Songwriting Session is a new weekly column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Robyn Collins shares what she has learned as a songwriter.
Robyn Collins has been writing for the better part of 20 years but it wasn’t until four years ago that she wrote her first song. After years as a journalist, Robyn decided to try her hand at songwriting but she couldn’t find anyone who would take a chance with a new writer. In conversation on the back porch of her home in Hendersonville, Tenn. in between a day of co-writes, Robyn opens up about her path into songwriting and shares the lessons she’s learned along the way.
After a mission trip to an orphanage in Haiti, friend and songwriter Gerald Trottman encouraged Robyn to write about her experience. She wrote down everything that happened during her visit working in an orphanage and the two came up with her very first song sitting in the airport. Titled “Who I’ve Been,” the song details how she traveled to Haiti thinking she would help change lives but in the end the people she met helped her and gave her a new perspective on life.
“It was my first song and it was the moment when Gerald told me, ‘You are a writer,'” she recalls with a smile. “He’s told me that this entire four years. That has been super encouraging.”
While writing with other co-writers, Robyn says she learned the value of painting a picture in her songs. She quickly got the songwriting bug and in her day job as a children’s creative director at Long Hollow Church she started creating reasons where she would need a song so she could ask people to write with her. Songwriter Jordan Reynolds, who was a worship leader at the same church, became an early collaborator and the two would go on to write “Give the Love You Need,” “Sweeter” and “Love Is Like Rain,” which won a songwriting contest through SongTown USA garnering them a spotlight in Guitar World Magazine. The prize awarded them a co-write with hit Nashville songwriters Marty Dodson and Clay Mills and Robyn instantly knew songwriting was something she had to continue to pursue. Later, she’d win another songwriting contest for a song called “Magic In a Mason Jar.”
Robyn says her time as a journalist has made its way into her co-writes as she asks a lot of questions in each write to her fellow songwriters.
“Throughout the process, you ask, ‘Well, what did it feel like when this happened? Do you remember her saying anything? Where were you?’ Things like that all the time,” she shares. “Honestly, it feels like I’m interviewing when I’m in a write because I’m constantly asking questions. As a writer, you may write the best article in the world and someone’s only going to read it once. Maybe twice. They might bookmark your page because they want to remember one point. But if you write a great song somebody will listen to it 100 times. It’s such a blessing.”
She has several songs on hold by A-list country artists to record, but no definitive “yes” yet. However, Robyn says it’s these small milestones that she has learned to celebrate.
“At this point, there are little milestones. At least someone’s hearing my name again for a second time,” she says optimistically. “When you don’t have any other way to track your progress and your success you have to find these small victories where you go, ‘OK, I’m on the right track.’ You can’t get bitter.”
Robyn likens Nashville to a city of dreamers where everyone believes that something will happen because they’re investing their entire lives into their careers. Friend circles often include fellow dreamers and anywhere you go in town you find yourself among songwriters and performers.
“Most people come here with a dream. There is no city in the world like Nashville,” she explains. “I think an important thing to remember is as you’re struggling, that something good for someone else doesn’t equal something bad for you. There’s not a limit to how many songs can be written. Every day there are new artists coming to town needing new songs. The hard part is finding someone who believes in you. You want someone who believes in your message and your cause. Most of the time you have to be your own cheerleader.”
Robyn says she loves that songwriting allows her to trap the emotions of life within a song so that feeling is preserved. While she often draws from things she has experienced, she also looks to her friends and family for song ideas. One song idea, “Wow,” came from a story her cousin told her about her son’s best friend. His friend calls his girlfriend “Wow.” She says she had to write a song about that and then she sent it to him.
“I loved sending that song to the guy who’s story it was,” she says. “You immortalize memories and a lot of times people have gone through similar things so it will connect with their heart too. That’s my favorite part about it. It’s so fun to be in a room with someone where you walk into a room and have nothing and leave and you have something that matters and you touch someone’s heart.”
She adds: “You can write something that helps somebody else walk through whatever they’re feeling. Music is so emotional. It’s the most emotional way to use your writing gifts. It transports you. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? It’s such a privilege to get to do it. It’s by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.”