This article on co-writing first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk! PS: you may find affiliate links in this post and I may get a commission if you buy something. 🙂
If you’ve been cooped up and feeling strapped for creative energy, now may be the time to get with a co-writer. Co-writing is a time-honored tradition, and if you haven’t tried it, you may find it exhilarating.
For those lone wolf writers out there, co-writing can be a challenge – you have to know when to not keep an idea to yourself. It may help to know that co-writing can often yield better results faster.
For experienced co-writers, the pandemic may have put a damper on sessions, but by now you should know how to safely get together and if not, there’s always the virtual option.
Keep it Simple
Writing a song is as simple as grabbing a notebook and a pen, but if you want to record while you’re at it, that needn’t be complicated either. You can get together in your co-writer’s living room with your trusty 2 channel interface, a laptop, and a couple of mics. Break out a guitar and get to work! You can even use a couple of dynamics mics. Or plug in your pickup and a mic and let it rip!
The point is, a co-write doesn’t have to be a full-fledged recording session to be productive. Plus, if you use a click, you can build on tracks you record in the writing session later.
If you’re still not comfortable sitting in a room with another writer, no problem. Even before COVID, remote co-writing sessions were common for people in different locales. Again, keep it simple so as not to let the tech get in the way of creativity.
Get on Zoom, Google Meets, Skype – whatever you want – and kick ideas back and forth. You can use a Google doc if you want to edit the same document, and one or both of you can record ideas as they come and share session files later. Don’t worry about a complicated real-time audio sharing setup or amazing online jamming technology unless it’s already up and running. Keep it simple!
When Not to Co-Write
Co-writing can lead to some amazing things, but it isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t for every song. For example, if you’ve got a song that you’re super attached to that’s just not quite done, it might be better to get a little outside feedback and finish it yourself. You can always co-write something else.
Similarly, if you tend not to play well with others creatively, co-writing may not be for you. Even if you’re perfectly amenable, sometimes a vision is singular, and that’s ok. It’s worth it to try co-writing for awhile before you outright decide you should never do it, though.
More Than One Way to Skin a Song
Part of successfully co-writing is writing with the right partner. You may have decided co-writing isn’t for you simply because you tried writing with the wrong people. Finding the perfect writing partner for you may take time, and it takes paying attention to a certain chemistry.
You may have a great rapport with somebody, but that doesn’t mean your writing styles mesh. Even a great production collaborator may not jive well with you on lyrics and melody. That’s alright – there’s more than one way to collaborate. Traditional co-writing means writing lyrics and melody together and later having a song produced. But today, it’s just as valid for a lyric writer/singer to get with a beat maker and come together writing a track where both parties bring what they’re great at and share songwriter credit at the end.
For each potential partner, find the best way to collaborate – that way, you’ll have a wider range of people you can work with.
Everybody’s Equal in the Writing Room
Finally, make sure you agree upon splits ahead of time. For the most part, successful writing teams share everything equally, regardless of who suggested what in the room. In addition, make sure everyone gets heard and no one dominates. Remember that if you have a singular vision that can’t be compromised, that may not be the project for the co-write.
No matter how you do it or who you do it with, it’s worth it to try some co-writes if you haven’t – and if you’ve been on co-writing hiatus, now’s a great time to get back on the collaborative horse.