5 Reasons Why You Should Be Co-Writing Your Songs
Should you be co-writing your songs? Co-writing can be a great resource to any songwriter who is trying to up their game and penetrate their local music scene or the music business at large. Plus, it’s a fun and rewarding experience.
Let’s take a look at 5 reasons why you should be co-writing songs:
1. The best songs and the biggest hits have at least two writers
2. Writing is rewriting
3. If you want to be in the music industry, don’t ignore the Industry Standard
4. Co-writing cultivates connection
5. You are not perfect (sorry!)
Even master songwriters and composers get feedback, edit their work, and collaborate.
Test out your material with a respected peer, or even have them contribute their own editorial or creative voice to elevate your quality of work. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Okay, let’s get into it.
#1: The best songs and the biggest hits have at least two writers
There’s no denying that working with others raises your game. It reinforces the feeling of competence when insecurity could be detrimental to your process.
Co-writing songs can have different faces.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles are the most obvious and arguably the best example of a creative partnership. These two had just the right style-balance and work ethic to collectively change music forever.
Here’s Paul McCartney talking about his writing process with John Lennon:
Wouldn’t it be comforting and instill so much confidence to create that bond with a co-writer?
Your favorite bands rely on co-writing for their magic, chemistry, and sound.
Fleetwood Mac. The Police. Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Heart. Aerosmith. Queen. The songs that come out of these collaborations have a foundation of combined aesthetic. For the most part, they’re made of a richer fabric than solo artists.
Here’s another way to look at co-writing: You can send a draft of your song to one or more trusted peers and request either feedback or edits.
Feedback: This a lower level of involvement where your peer sends back their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for rewrites. We can also call this “getting notes.” Then, you will sit down with their notes and have your own rewriting session, applying their point of view.
Edits: This is a higher level of involvement and can be considered a remote co-write. Instead of sending suggestions, your peer sits down for their own rewriting session and sends back edits and changes that enhance your song. In other words, they do your rewrites for you, transforming your song into a collaboration. You can go back and forth with changes until you both feel the song is complete.
The (hit) examples speak for themselves
This is why there are so many writers credited per song on the pop charts nowadays. Here’s a list of credits from the top 2 songs of Oct. 1st 2019 on Billboard’s hot 100 chart:
#1 “Truth Hurts” written by Lizzo, Jesse Saint John, Steven Cheung, and Ricky Reed, co-produced by Ricky Reed and Tele.
#2 “Senorita” performed by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, written by Mendes, Cabello, Charli XCX, Ali Tamposi, Jack Patterson of Clean Bandit, produced by Andrew Watt, Benny Blanco, and Cashmere Cat
Lizzo and Shawn Mendes are incredible songwriters and artists, but they have a huge community of professional writers, producers and musicians around them who they rely on to hone their themes and sculpt their ideas to reflect the best version of their work.
One of the most successful tracks of 2019, “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, was co-written by Billie and her brother Finneas O’Connell. The brother-sister bond created a safe space for some amazing collaboration.
We should all surround ourselves with a community to lift us up and ensure our work is the best it can be!
#2: Writing is rewriting
A great metaphor for songwriting is sculpting. It is a process of finding the desired shape inside the stone, chipping away piece by piece. We can’t call it quits after we complete the first layer.
Try to shift your mindset about what it means to “finish a song.” Instead of looking at your first pass as a finished product, look at it as a first draft.
When you come to the end of your ideas, try including a writer you respect in your process. Or two! Get their feedback and/or creative input.
Getting notes can unlock lyrical or melodic options you would have never found on your own.
We can’t forget the journey of The Beatles’ iconic song Yesterday:
First Draft Lyric:
“Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs…”
“Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play…”
Having an in-person rewriting session with your collaborator may prove to be a great experience! Don’t underestimate the power of being in the room and working on a first draft of a song.
Don’t have a complete draft? Even better! Bring just a sketch, a musical or lyrical idea, to your co-writing session. Your writing process will hopefully be faster and even more objective.
#3: If you want to be in the music industry, don’t ignore the industry standard
While rebellion and individuality are essential artistic qualities, there are ways to maintain your integrity and simultaneously play by the rules of your industry.
Co-writing songs is a common practice in the music industry. Why sit it out?
Career songwriters and artists have co-writing sessions constantly. Organizing co-writes is often a big part of a music manager’s job.
Some people even consider it a huge career victory to land a co-write with a big name, even if the song doesn’t make it on an album!
Stepping into this norm will not only expand your network, it will also increase your credits and give you valuable experience. As a result, you’ll be taken seriously, and seen as a valid participant in your industry.
Pro-Tip: No matter who you’re writing with, always be sure to have a conversation about rights and percentages, and register your existing songs with either ASCAP or BMI. If you’re able, create your own publishing company! If a label ever wants to buy your publishing, definitely consult a music lawyer and make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of.
#4: Co-writing cultivates connection
Ask yourself why you make music and write songs in the first place? Isn’t the foundation of our creative drive made of the desire to connect with others? To hear and be heard?
The process of creating music shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s no need to rely on self-sufficiency here! You can expand your connections beyond that of you and your audience.
The depth of connection you can find with a co-writer is extremely valuable. It can be transforming. Trusting, long-term friendships can form out of just one co-writing session.
Connecting with co-writers about music, or even just getting feedback from trusted peers, will fulfill the subconscious motivations that make you an artist, plus make your songs better. It’s a win-win!
#5: You are not perfect
Sorry! You are not perfect, but you don’t have to be. Sit back and let this amazing pep talk from Will Smith sink in:
“Practice is controlled failure.” Isn’t it profound to hear one of the world’s most successful creatives encourage us to risk it all as we work?
But, how are we supposed to know if we’re not hitting our marks unless we collaborate? It makes it so much easier when we do this together.
Creative ideas can come to us as amorphous, vague concepts. They need to be honed and edited, and in every case, they will benefit from another writer’s eye and ear.
Songs shouldn’t be written in a vacuum. The pros are not working alone, so why should you?