5 Tips To Successful Co-Writing

Article by: jly | Author, Music Creator
VQS Advice Blog | Cover Image by John Schnobrich

Many of us have the capability to birth a song on our own. We don’t need someone else there to put pen to paper, to pour our hearts out onto the page…but the magic of co-writing is that another person in the room can bring out a song we didn’t know we had in us.

There’s something about combining ideas from each of our experiences that results in a voice that takes a life of its own, unique from its originators.

So what does it take to write a song with another human in the room?
Here’s our 5 tips to better co-writing sessions.

1. Get comfortable to be vulnerable

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Co-writing sessions usually start out with a simple question–“How’s life?” It makes sense since stories from our day-to-day experiences usually make their way into our songs.

Sometimes my co-writers and I will have a silly exchange about how dating sucks and how we want to all just run away to the mountains and become nuns; other times, it’s a full-on therapy session where one person bares their soul and we are all there to listen and support them as they process their grief.

Working through emotions by talking about them is cathartic for the person speaking, and on the listening end, you will likely find that the song will end up writing itself. Rather than sitting there, racking your brains for a title that sounds cool, your co-writer says something off-handedly that makes you say, “That’s it!”

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2. Get in the spirit of “yes, and…”

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In a brainstorming session, when an idea is fresh and new, it can be scary to put it out there. When I was new to writing with other people, my biggest fear was, “What if I sound dumb?”

I was afraid to make mistakes, to sing a wrong note, to have a “stupid” idea. But now I like to think of a co-writing session as one big improvisational game, except instruments and singing are thrown into the mix.

Someone will say an idea, and another person can vamp on that idea or take it in an unexpected direction. Even if the others are not a fan of the idea that has been proposed, rather than shutting it down, usually something that follows is, “What if we take this idea and do…”

Even if you think you messed up, those ideas pave the way to the final product because the “yes, and…” will guide your group in the right direction.

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3. Treat it like speed-dating

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Not every co-write will be a musical match made in heaven. I have had my fair share of co-writes where you feel like everyone has some kind of idea constipation, others where one person insists on their way or the highway. I’ve even walked away from a co-write in tears.

Just like dating, you never know what kind of musical chemistry you will have with another person until you give it a try, and that means taking a risk to work on a song that may never get finished; but that doesn’t mean that you should stop trying after one bad experience.

Keep in mind that a hair-pulling session says more about the dynamic between the people involved, not so much that “co-writing isn’t for me.” Your methods of creating may not mesh with everyone, and that’s okay.

There are so many talented individuals to make great art with, so don’t let one bad experience keep you from the countless number of good ones out there!

4. Learn from each others’ strengths

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If you typically write lyrics first, your co-writer may push you out of your comfort zone when they start softly strumming the guitar and improvising melodies. Give this new method a try, and who knows? You may surprise yourself and enjoy writing this way more than you thought you would.

My songwriting teacher from the Songwriting School of LA talked about the concept of genre natives and genre tourists. Let’s say you mainly listen to country, and your co-writer listens to R&B. In this co-write, you would be a genre native of the country but a genre tourist of R&B. One of my favorite take-aways from this songwriting class: “As a genre tourist, your passport is your skillset as a writer.”

Even though you may listen mainly to country, your skills as a seasoned songwriter can help you write in a totally different genre, with a little help from your friend, of course. Your co-writer, as the R&B genre native, can help you navigate the new landscape of this unfamiliar genre. Together, you might even be able to add some country flair to make this song something really special.

Perhaps your co-writer plays different instruments than what you usually play, or they speak multiple languages. One amazing thing about writing with someone who has a different skill-set from you is that they can introduce elements into your song that you would not have been able to incorporate on your own. And hey, I think you’ll learn a thing or two from them.

5. Follow up and follow-through

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Songs are rarely written in just one session, especially because revisiting a song usually involves rewrites. Therefore, you have to follow up and schedule another time to meet with your co-writers to finish your song.

Scheduling can be a pain, especially when coordinating with multiple co-writers. Instead of playing text tag, I like to schedule the next session before we leave the room. That way, you know you will meet up again to finish what you started.

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This accountability is another benefit of co-writing. If you wrote a song on your own, you might not feel like revisiting it again in three months; however, if you write with a group, the need to schedule with your co-writers will ensure that you will meet again to make more progress.

There’s a special kind of connection that I feel with my co-writers that is so distinct from my other friendships outside of the songwriting community.

When you bare your soul to another person and they help you make art from it, you can feel an intimate connection to them after just one session, like you’ve known them for years. I love co-writing, and I encourage you to give it a try.

Songs that come from co-writing may not be like anything you have ever written before, and in sharing the creative process, co-writers can push you to become an even better songwriter yourself.


How will you utilize these tools and ideas in your co-writing? I’d love to hear from you.

Article by: jly

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About the Author
LA based video creator, producer and media coach.

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