Article by Caley Rose
Check out the writing credits of the top songs on the charts, and you’ll find that most of them were written by more than one person. The key to a successful song tends to be a successful collaboration, and the key to a successful collaboration is to be a great collaborator. A mentor of mine once told me that in order to be a songwriter that people want to work with, you just need to be a good hang. That’s it? Well, thats pretty awesome! Here is how to be a good hang in the songwriting community.
How to Be the Co-Writer that Everyone Wants to Write Songs With
- Wear Whatever Hat Fits You Best
There will be co-writes where you’re the best lyricist in the room. There will be co-writes where you’re not. It will benefit you to realize the difference and to deflect to those who are stronger than you in certain areas. Similarly, there will be times where it shocks you that you were the one manning the piano or guitar. While you may not feel like this is your strong suit, in that room, it’s what the team needs, so it’s up to you to step up to the plate. Recognizing what to do and when, will be immensely helpful in collaborations, as will checking that ego at the door, and welcoming the learning experience that comes with writing with more experienced songwriters. Everything you do in that room should be in service of the song. Making sure your ideas make it into the song isn’t the goal. Writing the best song is! Finding your strengths and embracing them is as important as admitting your weaknesses. Check that ego at the door and be thankful when you’re co-writing with someone who can teach you about that aspect of your craft! “Writing up”- writing with people who are more experienced songwriters than you- is an awesome learning experience! Concurrently, writing up also doesn’t mean that you have NOTHING to offer that rad guitarist who toured with the Jonas brothers. You’re a unique snowflake of an individual and your perspective is unique. So don’t be afraid to contribute ideas!
As in any relationship, good communication is critical to a good co-write. The whole reason you’re co-writing, is to capitalize on the awesome phenomenon that it’s not just that two heads are better than one, because they lead to twice as many ideas, two heads are better than one because they lead to infinite possibilities of ideas! One thing I say can bounce off of something you say that sparks ten new ideas and so on. The possibilities are endless. No one can guess what’s in your head. Let the ideas pour out of your mouth, because they’re not doing anyone any good by sitting idly inside your brilliant mind. Toss them out there, and have no fear if they’re judged! I think it’s a fear of judgment that prohibits people from contributing and throwing out tons of ideas. They’re worried that what they say will be judged or isn’t good enough to offer up. I can’t say how many times I’ve been in a co-write where I or one of my co-writers says something as a joke, and it becomes our favorite idea. We all judge ourselves way too harshly. Throw out all the silly ideas. Let them out of your crazy head and into the Co-writing room, and one of them might make for the coolest song, lyric, rhythm, or melody ever. If you never said it out loud, it was never given the chance to thrive! *Also, it helps to work with people you trust and feel comfortable being open, honest, and silly with.
- Listen, Listen, and then Listen.
And listen some more. The best co-writers are the best LISTENERS, not the guy who solves the million dollar word puzzle all on his own. Handing someone back their own genius is one of my favorite ways to write. People have no idea what brilliant words and melodies come out of their mouths. We’re all insecure and think our ideas all stink. You, ever the listening and loving co-writer, need to be the ears that hear those jems and hand them back to the person that offered them up. One of my favorite ways to write is to have someone talk freely on a subject that we’re writing about. Without censoring themselves or speaking with the intention to write a song, people often say the best lyrics! So often, people have no idea what genius comes out of their mouth and don’t listen to themselves! Be those helpful and supportive ears that can find the gems!
- Be the Most Prepared Person in the Room
I keep a list of titles, lyrics, and concept ideas in my phone. My Voice Memos is brimming with half finished melodies. Some of my favorite songs have been written from a two second voice memo idea, the title from someone’s notes, or even a whole half finished song that someone just knew they wouldn’t finish on their own and offers up for the co-write. This last scenario always makes me feel guilty to be a part of, because that person brought so much to the table already, but I also know that I have brought entire halves of songs to co-writes and am always so thankful to finish it with another songwriter. Everyone appreciates someone who shows up prepared. Everyone remembers someone favorably who shows up prepared. Be that awesome someone!
- Go Deep or Go Home
The best co-writers are the ones who will tell you the deepest darkest facts of their life story in the first 20 minutes. There’s no small talk, because there’s no time for it. (Plus, small talk is incredibly boring.) These fearless co-writers make you feel like you’re their best friend, because they share in their deepest darkest secrets with you. When I was pregnant, usually people wait three months to tell people, but I had a co-write scheduled for that evening. I told my co-writers my top secret news, and we wrote one of my favorite songs to perform live. That song also just won an honorable mention from the Posi Awards! If I hadn’t been completely honest and be willing to go there, I would never have that song. (It’s called Something New, and it’s releasing April 2020). Honesty and trust are the keys to a good co-write. If you’re not willing to go there with someone or someone’s not going to go there with you, that means there’s not enough trust in that songwriting relationship. It’s possible that it can grow, but a song that just scratches the surface level isn’t going to tug at someone’s heart strings or make someone want to dance the way that we hope our music moves the world. So open up that heart, loosen up those lips, and soften your ears to receive your co-writer’s experiences. Go way beyond the surface level of our human experience to write songs that matter. This is not to say that every song has to be sad, or make someone cry. Every song should be, however, based in truth. Even a song telling you to get up and shake your booty is coming from a true, possibly sexy, place. Go there, go all the way, and you can always pull back from there. You can never be too honest in your writing. You can however, be too specific. You need to find that perfect balance between being honest, going deep, and writing something that is universal enough for other people to be able to impose their own story onto it. That’s how to get people to care about what you are writing, make memorable art, and to be a co-writer that people want to write with again and again!
- Wear Whatever Hat Fits You Best
How will you use these tools and ideas in your co-writing? I’d love to hear from you.
Article by Caley Rose