Keeping it Real, Songwriting

Authenticity Doesn’t Have to be a Constraint

Songwriting is storytelling, and more than that, it’s a sharing of emotional experiences. Whatever you have ever felt that made you want to write a song, somebody else has had that same feeling, and will recognize it when they hear you sing about it. Do you know what else they will recognize? They’ll recognize when you’re faking it. Don’t do that.

Authenticity Isn’t About Facts

I’m not saying you can’t write fiction. Of course you can write fiction and make a great song. They say in Nashville (and most other places where songwriters hang out), “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story”. By all means, your song doesn’t have to tell the story of something that actually happened in order to be compelling, and it doesn’t need to be factual to be authentic.

Authenticity comes from you understanding the emotion of your song. If you’ve never been in love, you can’t fake it. If you’ve never felt loss, you’ll fail to draw that emotional response out of a listener who has lost.

So when you’re writing your song, don’t pretend to feel the emotions within it. Relate your own experience to the song. Maybe you’ve never suffered an addiction, but maybe you can understand the rush that comes from blowing your pay cheque recklessly when you’re feeling crappy. Maybe you can recognize a behaviour of yours that hits the reward center in the brain. If so, then you can authentically write – from your own experience – about doing something you’ll regret for the sake of feeling good for a moment.

If You Build It (Authentically), They Will Come

When your listener hears you sing from a place of authenticity, they can tap into their own experience and feel the emotion that you’re spotlighting in your song. But when you reach outside of your experience and try to get that same level of response from your listener, they won’t be interested. It’s actually pretty easy to spot a forgery.

So is that too much of a limitation? Does that limit the scope of what you can write? Not at all. You have already experienced a wealth of emotions. Any one of those could be spotlighted in your new song. You could even write a whole collection of songs about the same characters, living a story, and spotlight a different emotional experience in each of those songs. That would be called, uh, a Musical… 😉

So have no fear – play characters, make up stories, but always use them to share authentic emotional experiences. Believe me, we’ll all know it when we hear it, and when your songs come from your experience, they’ll be more special as a result.

Happy Writing!

(Photo Credit: Cottonbro,

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