My writer friend and I were sitting on her front porch on a sunny October morning, talking about writing. She mentioned that she was jealous of songwriters and thought it must be much better than writing, because we get to work together and in groups.
“Sure,” I said cautiously, “but it isn’t always a great time. It can be like working on a group project in school.”
My mind flashed to the ten seconds of tense silence after I snapped at another writer in a room. I was tired of them steamrolling over everything I said. I also thought about the woman who was notorious for showing up to co-writing sessions, doing little to no work, then demanding part of the credit and residuals.
Co-writing can be a ton of fun, as well as beneficial for everyone. You get a lot of ideas you wouldn’t have on your own, and together you create something wonderful. It can also be a complete nightmare, or at least just unpleasant. If you have disagreements between your co-writers, here are some tips to resolve them.
Making Good Songs With Bad Co-Writers
If you haven’t experienced a bad co-write yet, consider yourself lucky. However, the more you work with other people, the greater your chances of a difficult co-writer. Here are some common disagreements co-writers have, as well as some solution ideas.
First, let’s acknowledge all of the awesome co-writers out there who make songwriting fun! Feel free to tag them in this tweet:I love my co-writers! Click To Tweet
1). “I Don’t Like That.”
This is the negative person who shoots down everyone’s ideas without being helpful. Think of this person as your future hater, who is critiquing your music before it’s even released. This is probably the person’s whole personality and goes beyond the writing room, but there are a few things you can do to resolve the situation.
Solution: “What DO you like?”
Seriously, put this person in their place. They’ll either have to come up with their own idea or admit that they don’t have one. This is a great, non-confrontational approach. You’re not telling them to shut up and stop being negative. You’re simply asking for clarification.
2). “Hang on, I have a phone call.”
This person is completely distracted and seems to have a million things to do besides write. They’re late, unorganized and unenthusiastic about participating. Again, this probably has more to do with the person as a whole and isn’t about the project.
Solution: “When will you be ready to join us?”
You’re not being confrontational here. You’re acknowledging that this person is busy and distracted, but you’re asking for an ETA on when they plan on contributing. Their answer will reveal how seriously they’re taking it. I also have a similar post on what to do when your cowriter isn’t pulling their weight, so check that out for more detailed ideas!
3). “Let’s do this my way.”
This is probably the most common one. From someone who insists on using their lyric idea to someone who insists on using their preferred session musicians, it’s a tense few minutes in the room. What typically happens is either a). everyone agrees to it to avoid conflict and resentment builds, or b). people get defensive and don’t want to do it because the person is a jerk. There are several solution options:
Solution 1: Is their idea really better?
Sometimes people don’t want to agree to something simply because the person is so pushy. While that’s understandable, they may actually be correct. Maybe their lyric fits the story better, or their singer is best for the job. Consider what’s best for the project before moving forward.
Solution 2: “Let’s take a group vote.”
This is the best way to avoid making one person “the bad guy.” Majority rules here. If you have an even number of people, this will be hard if the room is divided. In that case, refer to solution 3:
Solution 3: “Let’s write it out.”
This is actually an idea I saw on Dr. Phil (don’t judge me, okay? It’s good sometimes). What you do is, write down what it is you want. For example, “I want to record this song at my favorite recording studio.” You don’t need to state why. Next, on a scale of 1-10, write down how important this is to you. Do this without showing each other what you’re writing. When you’re finished, compare what you have. It may look something like this:
You: “I want to record this song at my recording studio. 5” Meaning you want this at 5 out of 10.
Them: “I want to record this song myself. 8” Meaning they want to do it 8 out of 10.
In this case, since they want it more than you do, they would “win” this argument. For this specific argument, you can always let them record it and if it isn’t up to current standards you can go to a studio. I just wanted to show this as an example of how this could work. You can also ask them to cash you ousside, howboudah.
“What if I just prefer writing solo?”
I totally understand this and I think you should do that also. I do it myself often, I find it stretches my songwriting muscles and helps me creatively. However, I encourage you to consider co-writing too.
Co-writing is an extremely important part of the music industry. I just started a project reviewing Reba McEntire’s MasterClass, and she talks about how important co-writing is here. Most of today’s hit songs have several songwriters working on them, so your chances of success greatly increase with a co-write. Keep in mind that every co-writing group will have a different dynamic, so if one doesn’t work out you can always try another.
“Where do I even find cowriters?”
Honestly, there are so many places that I won’t be able to list them all. If you’re in Nashville, pretty much anyone you meet will be willing to work with you. Songwriters are everywhere. If you’re not in a music city, try an open mic night or check the Nashville Songwriters Association for your local chapter. Honestly though, a lot of people do cowrites online. I met my cowriting partner on Craigslist, which I know can be dangerous and stupid, but we wrote a whole album together and we’re working on another one, so it worked out great! Try Facebook groups, songwriter message boards (here is one and also check Reddit). Try Twitter also if you want:
Communication is so important as a songwriter. So important, in fact, that I wrote a whole book on it. It’s geared toward songwriters, but it will help you understand what you need from them. If you want to check it out, it’s right here!