So you want to start co-writing? Read this!

Written By: Korie Burton | Middle Tennesee State University Songwriting Major | Muscle Shoals Song Rooms Intern

September 5th, 2020

I can see it now.. You’ve just played a writer’s round, and you start talking with one of the other artists who played with you. You both really like each other’s music, and you decide to meet up and write a song together! There’s just one problem…. you’ve only ever written by yourself. That’s a-okay! Everyone has to have a first co-write, right? Here are a few things to remember on the day of the write, so that it goes as smoothly as possible.

Be On Time and Be Prepared

The title pretty much speaks for itself. Being on time shows your fellow writers that you care about this interaction, and you want to be there. It’s also important to come prepared. Bring your guitar and any other instruments you might use to write; If you play piano, make sure you’re writing in a space with one or bring your own. Come in with a melody idea, or a cool hook you came up with in the shower. Any idea is a good idea when it comes to brainstorming at a co-write. You may not end up writing your idea exactly, but your idea could spark something else in your co- writers’ head. I’m not gonna lie, this is where I struggle a lot in the “being prepared” area. It’s hard to always have fresh, new ideas for your co-writes. However, it really does help you to be ready and prepared to get to work!

Don’t Be Afraid to Say the Ideas You Think Are Dumb

It happens all the time. My co-writer will say “This is dumb, but…” and then blurts out some genius line for the song we’re writing. NEVER be scared to put your ideas out there. As writers, we’re all going to have a few bad ideas, but that bad idea may give your co-writer a semi-okay idea, and that will give you another pretty good idea, and soon enough you have a song you both love!

Don’t Put Down Others Ideas That You Think Are Dumb

Like I said before, we’re ALL going to say some pretty bad ideas in our co-writes. If someone says something that just doesn’t sound right for the song, don’t be rude about it. Sure, I have friends and co-writers now that I’ve written with dozens of times, and we’re comfortable enough around each other to just say “I don’t like that” or “That sounds cheesy.” However, when you’re writing with someone new, approach an idea you don’t like with a new recommendation instead of just saying “NO” to it. Try saying things like “I like it, but I think something else would fit better here.”

Be a Good “Hang”

One of my first professors at Middle Tennessee State University gave me this piece of advice, and it’s never let me down! One of the most important parts about the music industry is being someone that other people want to be around. If you and your co-writer write a terrible song, but you enjoyed being around each other and talking and getting creative, then you’ll probably write again. Personally, I’d rather take 12 writing sessions to get a REALLY GOOD song with someone I enjoy spending time with than have one OK session with someone who obviously doesn’t want to be there.

Be Prepared to Discuss Song Splits

This is another element to the “being prepared” section I talked about before. Not everyone discusses this at the first write, but it’s always good to have your PRO information handy and be ready to talk about who is getting what percentage of writer/publisher credit on a song. Typically, in a two-way co-write, the writers will split a song 50/50.

Thank Your Co-Writer for Their Time

When you’re heading back to your car, remember to thank your co-writer for their time that day. They could have written with any other writer in the world, but they decided to write with YOU. If it didn’t go as planned, and the two of you didn’t work well together, that’s ok! You’ll have other co-writes. If it did work well, and you really enjoy working with this person, get another date in the books now so you don’t forget! Schedules get full fast.

There you have it! I myself just started co-writing in the past couple of years, and I’ve grown so much as a writer being able to bounce ideas off of other creatives. I used to dread having to share my creative thoughts with others, but now I LOVE co-writing, and I pretty much save all of my good ideas for when I can have someone else in the room to help make them better. Happy co-writing!