In this article I’ll be listing some tips, advice, and things to consider about co-writing for songwriters. Co-writing can be an exhilarating experience. It can also be a boring, awkward, or disastrous experience. Since our move to Nashville earlier this year we’ve been doing a ton of co-writing. Co-writing is a lifestyle here in Nashville. Everybody does it. In just a few short months we’ve put together a network of songwriters in various genres. So far, it’s been a great learning experience. Below are some of my thoughts about co-writing for songwriters. These thoughts aren’t in any particular order. They are simply bullet points.
1. Finding other songwriters to write with.
So, the first step is finding people to co-write with. We typically find people on social media. We search popular tags on Instagram, Twitter, and snoop around on Facebook and Youtube. We also go to open mic nights, showcases, and concerts. Once we find someone with music we like, we’ll find out who they are currently writing with and also establish relationships with them. This allows us to have a mutual connection that we can anchor to. “Hey, we know your friend _____, and they thought that we’d make cool music together. Want to get together and write sometime?”. It’s important that you have a portfolio of your songs. When you reach out to someone for a co-write always send them some of your work to check out. Usually, they will be able to instantly know whether they want to work with you or not.
2. Breaking the ice and eliminating awkwardness.
It’s weird making art with someone for the first time. Simply remember that everyone has great ideas and dumb ideas. I heard a story about a songwriter who had their first co-write with a major writer. She was scared. They went into a room and shut the door. The first thing the major writer said was “Today you’re going to hear me say some of the dumbest things that you’ve ever heard. I’ll also most likely hear you say the dumbest things I’ve ever heard”. Next, there was relief. The point is to immediately clear the air. They are most likely just as nervous and you may be. Sometimes during a co-write things can be awkward. There can be dead space and both parties start to get unsure about the entire idea of co-writing together. People can also be shy. My remedy for awkwardness is to have a few funny books laying around the studio. If I am finding it hard to strike up a conversation I’ll say “Hey, have you ever seen this book.. it’s hilarious!” This will lighten up the mood! This is the book that I use..
3. Co-writing and building a network.
To me the biggest benefit of co-writing is building a network. Before you know if you’ll be working with bigger and better people. We had a co-write the other day with a guy that we write with often. He asked if it was okay to bring 2 other writers to the session. We said yes. It turns out that one of the writers in the group brought a song for us to write for a major label artist. When you are co-writing with people, ask them about other writers at the end of the session. Say something like “Who have you been writing with recently? Anyone cool I should know about? I’m trying to expand my network”.
4. Being prepared.
It’s always a good idea to have some ideas to bring to the table. This will help eliminate dead space. Sometimes writing something from scratch totally works, but I’ve found that we or the writer we are working with come in with some kind of starting point.
5. Checking in.
The first thing I like to do at the beginning of a co-write is to check in with the other songwriter(s). It’s almost like being a therapist. Ask them about whats going on in their life. Ask them how they are feeling today. This will start up an honest conversation. A lot of times a good topic comes out of it.
6. Making an agreement.
I wouldn’t recommend starting the session with contracts, but some people do. Use your judgement. But, at some point you need to ask the other writer about what the plans are for the song. Is it going to be performed, pitched, shelved? Make sure you guys have a solid agreement together and split sheet. You also need to follow up on registering your work together and having the copyright taken care of.
So many people start songs and then never finish this. It’s important to be consistent with each writer that you are working with and follow through with completing the song. Before they leave make sure you go ahead and get a date in the calendar for them to come back to finish the last song or to start something new. I find that creating a regular schedule helps. It prevents us from losing contact with the writer. When you write with some one often, you can develop a better bond with them. This will lead to more creativity and better songs.
8. Saying No.
No one likes telling people “no”. We feel bad. The reality though is that time is limited. You don’t have to say yes to everyone who wants to co-write with you. Be choosy. In the beginning you may say yes to everyone and that is okay. You are building your network. Eventually though you’ll have to say no to people or you will burn yourself out.
9. Don’t bring uninvited parties to the co-write.
This should be obvious. It’s best to limit “surprises” when co-writing. Nothing can kill the mood of a co-write quicker than having a random person show up and throwing off the energy. It just creates awkwardness. If you feel like having someone else at the session would be beneficial then ask for permission first.
10. Have fun.
Again, sounds obvious. But really it makes a huge difference. Having a good “hang” is a success even you don’t create a hit that day. If you make it a fun experience people will want to continue to write with you and tell their buddies about you. Have some laughs, recommend some new music, tell stories. This will rev up creativity and help build strong relationships.
Those are a few of my thoughts and tips on co-writing for songwriters. I highly recommend co-writing. When creative people get together it can be magical! Give it a try.
Feel free to add any of your own tips in the comment section below!