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Songwriting Survey
Has writing a song ever gotten you into trouble with a friend, lover or family member who thought one of your songs was about them?


Lugless Booth
A Songwriter from Brooklyn New York, writes:
It really depends a lot on who the subject is and your relationship with them. With my sis for example I have been quite open about songs I have written that pick out aspects of her personality or our relationship. She recognizes that as it pertains to our relationship, songwriting comes down to creativity and not an attempt to communicate in song what you can’t say in regular interaction.

Ex. My sister has always been a goody two shoes and I wrote a song about that. While she smirked a bit and made a few cracks, the feeling I expressed in the song had been made clear to her by me well prior to the writing, so she never got mad. She ended up feeling honored. Just like a goody two shoes would, right?

On the other hand I have a different situation with my significant other. She has the potential to get pretty steamed if I were to write a song veiled or otherwise about her that she perceives as negative or, perish the thought, a song about another woman! Fortunately I had written many songs about other partners (real and imagined) way before I met her, and she does not hinder me from playing them if she likes the song.

Has anyone ever gotten really mad? No, but I think some people would if they knew I was thinking (even if not writing that way) so explicitly of them or their life situations when I wrote a particular song. To avoid this, when I do write about real people, I often write about dead, real people. However, this has gotten me into trouble too. But that's another story......
Jassz
A singer/songwriter from Alaska (temporarily stationed in Alberta Canada), writes:
Not completely....I wrote a song specifically for a lover.....and then sang it for my grandparents once and they jumped all over me for singing a song about God and being so familiar with him. They assumed that the words were meant for Him and that I was attempting to dirty his image....needless to say I have never sang that song for them again!

Scott McCallister
A general all round good-guy from Denver, CO, writes:
My story isn't so much about getting in trouble as causing it on purpose. Long ago when I was in High School, I gave the lyrics to a love song to the girl who had inspired them to let her know how I felt. Nothing came of it. A week later she was dating my next-door neighbor. (Right next door I kid you not!) Time passed and I always knew when they were fighting because they weren’t necking in the halls before class. On one of these “off” days I was playing Piano in the music hall after school. Just really noodling around when a crowd started to form around the piano to watch me play. The girl was pressed right up against it with her head in her hands and looking kind of sorry. I just couldn’t resist. I broke into her song and really milked the performance of it. I didn’t sing but looked up a couple of times to see her mouthing the words! When I finished, someone in the crowd said “That is such an amazing melody”. Then the girl, more than a little choked up said, “The words are pretty good too.” Then she burst into tears and ran out of the room. ZING! “I nailed her!” I had thought. But then I took a step back and saw what was really going on. That was the first time I realized the awesome power that rests in songwriting and I vowed never to abuse it again.

Dan
Just beginnig to understand what makes good music, I think......(Troy, MI), writes:
Yes, which makes it difficult to find a sounding board. "Sooooooo, thats what you think about ....." I think it really dampens the spirit of the thing, so usually my stuff sits in a void, never heard but in my head. I am beginning to get over this lately by basically going with what I feel. I have put a lot of effort and resource into this craft. I want to develop it fully. I dont think that anyone except another writer can really get with the program except as a listener. So as family and freinds go, all those black cases, blinking lights and shiney knobs are just a handy way for me to spend some money, which they conclude I must have too much of.

T. Deadman
True cowboy, amatuer singer/songwriter from TX, writes:
"Love times two" Probably one of the best songs I've ever written. I married my first wife way too young, and we were having serious problems. I admit..., I cheated a couple of times. The catch phrase goes like this: Two loves, Two lives, One's a new love and one used to be my wife It's so confusing and I don't know what to do. What do you do when you have, love times two? My best freind (new girlfriend) happened to also be my next door neighbor. Me, my wife, my best friend (new girlfriend), and her husband were having a bar-b-que, when I pulled out the guitar and started to play my new favorite song. Yep, you guessed it. After I started to play, my wife leaned over to talk to my best friend (new girlfriend) and said, "I know he's cheatin', but I sure wish I could find out who he wrote that song about so I can kick her a__!" Little did she know that she was talking to the girl in the song, and my future wife. It's been 4 1/2 years now, and I don't regret a thing.

James Gray
A Singer/Songwriter from Portland, OR, writes:
Oh yeah. I once wrote a song for a girl that I was deeply in love with, but whom had spurned me. It was one of those songs that pop up now and then that you just can't ignore. It was called "I Never Fell In Love With You" - a bitter sentiment, to say the least, and an outright lie at that. I had made a demo of it and put it on a tape to give to a mutual friend of ours (who, unfortunately, knew about my little obsession). The three of us were hanging out together, when our mutual friend pulls out the tape and insists on putting it on. I managed to convince them to stop the tape before it reached that song, but if I hadn't, I would have had some serious explaining to do.

Trevor DeCuir
A young singer/songwriter from Louisville, KY who plays folk/bluegrass-roots music, writes:
After the Columbine shooting over a year ago, I wrote out the lyrics to a song. I called it "Misery's Child". It was my reaction to the whole goings-on of the time, with the media feeding on it all. A bit of political protest song I suppose. Anyway, my mother picked it up one day, the lyric-sheet that is, and questioned me about it. I don't know what exactly she thought of it but it came out as if she viewed it as some satirical rhyming suicide note. It still amazes me how many different ways there are to interpret the same compilations and combinations of phenomes.

Nicholas Bond
A composer, arranger, astro-not from NY, writes:
Yeah, my girlfriend. At the time I sang this tune on the guitar for her, she asked if it was about her, but I told her it was about this girl before her. not a pretty sight. she thought it was about her, and how much I loved her. (never do what I did. just a hint, guys.

Huston
A songwriter from Phenix City, Alabama, writes:
Yes. Years ago, I wrote a song that took the form of an open letter addressed to a dear friend, a "soul mate" that I had lost contact with. The song was very specific in details of his life, including the breakup of his first marriage and the dissolution of our friendship. It was a song that was emotionally very hard to sing and record. Once I demoed the song, I put the tape away, thinking it was just too close to the bone to play to my now lost friend. We have since resumed our friendship to a degree, and I never did play the song for him. I did, however, play it for another friend of mine (the only time I have ever played the demo for anyone else.) The second friend thought it was about him!!! When I had to explain that it wasn't, but about the first friend, (whom he knew!), it sure took a bit of wind out of his sails! I learned my lesson then-if you don't want to discuss song origins, shut up!!!

Jim Martin
A noisey bass player, songwriter and singer in Calgary, writes:
I wrote a bunch of lyrics which later became our song, Lizard. It was primarily inspired by the short story The Belonging Kind, by William Gibson. It's about those strange people in bars that I like to call Lizards that seem to just always be there in all their glory. You know, the girl with the smudged makeup who wants you to buy her a drink and the guy who plays pool because there really isn't anything else he can do. When my wife read those lyrics, she instantly thought she was the smudged makeup girl. Tragically, my reaction in the song was to express a need to get the hell away from there. This became commentary on our relationship. We had a long talk about that one. Since then I try not to write songs with women in them =)

Joe Kidd
A Country Soul, Roots Rock Maverick from Sydney, Australia, writes:
I wrote this song called "Itty Bitty Betty". I pulled the name out of thin air simply because it was alliterative and suited perfectly the idea of the song which was written after perusing an American porno mag pictorial. The theme of which was petite women with "big" guys. I regularly include the song in my set whenever I'm performing but have never disclosed it's inspiration until now. Anyway, I was doing this gig in a town and venue a couple of hours from where I live. The stage was literally the floor of the venue. I'm a soloist - me and my guitar. There was a bunch of rowdy drunks in the audience ( sailors from a nearby naval base I found out later). I launched into "Itty Bitty Betty" when it came up on the set list. I was concentrating on what I was doing but at the same time began to notice a little more than the already loud noise coming from one of the drunk sailors. I'm sure all of you who are performers can relate to this, I mean the audience making noise. So I just more or less ignored it assuming I or the song were not the reason for the disturbance. There's a solo section in the song and at that point I walked out from behind the mike and more or less into the audience. I did this for a couple of reasons, firstly to hear how the guitar was sounding front of house and secondly just to break down the barrier a little betwen myself and the crowd. Well I guess you could say I was fairly successful at the latter. The drunk sailor under discussion stepped up to me and started swinging punches while screaming abuse on how I'd better shut up singing about his girlfriend. I managed to duck the punches and still keep playing while making hasty retreat back to my "space" behind the mike. Meanwhile his friends dragged him off and were trying to settle him down. I tried not to let it throw me for the rest of the show but it was hard. The sailors left shortly afterward with "Itty Bitty Bettys" boyfriend managing to lob in a few final words of abusive threat as he did so. Hey, how was I to know?

John Friday
A guitarist/singer/songwriter from Virginia (originally Maryland), writes:
Yes, several times, most recently just last week! My wife found a fragment of a song which I'd been fiddling with, about the search for one's freedom and what it might cost. She assumed that I was writing about our relationship, when in fact, there was no particular stimulus for the song (which may explain why I'd gotten stuck after the second verse...)

Bob Clayton
A trad-folk-oriented writer and musician from Maryland, writes:
Not really. I've had 'em ask me "What the hell were you thinking about when you wrote that?" 'cause I write personal-sounding songs that are true, but didn't actually happen, if you know what I mean. I did write a song once -- "Discovery" (lyrics on my web page, I believe) -- that convinced people that I was the grandson of one of the founders of the English Dance and Song Society. I was at Pinewoods Folk Music Camp, and Bob Franke was the songwriting teacher. He assigned people to write about various things, and my assignment was to write about the pictures of the founders of the Society and the Camp. I counldn't "get into it," of course -- that's a dry subject, to be sure -- until I put myself into someone else's shoes. I imagined myself a camper (duh!) who was looking at the pictures and reacting to one of them. Why did he react? Maybe he recognized someone and it was a surprise. Okay, why the surprise, and who was it? His grannny, and the surprise is 'cause he didn't know she was into music or folklore. Why didn't he know? His parents never talked about it. After all these hypothetical questions, I had my song. I sang it in the camper concert, and Sally Rogers (folk performer) leaned over to my wife and asked "That's not true, is it?" And at the party after the concert, a woman came up to me with a friend and said (to the friend), "Here's the one I was telling you about." (Then to me) "Thank you for opening up about your grandmother to us." When I said, "Sorry, poetic license. Not a word of it is true," her face fell. Literally. I'd never seen that happen so thoroughly before, but it did. I felt guilty for disappointing her that way, but it thrilled me that the song was taken for truth that way. I suppose my friends have all gotten used to my songs by now, and don't read anything into them that isn't there. Strangers, though ....

Mary
A young songwriter from Las Vegas, NV, writes:
Oh, man. I wrote this song a while back called "Dont wanna go home" and my mother thought I wrote it because I wanted to run away or something. That's nto why at all. But it didnt help that the next song I ended up writing after that was called "Runaway"...hehe

Rick Royale
A Canadian transplant in the heart of Hollywood, writes:
"No Blinder Love" the name of a beautiful I had written, describing a precious moment of adoration for a stunning woman. For years my fiance and her friends would watch me play this song and were moved by this heart-felt sentiment . One evening a friend of hers commented on how great it was that such a song was written about her... to which I (stupidly) corrected her saying I had actually written it about a girl I had fallen for ages before we had even met... Needless to say we are no longer engaged... I moved to Hollywood...She married a computer programmer.

Mike WIlliams
A singer/songwriter/guitarist from London, writes:
A while back I wrote a song which I played to an ex-girlfriend about 3 months after we'd split up. Her first reaction was "You bastard! That's about me isn't it?". I hadn't consciously written it with her in mind, and I thought it was an introspective song about my inability to keep relationships going. She, on the other hand, took it as an accusatory piece about her bad behaviour. Oh well, if the cap fits...

Bobbo
A Boston area songwriter type person, writes:
I wrote a song about a wedding I went to, I should have stopped the wedding but I was there with my fiance'. It was also the first wedding I went to where I had slept with the bride. All of this came out in the song. The bride is now divorced and tells everyone it's "My Song". She and my wife are good friends now, should this have come out on Jerry Springer instead of here?! My mom still wonders about who the song is about, my dad thinks it's about my wife, because it's about a wedding. My wife knows, it doesn't faze her. I can't hide anything in song.

Shawn Larson
A Hip-Hop songwriter & producer from Greenville, Michigan, writes:
I can recall a most recent incident in which this unfortunate incident has happened to me- although it was much more serious than the average story. I was inspired to write a song about a real incident I read in the paper. It was a story about a man who killed his wife out of jealousy, and then turned the gun on himself, because he just couldn't bear living without her. It drove me so much musucally, that I spent nearly 6 months perfecting the presentation to it, so that the listener felt it as emotionally as I did when I first read the story. Problem is, I told it in first-person view (from the view of the man). When I had perfected it to complete satisfaction, I went to the studio and laid it down. When I had finished laying my vocals over the music, i walked out of the sound booth to a room full of engineers- and every eye was on me. Dead silence was across the room. You could tell that they had taken my balad seriously. One of them, named Eric (whom I know personally), asked "Is your wife okay, Shawn? What's been going on with you lately?". It was enough to make me laugh. Of course I explained the concept to them, and they understood. But they sure thought that my wife was laying in a river somewhere! The good thing about this whole experience was this: I had caught their attention so deeply musically, that they felt every aspect of the story in full. I had acheived a skill needed in any songwriter's ability: keeping the listener's attention throughout the entire song, from begining to end. However, when my wife heard, it was a whole different story.........

Chellie Coleman
A singer/songwriter/producer, writes:
There was a song that I wrote about one of my ex-boyfriends, although he wasn't an ex at the time of the song. However, a few of my ex's felt that they "deserved" a song written about them, because they were good to me during the relationship (so why are they my ex's?). I write what I feel and how I feel, and don't think about who I should make the song for, this was my reply. It didn't go over too well. There is one good thing about writing a positive song (especially a love song) for someone, though: they make the BEST promoters!

T. C. Smythe
FBSA Songwriterof the Year 1999 from TX, writes:
Most of my compositions so far have been about my family. No one has complained (most of the subjects have been dead for years!), but I have had some eyebrows raised when the story I told didn't jive with the listener's memory. I usually attribute the discrepancies to artistic license. As long as they know I am not trying to retell the tale for historic accuracy, it's OK.

Steven Baker
A songwriter from NY, writes:
I wrote a song about a woman who worked at the coffee shop in my building.The first time she heard it she was overwhelmed and honored.I guess as she listened to it again and again, the different levels of meaning were revealed to her.It was a haunting song, the theme of which was how her emotional darkness prevented her from getting close to another person.Needless to say when she finally understood it , she was quite embarrassed that someone would probe so deeply in to her emotional core.Songs can do that , can't they? That's the idea...

Mike McLaughlin
A Bassist who writes for his bands in the UK, writes:
I wrote one song once which my friend immediately decided was about him (and subconciously I suppose it probably is on reflection) he got a bit annoyed but he ended up being alright about it cause he liked the finished product when we played it in the band.

Irene Jackson
A singer/songwriter from Victoria, BC (Canada), writes:
I've been in trouble many times, even when I didn't deserve it! It is always assumed by my closest friends and family that there is a "real" element to most of my songs, but they also know me to be quite a fantasizer :-) Occasionally, that even gets me off the hook! The time that sticks out most was when I released my first recording, and my boss (a woman, of course) pulled me aside to ask me how my husband Michael felt about what I had written in one of the songs. She naturally thought that everything I wrote was actually true...I just laughed at her! And was she right? Well, hell, I'm not telling :-)

Erin Groupie
A songwriter from Tasmania, Australia, writes:
I'm in the opposite position. I thought this guy wrote a song about me. At first I wanted it to be about me but I talked myself out of it but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed true. I tried to subtly ask what the song was about but didn't get anywhere. One day he told me that the song was about something completely different, that didn't make sense. I didn't think it made sense. To this day I still think and want to think the song was about me. It's a very flattering thought.

Kenny Holcomb
A singer/songwriter from Maryland, writes:
yes I wrote a song for a buddy of mine at work who's wife had left him, he and I are both truck drivers and we have to work long and strange hours he has two young boys at home and his wife up and left him with the two boys.This put a strain on his work and was a difficult situation for him so I was imagining on day how I would feel if it happened to me and I wrote the song "go ahead and stay gone" well my wife heard the song and things were a bit touchy around the house for a while but after a couple of weeks and a lot of explaining she finnaly got over it and now she loves the song.

Rod
A 40 year old songwriter residing in nashville, writes:
Geez, I write a lot of fairly erotic material. So yeah I've had to lie a few times about the subject matter of many of my songs. Anyone would want to think they are the subject of thier lovers musings I told my now ex-wife I never write about anyone specific. She was fairly sure they weren't about her.

TooTallQT
A songwriter from California, writes:
I have a friend and she lives with this guy whos a total jerk to her she's really pretty and he has alot of money and he doesn't even support her she is a very sweet girl. When I first met him I thought that he would be good for her then I realized that he was an absolute jerk...So I wrote a song just for him I titled it "JERK" cause he is. At first my friend was a little upset then realized that the only reason I did it was to let her know exactly how I felt about him....we're still friends and she's still with him.....what can I say.....lol

Jason Damewood
A songwriter from Ohio now in Nashville (imagine that!!!), writes:
Not exactly, but close. I wrote a song about someone very unimportant (a fling at best)from my past. My wife loves the song, but can't release the anger of it being in reference to someone else, even though it was written before we met. I tried to explain to her that her being mad is the equivilant of jealousy over an old photograph, no luck though. I can see how she feels, I would probably feel the same.

Rhett McDaniel
A Country songwriter from Indianapolis, IN, writes:
I wrote a song to cheer up a friend of my who was going through a divorce - of course, a country song. I recorded it and burned a CD and sent it to her in the mail. It was quite detailed - because I believe that the best songs stay close to the truth. Then, during yet another argument with her ex-husband, she played the song for him! Needless to say I feared for my life for a couple months after. . .

Larry Warner
A songwriter from Arizona, writes:
How about if you live in fear that a song you've written may get you in trouble because it is, in fact, about a friend? I have a tendency to write empathetically, versus from my own personal experience. This friend and co-worker has such an unusual and sad marriage, that I was inspired to write about it. Unfortunately I live in fear of performing it publically or recording it on a product because she might hear it. The saddest part, is that I feel it's a really good song! I suppose some would say I should just "Toughen-up," and maybe their right!

Sean
Oddly enuff, a songwriter from Ohio... though I live in Melbourne now. 8), writes:
Oh yeah. Several ex-girlfriends have thought that lyrics in my songs have been about them. Especially songs that run along the lines or 'I'm leaving you,' 'I love her more than you,' and such. Even had one song that my bass player's sister wanted to get me institutionalised for 'cause she thought it was about me and my state of mind. Admittedly I write from life experience, and on occasion I might let a message like that into a song, but usually it's just lyrics and nothing more.

2WYCE
A Hip Hop artist from Gary, IN, writes:
YES! I recently wrote a song about sneaking behind your woman's back and seeing other women. I had been with my girlfriend for 5 years, but I had recently graduated Purdue and moved away to NY (May 99). She would be moving with in me 3 months later when she graduated. I wrote the song in the summertime while we were apart and needless to say, that brought up questions about what I had been doing. :) I had to repeatedly tell her "It's just a song, it's not ME, it's just lyrics..." And it's a subject that not too many hip hop artists go in depth about, so I just wrote it. On the contrary, she agrees that it SOUNDS good (the delivery and the flow of it) but she HATES the lyrics!

Jimmy See
Don't get too excited, writes:
I wrote a song called "Hourglass Sands"(see my website to hear it" about a man leaving his wife for another women. When I finished the song I was very excited about the way it turned out and wanted my wife to hear it. I was out of town at the time so I called my wife and probably went on far too long about this new tune. When I did get home, the first thing I did was grab my guitar and play the song for her. When I asked her how she liked my new song, she looked at me with her eyes full of tears and asked if the song was about us. She misunderstood my excitement. She thought I was trying to tell her something. It took months to really convince her that I wasn't about to leave her.

Shaman Sean
A TV killer, writes:
When I first started playing guitar, I started a band with this guy who couldn't sing. We wrote a song together for his girlfriend at the time. Years later, I ran into this wonderful girl. When we started going out, i would play that song which had her name in the chorus as the title. She was my biggest (and the most missed) fan, but whenever I would start to play that song for her, my life was in severe danger. (She was wonderfully modest.)

Karena Wynn-Moylan
A songwriter from Byron Bay, Australia, writes:
All the time.I have a very tolerant partner who suffers me falling in love with other people- I find it very inspirational - but then I have to record the songs or perform live often with him mixing, knowing he's thinking sbout every word as he watches the effect on the audience!The problem is, he knows NONE of the songs are about him! (Though at least sometimes they're not very complimentary!)
Jeremy
A songwriter from Ontario, Canada, writes:
Oh yes...definitely. But I think I thrive on it. Although my songs are pop and not groundbreaking by any means, there is always a sense of "mystery" about them...and quite often people interpret the lyrics in ways I never dreamed of when I wrote them. Songs are my means of communication. If I want someone to "wonder" if a song was written about them, then I'll write one. Chances are they'll never approach me, but I will get indications that they have suspicions. I love that. For instance, I recently wrote a song for a rock opera...the song was called "A Prayer Ain't What it Used to Be." A friend of mine in the US heard the demo and remembered that I had said some of the very same things to him in a previous conversation. It was his life that I was writing about. He never came out and asked me if the song was about him...he did say that he liked it and that kind of gave that unspoken nod of approval that said "I know what THAT'S about. And thank you." So I guess I didn't get in trouble persay...but if I ever do, it will only strengthen the bond I have with the particular song. It's a writer's dream to communicate through a song what cannot be spoken with mere words.
Rusty Moore
A bluegrass, country songwriter from Florida, writes:
Trouble in not the right word . It stemmed from trouble . A close friend had his car stolen and I wrote a song about it. At first he thought I was making fun of him but when it started getting requested at our shows he came around.

I feel that anything that inspires a song is o.k. as long as its not done in poor taste or to hurt someone . Inspiration comes all at once so don't be afraid to write it down ....you can always tear it up later.


Benjammin
A 5 year songwriter--for self enjoyment or minor performances, writes:
I have had a couple of instances similar, although not quite the same. A reference to an ex-girlfriend (that after playing the song a thousand times, just became more words in the string of words for this song) once ruined an otherwise enjoyable performance. Once my current girlfriend heard those words, the evening took an unpleasant turn. Which has extended itself into editing words and feelings out of my current creations before they are even expressed into music. All to keep the peace, as it were. It's alright for now, and my true feelings are that we will get to a stronger point in our relationship as to allow complete freedom of expression without judgement or concequences.
Tony
Me and My Pen from MA, USA, writes:
I actually find myself censoring my songs if it's about, say, an ex-girlfriend. What will the current lady say if she realizes the song is about someone else. the only thing is, sometimes the pain from a failed relationship gives some great inspiration!!!
Wade Means
A singer/songwriter from Minnesota, writes:
Absolutely! Many of my songs can, at least in part, be traced to events or feelings from my life. There have been many songs which have started with such a kernel of reality, and then I'll build a fictional lyrical framework around that core. Naturally, my lovely wife will sometimes see that bit of truth and assume that the rest of the song is true, as well. She's sometimes gone into a real funk over these lyrics - I get the cold shoulder for days. Eventually, though, she gets over it.
BDana Jo
A country songwriter in Bozeman, MT, writes:
Actually, no. But I worry a lot about that. I have a hard time singing my songs to anyone who knows me very well because I think they're guessing who the songs are about. But I've found, the more songs I write, the less I think about that, because they deal with so many different emotions and were written at times when I didn't feel the way the singer in the song did. (If that makes sense.) I think over time, people you know realize what it takes for you to be a writer--and that is to put yourself in the shoes of a hundred different people, to write partially from your own experience and partially from perceived experiences of others to make music other people will relate to. Granted, some songs will seem to tie to parts of your own life, but that's part of what makes them good--that they can apply to various situations. Whether they came from personal experience or from secondhand observations makes no difference, as long as the song is heartfelt and convincing.
Stacey Wilson
A poet and songwriter from Texas, writes:
More than once in fact! With a title like "He's In My Bed, You're On My Mind" there's no doubt someone is going to be mad.

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