marimba track playing throughout the song demonstrates this beat to perfection.
Because Frank, Darius, and I were able to keep the songwriting flow alive, two hours later we had written our first big romantic hit together. It was really that simple. I believe it was about making the choice to let go and surrender to the moment and creative flow in the room.
Imagine the outcome if I had said, “I like ‘History In The Making,’ but Frank, I was thinking of we should write something about fireplaces, wine, and the rain outside”? What if I had stuck to my original plan of how that song was supposed to be written, instead of honoring the song wanting to be written that day? Well, I’d certainly be writing this with one less hit tune on my resume!
When you sit down to write today, trust there’s a song in the room. It’s floating on that creative river. It’s our sole job to let go, jump in, and write the song in the room.
If you’d like to hear my original guitar/vocal of “History In The Making,” scroll down the page and hit play!
Write On! ~Clay
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.com, the world’s leading songwriter education site and is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.