Songwriting collaboration is a big part of music business today, and in many cases, most songwriters need a co-writer at some point to help craft great songs. In this guest post for Songwriter 101, Songwriter Cliff Goldmacher shares some points that writers should consider when deciding to team up with another songwriter.
Looking back over 20 years to my first songwriting efforts, I remember my creative process as so personal and fragile that I was dead certain I would never open it up to another songwriter. Ultimately, I simply wanted to create more and better songs, and co-writing became a big part of the process. Over the years, I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) a few of the big “dos” and “don’ts” of co-writing.
Discuss percentages in advance. After writing close to a thousand songs, my assumption is that all my “from-scratch” collaborations are even splits. This means 50/50 if there are two of us, 33/33/33 if there are three of us, etc. Just know that some days you’ll contribute more and some days your co-writer(s) will and that it all evens out in the end.
Decide in advance if you’re going to bring ideas or start “cold.” If you’re new to the co-writing process or possibly a little nervous about how your upcoming session will go, preparing in advance with anything from a list of song titles to lyrical and/or musical hooks can go a long way towards a smooth-running session.
Show up on time and ready to work. You wouldn’t show up late for work or cancel because you didn’t feel like going, so don’t do it with your co-writing sessions, either. Showing respect for the process and your collaborator goes a long way towards setting the tone for a productive co-write.
Make a plan on how you’ll both promote the song. What this really means is that in order to make yourself an “attractive” co-writer, you should remember to bring as much to the table as possible. This could mean bringing an industry connection or pitch opportunity or even having a recording studio where you and your co-writer can do the demo for free.
Putting the business aside for a moment, the collaborative process, at its root, is about trust and chemistry. The following “don’ts” are suggestions about how to avoid damaging or compromising that trust.
Don’t criticize a co-writer’s suggestion. This is the ultimate vibe killer. There is vulnerability in trusting someone with your ideas and it only takes one “that sounds stupid” or “that’s a bad idea” to kill the goodwill that should be part of the process.
Don’t insist on one of your ideas if your co-writer doesn’t seem interested in it. You may be in the middle of a co-write and come up with a snippet of lyric or melody that you absolutely love but for some reason your co-writer just doesn’t get it. My suggestion is to make your best case for it and if your co-writer doesn’t like it, let it go.
Don’t edit too harshly early on in the session. There’s real value in keeping a co-write moving along. Squeezing too hard on a single line or section of the song too early in the process can take all the creative energy out of a session.
Don’t push too hard to collaborate with a more established/successful songwriter. As songwriters, we all know who the hot writers are. The unwritten rule I’ve observed is that it’s better to be asked to co-write by a more established/successful writer than it is to ask them to co-write yourself.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of co-writing rules but simply a few guidelines to help those new to the game to understand it a bit better. The best kinds of co-writes are the ones where both collaborators feel like they’ve written something better than either could have written alone.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including a brand new HD video series available at the link below. http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/video-podcast-series Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos. You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.