the real songwriters

One of the reasons I like country music is because of the stories the songs tell. For instance, in Tim McGraw’s “Grown Men Don’t Cry” I was intrigued that he sang about his Dad being a slave to his job and not being around. I knew that McGraw’s Dad was a baseball player and figured he was on the road a lot. I’m a big fan of Collin Raye and in the song, “In This Life” he discusses his relationship with a girl that evidently meant a lot to him. It made me feel like I knew them better as people after hearing stories from their lives.

A few years ago I went to a concert at Sundance where the original writers of those songs (as well as many other well-known ones) performed. It hadn’t occurred to me that McGraw and Raye were simply singers as opposed to singer/songwriters, but that’s what they are. They perform songs that other people write, and I have since learned that for the most part, that’s normal in country music.

I should have realized there’s a reason for distinguishing singer-songwriters from singers, but it hadn’t occurred to me. The singers perform music written by others and receive the accolades while the songwriters are behind the scenes sharing their innermost feelings. It’s a strange arrangement, but if there are more writers than performers and it’s harder to become a performer, I guess it provides a way to make an honest living while doing something you love.

I also have to admit that in order to be a successful performer you need to possess a certain stage presence and ability to perform. Some people have those attributes and others don’t, so not everyone who can write music could necessarily become popular singing that music. In a way, it’s like having an actor portray a character you created. If it works for movies, it can work in the music business.

I must admit though, while listening to the stories in the songs is fun, listening to the singers behind the songs is far better. If you ever get a chance to hear about a song from the person who wrote it, do it.


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  1. Reminds me of an old ‘Hey Arnold’ episode on Nick. The kids were big fans of some singer because of his lyrics and voice but then at the end of the show they found out that he didn’t write the lyrics or even sing the songs (lip sync).

    Comment by Chad on August 4, 2005 @ 1:29 pm
  2. I know how those kids felt.

    Comment by dan on August 4, 2005 @ 1:43 pm
  3. I’ve been enjoying dropping by your blog occassionally, but this post just spurred me to comment. I, too, like a lot of country song/stories but find it frustrating that it is often just an act. I really like listening to artists (especially at concerts) like Greg Brown and Leo Kottke who write many of their songs and have so much so say.

    Comment by Laura on August 4, 2005 @ 6:56 pm
  4. Laura: Thanks for commenting. I really enjoyed hearing from the actual authors of the songs because you always learn more about when they wrote the song and why. It gives the lyrics more context and meaning, which I really like.

    I kind of wonder if I would have preferred to go on thinking that the singers had written the song as well, but ignorance isn’t always bliss.

    Comment by dan on August 5, 2005 @ 9:50 am
  5. When I was at the MTC, I did some work in the call center. One of the other guys in my group called a guy (a member, I think) who had ordered some video off the TV commercial, and he turned out to be a songwriter for Garth Brooks or someone like that. I’m not sure if I’d known about the fact that country singers write very few songs themselves before then, but afterward I often looked at the liner notes of country CDs to see what the writing credits were.

    Anyway, I’d bet that a lot of top 40 music in the major genres is written by someone other than the performers. Sometimes a band will get a song or two from a ‘hit maker’ to help them get on the charts.

    Comment by Levi on August 7, 2005 @ 4:04 pm
  6. It must be frustrating for those hit makers, knowing they wrote the song that is making millions for the performers.

    Comment by dan on August 7, 2005 @ 10:19 pm
  7. I am a country song writer. Entered a contest and am a finalist. Check it out. SongWriters contest. I am the One with the Hat. thomas Scott Pearce. I love ballads, and story telling songs. Love your site. Scott

    Comment by Scott Pearce on September 15, 2005 @ 5:17 pm
  8. I love country music and tim is so so hot.

    Comment by brittany hopkins on March 21, 2006 @ 11:02 am

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