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How do songwriters "Tap-In"

The Question

My wife and I were out to dinner with two of our best friends the other night and in the course of checking in with each other I told them about a song I had written at a recent TSA retreat near Malaga, Spain. After telling them a bit about the song one of them asked how songwriters are able to tap into their feelings as well as allowing a listener to tap into their own. A bit of background first.

I was a mentor at this retreat as well as writing with a different group each day. On the next to last evening the mentors performed a few of their songs and it was a magical night. I went to bed with a pretty full heart. The next morning I woke up to the news that an old friend had passed away. Not someone I had stayed close to but someone who I had been friends with in my band days. Great guy, about the same age as myself.

As I headed down to breakfast I felt flooded with emotions. I’ll admit when real life happens like this it’s almost impossible to define what you’re feeling. Grief for sure, but something else. I’ve been writing songs long enough to listen to that voice and let it take me wherever it wants to. I had trouble joining in for breakfast with this great group of writers who were still on a high from the previous night, so I slipped away and went back to my room. I picked up my guitar and just let it dictate the direction. I didn’t really think I was writing a song at this point, maybe more just a comfort thing. But pretty soon I realized my subconscious was channeling my thoughts and feelings. I also realized one of the underlying feelings was guilt mixed with relief and a touch of worry. I know the guilt came from feeling relief that I was still here. The worry was am I running out of time?

The Birth

Now on this last day I talked with the two writers I was grouped with and told them I honestly might have to bow out, not feeling that I could shake this song. Instead, they offered to help me get this out and at that point we became three midwives at the birth of a song. I’m forever grateful to Steve and Angela for their willingness to just go with it.

By the afternoon the song was there. It’s called “Running Out Of Time”. So to answer my friend’s question about tapping in, I think you have to trust. Trust your experience as well as have the skill set to give structure to an idea. The main thing I think you have to do is tell the truth. Your truth. There’s a very Nashville saying that you should “tell the truth and make it rhyme”. Along with real emotions, real events, detail, color and make it specific. I feel that if you do this well enough, the person hearing your song will see it and in turn tap into their own version of it. Make it too general and they're left to imagine.

I don’t know if there’s anything better about this songwriting experience than being able to touch someone with your song. We all have gifts and as a songwriter yours is sometimes to tap into feelings that someone else feels but maybe doesn’t know how to express. The bonus is you can give form to your own feelings and it can be a freeing thing.

A little post script

After coming home to Nashville I reached out to my friend Bob Britt and asked if he’d do a simple guitar vocal demo. Bob is currently the guitarist in Bob Dylan’s band but I also love his voice. He played with Leon Russell for years and brings that same honesty to his vocals. A few weeks ago Angela emailed to say her husband had shared the song with a friend who had lost his son. His friend asked if he could play the song at the memorial service for 250 people. He said that at the end of the service their friend read a closing speech and told all gathered that we should live by the words in this song. I can’t speak to what he was feeling but I know for me the song is about letting people know you love them while there’s still time.

Here’s the lyric and a link to the song ( click on the word “song”)


Lost a good friend of mine Good friends are hard to find 

Somehow it don’t seem right

To be the one left behind Did I tell him that I love him? I’m afraid it slipped my mind And I just ran out of time. 

We were young and bulletproof Ten feet tall But I’ll tell you the honest truth We didn’t know nothing at all And I hate to admit it But what’s running though my mind 

Am I running out of time 

Time to waste and time to spend

Singing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ again

Sha la la la la la la la la It’s weighing on my mind 

Am I running out of time

I wonder and I wonder Will I meet him down the line 

When I’ve run out of time

‘Cause we all run out of time 

( Mark Cawley - Angela Skinner- Steve Jones )

In memory of Chooch Kennedy

Thanks to Bob Britt for sharing his gift

With special thanks to Kathy Dupree for inspiring this blog!

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Check out this interview in M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!



Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Kahn to Wynonna Judd, Taylor Dayne, Billie Piper and The Spice Girls. His book, Song Journey, was released in April 2019 and went to #1 in 6 catagories on Amazon.Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, InTune Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a past mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

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