For those of you who are relatively new to co-writing or haven’t yet co-written, it can be difficult to know what to expect when you get together with another songwriter to collaborate. As a veteran of over a thousand songwriting collaborations, I thought I’d put down a few of the indicators you should be noticing if/when your co-write is working well. Another way to put this is that if you aren’t experiencing these things, it might be time to look for a new collaborator.
The foundation of a successful co-write is trust. If you can’t trust your fellow collaborator with your musical and/or lyrical ideas, then it’s pretty much game over from the start. You need to feel safe suggesting ridiculous things during the brainstorming part of your session so that you can ultimately get to the good stuff. Conversely, you, too, need to be patient and trust that while all of your co-writer’s suggestions won’t be great, you’re going to get there together. There’s no room for negativity or criticism in a healthy songwriting collaboration.
One of the best fits possible when it comes to co-writing is when you and your collaborator are strong where the other is weak and vice versa. If lyrics come easily to you but your melodies are lackluster, you’d be best served working with someone who has a gift for melody but might struggle with lyrics. On top of that the talent of your collaborator in their given speciality will also help you up your game in yours. In other words, your lyrics will just plain sound better when they’re sung over a brilliant melody. The key here is that you easily fall into your respective roles and, together, write something that is better than anything either one of you could have written alone.
Another hallmark of a successful collaboration is that the creative process is a smooth one. Instead of agonizing over what conjunction to use in the second line of the first verse, you find yourselves steadily moving through the entire song and watching it come together naturally and efficiently. This isn’t to say that some days are just hard no matter how good your collaboration may be but my experience has been that when a co-write is good, things tend to move along at a nice pace.
Don’t underestimate the value of enjoying yourself during a co-write. As a collaborator of mine once said, “We should be having fun here. After all this isn’t air-conditioner repair school.” The reality is that if you’re enjoying yourselves, that a great indication that you’re working at your peak creativity.
The reality is that just because a co-write goes smoothly doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a song that you love. But when you’re fortunate enough to be in a great collaboration, you’ll both end up feeling strongly about the quality of the song which is not only great for morale but also makes the less romantic prospect of demoing and pitching the song more attractive.
Let me be clear. Not every co-write is a great one. The reason, in fact, that I feel qualified to write this article at all is that I’ve spent enough time in crummy collaborations over the years to know unequivocally what the good ones look and feel like. Just because you’ve had a bad co-writing experience, however, is no reason to give up on the concept all together. Stay at it and if you look for the above indicators, you’ll have a much better idea of when you’re on to something great.