On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Missy Raines On Songwriting

Missy Raines On Songwriting

Missy Raines is a 7-time recipient of the Bass Player of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and a former member of the Grammy-nominated Claire Lynch Band and the acclaimed duo Jim Hurst & Missy Raines. She is one of the most respected, popular, and trailblazing figures in bluegrass. Her rich pedigree reaches from legends such as Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, Josh Graves, and Eddie & Martha Adcock, to more contemporary artists such as Peter Rowan and Laurie Lewis.

Missy’s broad musical reach keeps her busy with diverse bands ranging from hardcore traditionalism to cutting-edge fusion. She is currently touring full-time with her own band, Missy Raines & The New Hip, a band which blurs the lines between jazz and Americana, blues and bluegrass. The New Hip’s latest recording “New Frontier” will be released August 27, 2013, on Compass Records.

Missy is also part of the newly formed, tough, whimsical goddess of string band music known as Helen Highwater, along with bandmates David Grier, Mike Compton and Shad Cobb. She also teaches double bass lessons at her School of Bass as part of ArtistWorks Academy of Bluegrass, a groundbreaking method of online learning.

Missy Raines On Songwriting


Your work with Jim Hurst and The Claire Lynch Band has been outstanding (“Two” is one of my all-time favorite CDs). You’ve also performed and recorded with “first generation” bluegrass legends, including Josh Graves, Kenny Baker and Jesse McReynolds. How has all of that deep and rich experience helped shape the way you think about what makes a good song?


I think it’s helped me keep an open mind about a song. And I’ve learned a lot by seeing songs through their eyes, learning what it was they looked for. Trying to understand what worked for them. Claire’s writing is full of craft and depth, I feel very privileged to have been able to play her music with her.

Part of the process was also discovering what spoke to me specifically. I played with the Brother Boys from East Tennessee (Ed Snodderly and Eugene Wolf) for a while before joining Claire’s band and I was introduced to a whole different brand of writing with Ed Snodderly’s music within that setting. He has a very unique style and his writing in particular really resonated with me. I’ve recorded many of his songs since.


When did you first become interested in pushing beyond performing into the world of songwriting, and how has that part of your journey unfolded so far?


Well, I dabbled in writing for a long time without becoming serious because I thought it was what “other” people did, you know, songwriters, and I wasn’t one of them… and then, at some point, I realized no one is ’til they at least work at it and commit to it, go after it. So, I started working at it more. That was only about two years ago, so I’m really a late bloomer.

And, I also wear many other hats trying to run a band so my time is limited that I can dedicate to songwriting. But it’s kind of amazing what can happen if you actually decide you are going to do it.

Missy Raines On Songwriting


Beyond straight-ahead bluegrass bass, which you deliver like nobody else (with seven International Bluegrass Music Association Bass Player of the Year awards to prove it!), you’ve branched out to explore fusions of jazz, bluegrass, pop and funk — most notably with your band “Missy Raines and the New Hip.” How is this musical breadth influencing the way you approach the craft of songwriting?


Well I think it’s affecting and influencing the way I’m writing because this band is stretching me out as a singer and bass player in new ways all the time and I’m constantly pushing my comfort zone. I think that helps the creative factor, to be a little uncomfortable.

Before this, I mostly only wrote instrumentals, but now I’m thinking lyrically as well, all the time. I think it’s been a great thing because I’m not enforcing any boundaries with the music in the New Hip and that’s spilling into my writing. I’m singing more than ever now (our new CD is ALL vocals) and this is opening up a whole new world of possibilities for me with writing.

Missy Raines @ iTunes


Ides of March – Inside Out
Basket of Singing Birds – Inside Out
Stop, Drop & Wiggle – Inside Out
Nashville Skyline Rag – My Place In the Sun
Deep River Blues – DocFest

I co-wrote one of the tunes on this CD with Zach Bevill of the Farewell Drifters. That was a great experience for me. The song is called “Where You Found Me” and I wrote it in pretty much one sitting with absolutely no melody in mind. It was directly about a personal relationship gone awry — and the words sat in my drawer for a long time. One day I pulled them out, and decided to give them to Zach who I had been writing with some, and see what (if anything) hit him. And it worked. He came up with a great melody and we tweaked the words together and it ended up being exactly what I wanted.

Missy Raines & The New Hip


On a side note, I love the story about how you picked the name for your band. How does that story go?


Well, first off, I was hoping that the New Hip would indeed sound “new” and fresh, and be “hip,” and also as it would happen, around the time that I was officially getting things going with the band I had a total hip replacement. I was pretty young for that kind of operation and I needed it because I had a dislocated hip at birth which lead to chronic issues my whole life with my right hip and leg. The issues were getting pretty unbearable, so I opted for the hip replacement and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I was out of chronic pain for the first time in my whole life and I felt incredible! It was such a new thing. And one day I was sitting at my desk trying to think of a name for the band and that hit me and I laughed. I thought, if this makes me smile, maybe it will make other people smile, too. And that was important because I was about to embark on a very positive thing, the starting of my first band, and I had a whole new perspective in my daily activities because of the surgery so that was a very positive thing too. I just wanted to convey the joy in all of it.

Missy Raines @ Amazon


[easyazon-link asin=”B008E9CCE6″ locale=”us”]What Love Can’t Do[/easyazon-link]


[easyazon-link asin=”B001JYNJT0″ locale=”us”]Bells of Norfolk[/easyazon-link]


[easyazon-link asin=”B008E617UY” locale=”us”]Stafford’s Stomp[/easyazon-link]


[easyazon-link asin=”B008E8CB0M” locale=”us”]Wayfarin’ Stranger[/easyazon-link]


[easyazon-link asin=”B001QPZM1K” locale=”us”]Duke Of Paducah[/easyazon-link]



Some of your original songs, like “Stinky Pie” and “Stop, Drop and Wiggle” provide a glimpse into your wit and sense of humor. What’s the trick to weaving humor into an original song?


I don’t know any tricks, but I think you just have to be sincere. It has to come from the right place and then it will translate.



When you’ve selected songs for the albums you’ve recorded, what have you learned from the song buyer’s perspective that can be helpful for song sellers (AKA songwriters)?


Well it’s been interesting to me what songs actually SELL CDs at live shows. You’d think that it would always be that the words have to “move” them but it can sometimes just be how the song overall makes them feel. The melody, the groove, the feel alone can push folks to buy a song.

I do think about what people will buy, but when I put together a CD more often I typically think of what songs work with each other conceptually. I often think of the CD as a book, meant mostly to be taken in one sitting, in a certain order. But you always want each chapter to stand on its own too. That’s the hard part.
Maybe you just have to figure out what your story is first, and make sure your songs tell it.


What else have you learned about the process of marketing original music and “getting your songs out there” that might be helpful to other songwriters?


I don’t know that I’ve figured out any thing 🙂

I can only say this, and I know it’s cliche, but you just have to be true to what it is you want to say and figure out how you want to say it. I think you have to have a kind of personal code by which you follow. That means you do or don’t do these things in order to make something work.

There will be times you will want to break that code because it might be easier or appear to be a shortcut but I don’t think the outcome by doing that would be as fulfilling as sticking to what it is you want to create and putting it out there and being okay with whatever happens. That’s the trick, you have to be okay with the outcome and if that means not as much commercial success but you’re happy with the art then that’s what it is. But if you’re supporting a family and you make decisions based on that, there’s true grace in that as well.


What’s the most gratifying part of songwriting for you?


When it’s finished and I actually want to hear it again. 🙂 Saying something in a unique way (if and when that happens).


Do you have any specific go-to songwriting techniques?


Not really. Sometimes I sequester myself away from distractions (if possible).

That’s one of the hardest things to do is find quiet time to try to write. Some people don’t need that, they can produce in a mall surrounded by people. I can’t really do that unless I’m really super inspired.

Sometimes I listen to other music that I count as inspiring. Sometimes I try to think of a story or a movie to get break away ideas.


What final thoughts can you offer that would be helpful to other songwriters?


Don’t wait around for a great idea to come to you, sometimes you have to go find them. So, make time every day to write, or at least think about writing. I remember something Robin and Linda Williams told me a long time ago. I asked them how they wrote so many songs, and they told me they got up every day and sat down at a table to write, no matter what. The practice and habit of going after it will pay off.


Tools of the Trade

What instruments do you use when developing a new song?

Missy:I do a lot on my Gibson B-25 guitar. I love my guitar, it’s small and comfortable and easy to play. I’m not really a guitar player but I will often sort things out on the guitar first. But sometimes I write with my bass (Kay 1937) In fact, I’m writing a vocal tune now that began on the bass.

What devices do you use to record your songwriting ideas?

Missy: A Zoom recorder and my iPhone

Do you use any software in your songwriting process?

Missy: Sometimes Garage band

Are there any other items you consider essential for your songwriting toolkit?

Missy:Pen and paper, iPhone, computer — anything will work to get your ideas down and not lose them when they come. We are surrounded by technology today so there’s never any excuse to not be able to save an idea.


Music by Missy Raines

[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”B001NOMOE2″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51NwzZs6NFL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]
[easyazon-link asin=”B001NOMOE2″ locale=”us”]Inside Out[/easyazon-link]
[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”B00004XSNH” locale=”us” height=”157″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41QVNQP244L._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]
[easyazon-link asin=”B00004XSNH” locale=”us”]Two[/easyazon-link]
[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”B001JYSSDM” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51g5M3lalDL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]
[easyazon-link asin=”B001JYSSDM” locale=”us”]My Place in the Sun[/easyazon-link]
[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”B0000AGWNY” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/611HrDi-gWL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]
[easyazon-link asin=”B0000AGWNY” locale=”us”]Synergy[/easyazon-link]

Bass Instruction by Missy Raines

[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”B001AMRBUY” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5135ocOx2PL._SL160_.jpg” width=”109″]
[easyazon-link asin=”B001AMRBUY” locale=”us”]Beginning Bass with Missy Raines[/easyazon-link]