In last month’s blog we explored some ways to overcome songwriter’s block, and I mentioned that co-writing songs is one of the most important suggestions I’ve received – so important, in fact, that I promised to devote my post this month to the topic of co-writing.
Let’s look at a few of the pros and cons of co-writing songs. I think you’ll see why many of the best writers in the business still choose to collaborate.
The pros and cons of collaborating with songs
Pros of co-writing:
1. Co-writing brings skills to bear that you may not possess.
If you’re one of those folks who have it all – great stories to tell, flowing lyrics, and captivating melodies – this won’t be a compelling argument for you; there are better reasons for you to co-write a song.
However, if you’re like me (and the other 98% of songwriters) you probably struggle with one or more of these elements. Stories and lyrics come easily for me, but I have to really work to write melodies that grab the listener. I’ve been blessed to co-write songs with some fantastically creative people to whom melodies/chord progressions seem to occur naturally.
Likewise, some of them have told me that our co-written lyrics are a far better way of telling the story than they envisioned alone. The important thing here is that everyone involved gets an opportunity to grow while turning out great songs that tell important stories. Seek writing collaborators who are stronger than you in some sense of the word.
2. Co-writing forces you to organize your thoughts.
As mentioned in my December blog, the “storyboard” must flow logically even for fictional or expressive songs.
When two or more songwriters approach a project, it’s even more important to have a clear and consistent understanding of the flow of the story and what message/emotion the song is intended to convey. Work this out before you begin to produce lyrics, unless you’re going for a “stream of consciousness” song (and if you are, co-writing makes less sense).
3. Co-writing presents you with “What if…” opportunities.
Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “That would’ve been better if only the plot had taken THIS direction.” The same happens when you co-write songs, except that YOU are writing the plot and can consider those twists and turns that create great songs with a more universal “hook”.
Having a partner to ask those questions (and to answer yours) makes for a better end product – but it does require objectivity and flexibility on the part of the song’s collaborators. Some stories that I thought I had all figured out evolved into better (more universally relatable) songs when they shifted slightly from their original plot with the inclusion of my writing partner’s perspective.
4. Co-writing is generally faster.
This sounds counterintuitive, but I have found it to be true! When you set a writing appointment with someone you respect, you don’t want to waste their time. The result is sharper focus on the task at hand with less multi-tasking and clearer direction – to use a navigational term, higher “velocity made good” (speed in the desired direction).
With a little advanced preparation like agreeing on the song idea and/or the story and any lines or hooks already developed, collaborators can count on a productive songwriting session.
5. Co-writing results in additional avenues for pitching the song.
Network beyond your own personal sphere of contacts. Does your song collaborator work with artists directly to whom you may be unknown? Perhaps you have your own set of artists who welcome your pitches. Work together to cast a wide net.
6. Co-writing leads to rich personal relationships.
We write because we feel something deeply. When we share this experience with a kindred spirit, the bonding that occurs is highly rewarding. It is not a stretch to say that I’ve grown to love the people with whom I’ve worked over the years; every time I hear one of our songs I’m taken back to the session(s) in which it was created, and I relive the joy we shared as our “baby” came to life. As they say, joys shared are doubled; burdens shared are halved.
Cons of co-writing
1. You get earlier criticism of your work.
This can be discouraging for some, but if you approach it with maturity, it can be a blessing in disguise. When I worked in the automotive electronics industry, we learned an important lesson when testing our designs: “FAIL EARLY.”
An early test failure of our product armed us with feedback we could incorporate into our design with minimal impact on our deadline, tooling production schedule (tooling changes during design, not fabrication), and test facility schedule.
By contrast, when a failure occurred near the end of the testing cycle, we’d be 3+ months into fabricating tools already – some of which would have to be scrapped and redesigned as the product was corrected. Although songwriters rarely have “deadlines” there is still a big advantage if any weakness in the song is detected and reworked earlier – before it’s “finished”.
There’s less to rework, and even a change in the storyboard itself results in less wasted effort.
2. Your original idea will probably get altered.
When you work with other songwriters, strong opinions may change the trajectory of the song. Sometimes you’ll need to stand firm – just be sure this is properly motivated.
If you’re co-writing a story song about a historical figure and accuracy is important in honoring that figure, that’s reason enough to stick with the original storyboard. Just make sure you aren’t resisting out of ego.
If there is “wiggle room” do your best to compromise; give and take in fair proportions, or you’ll gain the reputation of being too difficult for many collaborators. After all, you collaborated by choice! Why would you ignore the input of the very person with whom you chose to write?
3. You must share any proceeds with your co-writer.
This is a good time to mention an unwritten rule of collaborating: divide the credit for the results equally among all collaborators.
Sure, maybe you wrote 80% of the song – but would there even BE a song without that other 20%? And maybe on the next project, the roles will be reversed. It’s just a recipe for strained relationships to handle this any other way.
I’ve heard of folks who wanted to count the words in the final song and to allocate the credits (and royalties) based on that. I’m not standing in line to co-write with them!
Set the ground rules right up front – once you’ve decided to collaborate you’ve made the decision that all contributors in the co-writing effort are credited equally. Trust me, you won’t miss their share. If the song is highly successful, you’ll all do well!
Co-writing is a fun and rewarding experience
The benefits of co-writing songs far outweigh the downside.
What’s more, collaboration has never been easier than today. There are great tools available to enable writers to work face-to-face, in real time, from all corners of the globe. You may have already established contact with other writers through song circles and workshops (Louisa Branscomb and Donna Ulisse lead wonderful workshops from time to time, to name a few).
If you don’t know where to begin, check out the services offered at buydemotracks.com; these provide great opportunities to co-write songs with other subscribers. You can even co-write with a specific artist in their preferred style and almost certainly get that project cut by that artist! This is just one of the many advantages made available to subscribers.