Stop right there! It doesn’t have to be.
Co-writing with someone for the first time can feel a lot like undressing in front of a stranger you just met. Writing, for most of us, is a very personal experience. Most of us started writing nervously in rooms by ourselves diving into our emotions and trying to find a way to pull a song out of it. However, co-writing feels completely different. Everyone is coming into it with anticipation and nervous energies but ultimately, expectations. Expectations that together we will make something better than we could alone. And with that expectation, comes the possibility for disappointment. So here are some helpful tips we have found to avoid that disappointment, and to make your co-writes a more enjoyable experience for all.
- The ice breaker.
As awkward as it may feel, take a few minutes before your session to get to know each other. Don’t be strictly musical during this phase. Ask where your co-writer is from, where they went to school, what TV show they like, whatever feels natural. Have the same small talk you would with anyone, because you’re a human. The human interaction and connection that happens before a session is vital, and oftentimes transitions seamlessly into a discussion on what the song is about. Don’t skip the small talk!
- Know your roles, and if you don’t – find out.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Sure there are some freak of nature writers out there that are good at everything, but most of us tend to have specific strengths within the songwriting craft. I like to break it down into three components: lyrics, melody, and harmony. Lyrics make up the actual content of the song. Melody is the hook or melodies being sung throughout the song. Harmony is the arrangement of the song including chord selection, structure, etc. Take some time and get to know your other writer. It will help you to find a starting point for the song. If you are with someone who is really strong with harmony and you are great with melody, both of you sitting with a pen and paper trying to come up with lyrics is not going to be the best way to start off your session. Play to your strengths, do what feels natural, and have fun with it.
- You will have stupid ideas, and that’s 100% fine.
Sometimes we get so scared our co-writer might think out idea is bad that we freeze on the inside and don’t share anything. Nothing will make a writing session go south faster than insecurity. Own your stupid idea. Personally, I’m a melody guy. I’ll often come up with what I think is a strong melody but the first words I think of may be terrible. Sure I could be insecure about it and not contribute anything, or I could communicate exactly how I feel. “I know these words suck, but what do you think about this melody?” Now that I have put the idea out there, it gives my co-writer on opportunity to work with it and make it better. They very well may have better lyrics but no melody to put it to. Team work makes the dream work, and insecurity makes the dream die.
- You will not write a #1 hit every time.
Actually, you won’t even write a hit most times. That does not mean you should stop co-writing and give up all together because your first song didn’t chart. It takes most charted songwriters YEARS of writing (awkward co-writes included) before they have their first placement. However, each write they finish makes them a stronger writer. There is something to learn from every co-writer you work with, just like there is something to learn from every person you encounter. You may not write a hit every time, or for a long time, but keep putting in the work and your career will move in the direction you want it to.
- Follow up.
Remember that co-write you did a few months ago that went surprisingly great and you both loved the end product? Chances are the other person feels the same way too! Reach out and set up an additional writing session and make it a regular thing. The more songs you write, the better at the craft you get. Let your co-writers know you enjoyed writing with them. That little bit of encouragement could mean the world to someone when they are battling their own personal demons. The best way to get more opportunities is to always follow up.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you when you venture into your next co-write. Remember, co-writing is a fantastic thing and it should be fun! When two creators come together to make greater art the possibilities are limitless!
So go, write, and be merry!
Project Manager / Songwriter