Co-writing For Fun and Profit

cowriting-1024x682If you start seeking advice on how to become a professional songwriter, you are probably going to have a lot of people tell you that you should co-write.

Most songwriters I’ve met were very uncomfortable with that idea at first. Maybe you write lyrics and melody equally well and you don’t know why you need someone else to help you with your songs. Maybe you work best in private and don’t like the idea of someone interfering with your creative process. Or maybe you think you’d be really inhibited if someone else was there having opinions about what you come up with. Some people don’t like the idea because they don’t want to give up half the revenue if their song gets cut.

Those of you inclined to reject the idea completely might want to look up how many of the songs on the Billboard charts have more than one writer on them. I think you’ll find it’s most of them. Some songwriters have thriving careers without co-writing. It certainly wasn’t necessary for Diane Warren or Hugh Prestwood, but the overwhelming majority of the top writers, even ones perfectly capable of finishing a song by themselves, co-write regularly.

So why is it important? There are actually a lot of reasons. For one thing, very few writers excel at every aspect of songwriting. You might write great lyrics but your melodies might tend to be a bit generic. You might be great at developing an idea, but maybe the ones you come up with aren’t very fresh or original. Or maybe you come up with wonderfully creative ideas  but you don’t have the patience to organize them so that all the pieces fit together. It’s important to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, and if you find co-writers who are strong where you are weak and vice versa it can result in much better songs than you could write on your own.

Another great result of collaborating is that you learn from your co-writers. If they have skills you lack, you’ll be right there to see how they put them to use so that you can begin to use them too. They also might be able to spot your weaknesses and as they steer you away from them (gently and respectfully, I hope) you will be learning to avoid them yourself. As you learn from your co-writers, they will be learning from you too, and as you grow together you can push each other and challenge each other to write better and better songs.

A common saying about Nashville songwriters is, “You move up with your class” To make it as a pro writer on Music Row, it is vital to become part of the community. I meet a lot of writers who think the only reason for that is so you can develop relationships that will help you get your songs to the right people, but that is a short-sided view of the process. 

There is a lot that goes into building a successful career, things like getting your craft to a professional level, understanding the demands of the market, staying up on current trends, being able to recognize the difference between a good idea and a great idea. It’s very complex and it’s too hard to learn it all in isolation. If you are regularly co-writing with other people who are serious about success, and they are doing the same, you will all be sharing knowledge and gaining insights together.  You can see how well this works if you look at all the teams of writers who have ended up with a long string of hits, such as Ben Hayslip, Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins, collectively known as The Peachpickers, who have been dominating the charts.

Most writers go through some growing pains when they start co-writing. It’s almost inevitable to encounter things like ineffective communication and bruised egos. But if you stick with it, you can learn how to avoid the pitfalls and how to handle them when you can’t. Then you get to enjoy all the fun when the back-and-forth brings out the best in you and when your co-writers amaze you with wonderful ideas you never would have thought of on your own.