“My co-writer is not contributing enough to our song. How should I handle it?”
This question pops up often in my songwriting circles. Whether it’s a producer, co-writer or band member, people are unsure of what to do when their friends aren’t contributing enough to the project.
I’ve experienced this on both sides before, and I’m going to give you some tips on how to handle this issue and (hopefully) remain friends.
When Your Co-Writer Isn’t Doing Their Share
First, let’s talk about the times when I’ve been that person who wasn’t pulling my weight on a project. This is rare for me, because I’m dedicated and hardworking and I am overall very reliable. However, it has happened on occasion.
Are You Doing Too Much?
Once I was working on a song with someone; we were not friends but were friendly acquaintances. They would not. stop. contacting me. I’m talking two emails in a span of 20 minutes, a phone call explaining both emails, and a text asking if I got the phone call and emails. I do not handle this well. When someone is overly pushy, I tend to pull away. I was working on my share of the project, but I didn’t need that much communication and was overwhelmed by it. See if backing off a little might help.
If you’re already hardly communicating with them, this might not be your issue. I would also establish up-front how often you both expect to be in contact with each other. This will set the tone for the project.
Do They Have Health/Family/Life Issues?
Aside from the above example, any other time I’ve been flakey on a project was when I was physically ill and couldn’t sing, or I had a family emergency. Thankfully, these have been rare and I’ve always let my partner know about them immediately. If this is what your friend is experiencing, I would offer to shelf the project until they feel ready to work on it again. This will take the pressure off of them and let them know you still want to work with them. If the project has a deadline and you can’t wait, hopefully they will understand that you need to move on and there is always next time.
So, let’s say that neither of the above issues are happening and you can’t figure out what’s going on. Here are some tips to help you and your friend complete your project.
1). Explain How You Feel
I would start by writing down a raw and honest opinion piece of how you are feeling. Annoyed? Angry? Worried? Scared? Whatever you feel, write it openly. Getting your raw emotions out will help you clear your head. Don’t send them this version! This is just for you to gather your thoughts. After you’ve written them out, you can send your friend an edited version.
I prefer communicating via email (it’s easier to write my thoughts down and then we have a paper trail), but go with the method you prefer to contact them. Use “I feel statements.” For example:
“I feel like maybe you’re too busy to work on this project,”
“You never show up on time and I’ve been waiting on you for weeks.”
Even if the latter statement is true, it’s not going to elicit a positive response. Making an “I statement” shows them how their behavior affects you. They can’t get defensive about this, because only you know how you feel.
2). Offer Possible Explanations
If you know what’s happening in your friend’s life, you could bring that up (unless it’s a sore subject, then I would avoid it). If you’re not sure what’s going on, you could guess or just state that you don’t have an explanation. For example:
“I’m not sure if maybe the upcoming wedding is a huge stress factor and you just don’t have time, or maybe you’re working more hours lately,”
“I’m not sure if there’s something happening in your life that’s making you super busy right now.”
This shows them that you are aware that there may be a reasonable explanation and you’re not unreasonably upset.
3). Allow Yourself to Be a Possible Scapegoat
You’re going to have to throw yourself on the line here a little bit. There is a slight chance the issue is you, so you need to be willing to offer your friend the chance to say that. They might not want to deal with it or confront you, so they may be slacking as a way to cope with the issue. Example:
“Maybe I haven’t been clear on the project details, or you just don’t like the song’s direction”
“Maybe I’ve been hounding you too much about it.”
Give them an opportunity to confront you, because that may save both your friendship and the project. You may be thinking “I’m 100% sure I’m not part of the problem!” and if you are truly that sure, you can feel free to skip this step.
4). Show Empathy and Understanding
This might be hard if you’re annoyed, but showing some kindness will go a long way in your friend’s response.
“I totally get that you’re under a lot of stress right now”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure you’re doing the best you can”
Even if these things are at the very least of your concerns, just showing that you acknowledge they may have other stuff going on (and don’t we all at some point?) you’ll make it easier for them to respond.
5). Emphasize Teamwork and Problem Solving
This is the final step, and you want to make sure your friend understands that a). you’re willing to work on the problem with them, but also b). you expect a solution to the problem.
“I’m wondering what we can do to work through this and get this song finished up.”
“I just want to know how I can help you so we can make sure this project gets finished.”
You’re establishing that you’re a team and that you have a goal that you want to complete. This makes it an “us vs the problem” issue instead of a “you vs me” issue.
6). Establish a Firm Deadline
This one is optional, but I recommend it because it’s the only way you can be sure of your friend’s intentions. If your project doesn’t have an end date, give it one. Make it reasonable, but not too far in advance that it’s easy to forget or blow off.
“I’d like to wrap this song up by the end of the month” or whatever date you choose.
Also, if your friend has been ghosting or not responding to you, you can give a deadline for when you expect to hear from them.
“I really need to finish this track by (date), so if I don’t hear from you by Friday I’m going to have to find someone else to finish it.”
So, to recap your steps:
1). Explain how you feel
2). Offer an explanation for their behavior
3). Allow yourself to be a possible explanation
4). Show empathy for their explanation
5). Emphasize teamwork and problem solving
6). Establish a deadline
If you were to send an email, here’s a rough template:
I’ve noticed we haven’t been making a lot of progress on our song, and I’m getting anxious to see it finished. I’m a little worried that I haven’t heard much from you. I don’t know if you’re super busy at work, or maybe you’re just not into the project anymore. Whatever it is, I’d like to continue to work together to get this song finished. If you could let me know where you stand on it by the end of the week, that would help me figure out what to do from here. Thanks!
Obviously, you can format this to your own tastes and how you normally communicate with your friend. Even if someone is a close friend and you’ve known them for years, it doesn’t hurt to be overly formal and professional when talking about songs. A paper trail discussing what happened and why you went elsewhere is important, and if you end up abandoning the song and it becomes famous, you may have an argument about who wrote it when. This will serve as proof of a time and date when you discussed it, so this is also why email is important. Use the song’s name if you have one. I’m not a lawyer, so none of this is legal advice, but it never hurts to have documented proof of why a song fell apart.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide whether the friendship is worth trashing a song over, or if the music is more important. Only you can decide that (and hopefully you won’t have to make an either/or choice) but go into it knowing that you may have to decide. If you already know what choice you’d make, let me know here:Is the friendship or the music more important? Click To Tweet
If you need more help communicating with difficult co-writers, session musicians, producers or clients, I have a whole book on that here!
Have you ever lost a friend over a song? Do you have different advice for friendships and music? Let me know in the comments!