Toby Keith is known for sold-out shows and hit songs, but a lot of people may not know he’s also the writer of those hits. He recently sat down with Songwriter Universe to talk about his own writing and the most important thing a songwriter can do. “It’s the one thing I do a little bit of every day,” he said. “I just happened to become an artist, but I was a songwriter first and foremost.”
Growing up, Toby’s sixth grade teacher bragged about his creative writing but his mother expected him to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma. When he was in middle school, he spent a summer with his grandmother. She owned a bar, which Toby paid tribute to by titling his 2011 album, Clancy’s Tavern, and Toby was introduced to music there.
“I never pursued music until after I got a guitar, went to my grandma’s bar, and watched the band play,” he said. “That blessing that God gave me reared its head, and here we are today.”
When he was still a teenager, he started writing his own music and performing with a band. “I didn’t know how good my songs were when we started playing them out,” he said. “I’d write them and we’d play them in that little circle of friends, but you didn’t know how good they were gonna be on a large scale. The next step was to take it to a nightclub and you might sing eight or 10 that you thought were your best and they might not even get a reaction from the crowd.”
Practice makes perfect and over the years, Toby has mastered the craft of songwriting. He’s also had plenty more life experiences to draw from since his teenage days. He compared his work in building songs to a construction worker’s.
“If you were a homebuilder and looked at the houses you built when you were 20 and looked at the ones you build today, you’d see they were much better – even than ones you were building five or six years ago,” he said. “As a songwriter, your system gets better. Your vocabulary gets bigger. Everything that would help a songwriter increases. Plus, you live longer and have more time to stumble on good ideas.”
While Toby has lots of advice he could share with up and coming songwriters, there is one piece of knowledge that is most important – finish every song. “If you start a hundred songs and finish one of two, you never learn to finish a song out,” he said. “Even if it’s a bad song, it’s important to finish the song all the way because that gives you practice in closing one out. That way when you do have a good song, you will know how to close it out.”
Toby is currently touring the country on his Live In Overdrive Tour. He just released the lead single from his next album, “I Like Girls Who Drink Beer,” to country radio.