What are your experiences with co-writing?
I’ve had a confusing relationship with co-writing. I love it when I’m doing it (99% of the time), but I’ve often walked away feeling dejected, empty and at a loss for what to do next. Even when the song is GREAT. It’s different to writing with and for yourself, as there can be a lot of grey areas, some added steps and challenges when writing with others. I quit co-writing a couple of years back in New York City, even though I worked with some wonderful writers there. However, I remember one song, in particular, was solid gold.
Heart-grabbing, hooky, authentic, melodically interesting. But within a week, I had forgotten how it went. I didn’t have a demo from that session. When I tried to contact my co-writer to organise making a quality demo, crickets chirped. So I let it go, and it’s now a forgotten song from a forgotten afternoon. I recently took myself out of co-writing retirement to take a trip to Nashville. On this trip, I wrote with Riva Taylor and many other songwriters from all over the world.
I’ve been lucky enough to co-write with two I Heart Songwriting Club members in the past. I thoroughly encourage anyone to do the same if they get the chance. Both times have been fantastic experiences and the songs written were very different. Everyone has their writing style. Co-writing 101 for me is all about taking the very best elements of those things, combining them with your ideas and strengths and moulding them into something original. It’s also a learning exercise in that it throws up different ways to approach songwriting that could help your method.
How do you approach co-writing?
Co-writing is really fun! It doesn’t have to be daunting. Diplomacy is sometimes needed to get the best result, which goes for any environment working alongside others. But I’d say even more so here where creating music is a subjective art form. Everyone will have their own opinions of what works based on taste and ear. The most important thing is honesty, trial and error, and creating something you both want.
I’ve been taking it slow and being mindful about the co-writing process to ensure I’m best using my skills, time and energy. Ultimately, I’ve discovered that co-writing is just like dating. You want to be discerning in your choices, communicate, maintain your integrity, and cover all the legalities like a real adult. Before I step into the co-writing space: Know your own goals first. Why do you want to co-write? Is it to expand your creativity, write songs for a new project, generate new income streams, reach specific career goals?
Choose your partners carefully. Don’t waste your’ and other peoples’ time working together when your goals or values don’t align. There’s a fine line between being open and wasting away hours of your life writing with people that just aren’t suited to you. Do your due diligence before you commit. Google them and see what they’ve written in the past, take recommendations from friends and be clear about why you want to write with them.
So you’ve just met… what next?
Riva and Sam:
First, sit down; have a bit of chitchat. It’s important to understand your co-writing partner a little and establish a rapport even if you’ve just met. Talk about music, relationship status, phase of life, how you’re feeling – happy, sad, in-love, broken-hearted, lonely – whatever feels natural. The more personal the material, the better! We have found that the best songs come from a common thread with each writer. We didn’t know each other, but after we opened up, it turned out we were experiencing similar feelings in life, and our song was borne out of something that related to us both!
Talk us through the process after the ‘getting to know you’?
Sam and Riva:
- Start by agreeing on a royalty split. As a general rule, a co-write will be split evenly between the writers (50/50), unless otherwise discussed and agreed on.
- Identify who you’re writing the song for e.g. them, you, someone else, for the world?
- Set boundaries, e.g. can it be explicit?
- Leave your ego at the door
- Dive in, jam together, you don’t need to start with the verse or the chorus… see what words flow and what melodies work, let it evolve together. I Heart Songwriting Club has taught us how to uncover our creative ideas and just follow it.
- Listen and Share: It’s possible that your co-writer has a brilliant idea that you would have never considered on your own. Offer your ideas up as options and let your co-writer do the same. When something clicks, you’ll both feel it.
- Drink lots of coffee and eat lots of biscuits
- Put in some effort.
- Pause for reflection.
- Get the bare bones down and make a rough recording (your phone is a great tool for this)
- Don’t be afraid to put the pen down and revisit another day.
- Before you finish, keep control of your assets. Each writer should make a voice memo of the song once it’s written, and each take a copy of the lyrics.
So you’ve bonded, written a song and said goodbye…. what happens next?
Sam and Riva:
If you think the song has potential, put in the effort to see where it can go. You might feel you need to digest it all and make alterations (be it over email, Skype, or get together again). We did just this and recorded the song properly in demo form the second time.
Organise a space to keep your songs – Make a space online where you keep all your finished songs and then make a backup.
Register the song ASAP with your preferred songwriter’s association (there’s only APRA in Australia but a few options in most other countries) and let your co-writer know you’ve done it. If you legitimately feel like you wrote 90% of the song while the other person sat and looked at baby goat videos on YouTube, be upfront about what you think is fair before you go ahead and register the song.
Don’t be a dick though – if you think wrote three out of the four lines in the chorus and 15 out of the 28 lines in the verses this does NOT entitle you to a bigger songwriting split. Like in any relationship, it takes two, and if you were both co-writing well then you both deserve the same credit.
So we want to try co-writing… what else should I know?
More than anything else, be willing to learn. Aside from ending up with a swag of great songs, I have learnt incredible things from each co-writing partner I’ve had. Like any good relationship, a creative partnership is about expansion, collaboration and bringing people together, each has something valuable and unique to offer, and to create something magical. We will never run out of things to learn in life, and we will never be ‘the best songwriters we’ll ever be’. Be willing to learn and watch the gems come rolling in.
I’d encourage anyone to co-write! In effect, it’s what I Heart Songwriting Club is all about, a collaborative space for songwriters to test their ideas in the early stages of writing a song. This is just jumping in a stage before and having someone inspire and add to your initial creative thought processes. Enjoy!
LISTEN TO THEIR DEMO
Riva will be recording this song soon. But they both have given us permission to share their demo. This is their song, entitled I Surrender.