For those of you who have never co-written a song, the concept of sharing your creative process may seem, at best, foreign and, at worst, inconceivable. As an inveterate solo songwriter before moving to Nashville, I completely understand. However, co-writing has the potential for so much upside that in most instances it’s well worth the large step outside your comfort zone. I’m going to list seven benefits that come to mind right away with the understanding that there are likely quite a few more.
In my experience, one of the hardest parts of writing a song is actually making the time to do it. Even if you’re diligent enough to block out time on your calendar to sit down and write, there always seems to be something that comes up at the last minute. By scheduling a time to collaborate, you’re not only accountable to yourself but to your co-writer. Being accountable to another person is a great way to keep yourself honest and committed to a writing routine.
In the “stating the obvious” department, I’d like to remind you that two people tackling a song is generally half as hard as trying to do it on your own. It can be a great benefit to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to share the melodic and lyrical duties. Not only does collaboration cut your workload in half, it tends to make the process more fun and a little less fraught. This alone should be enough of a reason to get you to give collaboration a try.
Here’s another “not-so-secret” secret about songwriting. The more songs you have out there, the greater the chance something good will happen. Even though you might only own half of each song that you’re co-writing, you’re still putting twice the number of songs into the world. Not only will this improve your odds but it also tends to make your songwriting process a little less precious. In other words, it’s easier to decide a song is finished and move on if you’re writing twice as many of them.
One of my favorite and least expected benefits of collaborating with others is that you get to observe – first hand – how other songwriters write. Normally, writing a song is private but in the process of co-writing, you’re going to be exposed to a variety of different songwriting techniques. Over the years, I’ve gathered countless tips and tricks from my collaborators that I’m able to bring to the table each time I write.
Co-writing with a variety of different partners over time tends to expose our songwriting strengths and weaknesses. Simply being aware of your abilities is a bonus when it comes to honing your craft but there’s a second – and equally valuable – benefit. By learning where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you’ll be able to align yourself with collaborators who fill the gaps in your writing and vice versa. This will, invariably, lead to songs that are better than either you or your co-writer could have written on your own.
In the situation where you and your collaborator have come up with a song you both feel is ready for prime time, it’s awfully nice to be able to split the costs of a professional demo. While I’ve covered the topic before, I feel it’s worth repeating that a professional demo is essential for pitching your song to any industry decision-maker. And speaking of pitching…
Your work as a songwriter isn’t over once you’ve written your song. As a matter of fact, writing your song is the fun part. Once your song is professionally demoed, the key will be to get it in front of as many potential opportunities as possible. Whether it’s pitching the song to an artist for their project or to a music supervisor for a film or TV show, the fact that you’ve got two people (with two sets of industry contacts) working on getting the song out there is a huge plus.
I feel the need to mention that in spite of all of the above-mentioned benefits, co-writing still isn’t for everyone. There are those writers whose work is best left undiluted by collaboration but I’d venture to say that they are the exception. More importantly, the only way to find out whether co-writing is for you or not is to co-write. I should add that it could take a few mediocre or disappointing collaborations before you find a co-writer you really click with. It’s still art and there’s no accounting for chemistry. That being said, when a co-write does work, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sharing the joy of putting a great song into the world.