Given how mysterious some parts of the songwriting process are to even the most experienced songwriters, it’s understandable that there’s no clear formula for what makes great co-writing chemistry. In my experience, it has very little to do with the amount of time you’ve known someone or even how much you respect or admire their songwriting ability. And while some co-writing chemistry will always be unmeasurable, there are a few things that at least will be a solid indication of whether a co-write will work.

Qualities to look for in a co-writer

1. Someone who’s easy to be around

It probably goes without saying that when you co-write, you’re inviting someone into your creative space. This is the place you go – figuratively speaking – to explore your own emotions and stories and to bring them to life. It’s challenging enough to do this on your own but if you are going to share the process, it makes a huge difference to do it with someone you enjoy being with. I’ll never forget hearing a Nashville music publisher singing the praises of one of her writers by saying “I can put him in a room with anyone.” In other words, look for people who you wouldn’t mind being stuck in a room with for three or four hours. No matter how talented someone is, if they’re difficult to be around, it can make for an excruciating collaboration that will rarely lead to a great result.

2. Someone you can trust

The process of songwriting involves a decent amount of vulnerability when it comes to suggesting musical and lyrical ideas. It helps significantly to know that you’re safe to brainstorm and make potentially ridiculous suggestions along the way without being criticized or judged. If your co-writer engenders that kind of trust, not only will you enjoy the process more but you’ll also be brave enough to take lyrical and musical chances in a way you wouldn’t otherwise. This is where great songs come from. Often, right behind a seemingly nonsensical suggestion, is a brilliant one but it takes trust to put yourself out there in that way.

3. Someone who has strengths where you have weaknesses and vice versa

One of the very best parts of songwriting collaboration is working with someone who has songwriting strengths where you tend to struggle. It instantly frees you up to play to your own abilities and the song is always the better for it. If you love writing lyrics but struggle with melody, look for collaborators who are melodically gifted. This may seem obvious but if you’re a fan of someone’s songwriting and yet you’re both more lyric driven, you might end up struggling to agree on a lyrical approach while the melody suffers as well. In other words, working with a complementary talent is definitely worth keeping in mind.

Qualities to look for in a co-writer

4. Someone who is open to your ideas

Even if your co-writer has all of the qualities I’ve already mentioned, you don’t stand a chance of having a successful co-write if they’re not open to any of your suggestions. I’m not saying your co-writer has to agree with everything you bring up and, in fact, it’s often in searching for an alternate line after a co-writer doesn’t respond favorably to something you’ve said, that you come up with something great. Still, you need to feel as though your ideas are being generally well received otherwise a co-write can get discouraging very quickly.

5. Someone who is willing to do the work after the co-write is done

A final quality of a great co-writer is someone who understands that the work isn’t done when you’ve finished writing your song. There are lots of decisions to make and work to do if your collaboration is going to have a chance of making you both some income. This work can include whether to demo your song, exploring pitch possibilities and a host of other things that have very little to do with writing talent. It’s nice to share the work of writing a song but it’s even nicer to share the less interesting work of getting your song out in the world. A co-writer who gets this part of the equation is a rare and valuable one indeed.


As I stated at the beginning of this post, there’s still no accounting for chemistry when it comes to a great co-writer but there are a decent number of qualities that you can look for that will give you an early indication of whether you’ve got a chance of hitting it off. Also, I should probably mention that exhibiting the same qualities I’ve just outlined for your co-writer is equally important for you.

Good Luck!

Talk to a pro about your songs & the music biz.

Click the image to find out about Cliff's consultations.

13 responses to “Five Qualities to Look For in a Co-Writer”

  1. Eddie Miranda says:

    Love it! So good!

  2. Great points, Cliff…

    One more: a cowriter who won’t settle for mediocre from themselves or from you… a writer who pushes for the best song possible.

  3. Stephen Whiting says:

    All ‘good stuff’, of course! I’m just wondering if you have any ideas/thoughts about how to find a potential co-writer with these qualities, especially for someone new to town (N’ville)? Thank you~

    • Hi Stephen! Thanks for the kind words. I’d start with the NSAI ( but the best part of living in Nashville is that you’re surrounded by potential co-writers. Best of luck!

  4. Carl Beverly says:

    Cliff, any advice on what I call ownership? I co-wrote once (non-commercial) and found that I never perform the song and neither did my co. I never felt like it was truely mine. Needless to say I haven’t ventured there since.

  5. Hi Carl,
    As far as co-writes go, you win some you lose some. I definitely don’t love all the songs I co-write but the ones that I do, I’m very grateful for. I wouldn’t give up though. Good luck!

  6. Michele Earl says:

    Always good sound advice.I always find a “take-away” that enhances this crazy craft of songwriting. Thanks.

  7. Cliff says:

    My pleasure Michele. Thanks for dropping me a note!

  8. Tyler Morger says:

    Thanks for the insight Cliff! Say you end up writing with a difficult person, how do you handle it? Scrap the session? Talk it out? Flex a little more?

  9. Cliff says:

    Hi Tyler. My recommendation is to do your best to finish the session and then, if you still feel the writer is difficult, make that the last time you work with them. Plenty of fish in the sea!

  10. Tom McCormack says:

    Great advice Cliff. I find the biggest hurtles in finding a co-writer/ colaborter is checking your ego at the door. I have been working on that and your suggestions are definitely going to help. Thanks

  11. James Fields says:

    I want to begin with a sincere “THANK YOU!” Back in December of 2020 I took your advice and looked at some online sources for song writers seeking others with whom to collaborate. After contacting about six such people (in various genres … since I write songs in many) I found a song writer with whom I felt “something” different than the others. We began emailing back and forth, sharing our thoughts about how we could work together. Through those discussions we discovered that my strength is lyrics and his is writing melodies that carry the feelings and images that drove my lyrics. We are so blessed to have each other. Everything in your article is what we are experiencing. FYI … my co-writer and I have never seen each other … it has all been through email correspondence. We each write our own complete songs individually and only collaborate when I have lyrics without any melodies in mind. We hope to meet face-to-face this summer and see if “live” co-writing enhances what we can create.

  12. T.J. Kirby says:

    Good Advice Cliff no time for a tug of war with a co-writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.