The Do’s and Don’ts of Co-writing
Co-writing. This term confuses some and scares others. It can be exciting, inspiring, uncomfortable, and awkward, all at the same time. It has been compared to dating (the good, the bad, and the meh kind), playing tennis, and dancing. It takes being vulnerable with others (sometimes strangers), patience, practice, and compromise to make it successful.
With all of this, you may be asking yourself “Why would anyone in the world want to co-write?”
Co-writing can push you to new levels in your craft. It can help you see songs in a new light and can also help you build stronger relationships within the music community. Co-writing is what helps some songwriters get signed to publishing deals or to get noticed by others in the industry. It has also created some of the greatest songs in history, with songs such as “Hotel California” (Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey), “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (Bobby Braddock, Curly Putman), and “Yesterday” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) being the products of successful co-writing sessions.
Whether you’re new to this co-writing business, or you’ve been doing it for years, there are some simple dos and don’ts that can help set up your co-write for songwriting success.
DO: Show up on time. Showing up on time for a co-write may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many writers don’t take this step as seriously as they should. Obviously, life can be messy at times. Traffic is at a standstill, an unexpected emergency pops up, a bird decides to explore your house as you take time to frantically catch it. Things clearly happen that people will understand. However, if you’re the person that is constantly late to your writes, or always has some reason for not being on time, you’ll slowly start to see your opportunities for working with other songwriters fade away into the distance.
DON’T: Cancel your co-write. Canceling a co-write is never a good idea (unless it is an extreme emergency). I’ve often joked with songwriters that if they are set up on a write with a signed writer, and you are an unsigned writer looking to write at that company, you need to take your leg with you to the co-write should it be severed for some reason while you’re on the way to the write. That’s a bit of an extreme exaggeration, but it makes the point of how important it is to keep your co-writes (especially since you’ve most likely had them on the calendar for a few weeks or months).
DO: Bring ideas to your write. If you aren’t keeping a “hook book” or writing down ideas for your songs somewhere, now is a great time to start! Bringing strong ideas to your write can help the co-writing process go a lot smoother, and can help you and your fellow writer bounce ideas off of each other before landing on that killer song idea.DON’T: Hold back your best ideas. Sometimes it can be tempting to hold back some of your best ideas in a write (especially if you’re not sure what is going to come out of a new co-write). You should, however, get in the habit of bringing your best ideas to each write. You will come up with more great ideas, and, if you aren’t bringing your best to each write, you may be missing out on opportunities for more cowriting doors and opportunities to open for you. DO: Listen to your co-writer. You are working TOGETHER on this song. Even if you feel like you have the greatest line, or absolute BEST idea for a melody, make sure you listen to your co-writers thoughts and work together to create the strongest song you can. Remember, their approach to writing is probably different than yours (which is why co-writing is effective).
DON’T: Over criticize your co-writer. At some point in the co-write, you’re bound to hit a point where your co-writer will throw out an idea that you’re not crazy about. While it’s perfectly fine for you to discuss and talk through your point of view on it, it’s NOT ok for you to be overly critical of their idea. Co-writing can be a vulnerable experience, and you want your co-writer to feel free to express their ideas and thoughts so you can pull the best from each other.
DO: Have fun! While co-writing can be scary/stressful/intimidating at times, it can also be fun! You’re working with other people who share a passion for telling stories through music, so enjoy that experience together!
These certainly aren’t the all-encompassing rules for Dos and Don’ts when it comes to co-writing, but these are a few simple rules to follow so your co-writing experience is more enjoyable for you, and your collaborators.
If you have questions about co-writing, feel free to reach out to someone from our Membership Team who can help answer any questions for you. NSAI has several videos in our video library that can provide helpful tips on the subject, and, if you’re looking for new co-writers and don’t know where to start, make sure you check out NSAI’s Member Search Directory on our website.