Last updated on December 30th, 2022
At the beginning of 2022, I outlined what I felt was an effective approach to co-writing songs. For some, co-writing is the only way to write, so putting pen to paper and pairing verse with chorus all on one’s own is an extremely rare occurrence for such people.
After moving to Nashville in February of 2016, I realized how much networking is really done between people in the writing room. It’s both an ever-progressing learning experience and a way to get your name on as many songs as possible (with the hope that at least one of them will reach a publisher’s desk someday), among other things.
Now, with Muze’s new personalized Songwriter’s Journal, you can refer to this comprehensive, compact list of co-songwriting etiquette tips that are sure to help you find comfortability in the collaborative process of song creation.
1. Come Prepared
Meaning bring the necessary supplies. A notebook, a pen, your instrument, and whatever else you need to stay organized and well-furnished while you write with another person. Also, whatever ideas or writing topics you may have should be listed out prior to so you can hit the ground running.
2. Establish Common Ground Emotionally
A lot of the time, I like to start the writing session with this simple question: “How are you feeling today?” It’s a good way to establish rapport and read the emotional/mental state of the things. After that, you can more easily narrow things down to a specific topic to write about.
3. Listen To The Other Person
Before vomiting out your own ideas like they’re the only ones that matter or waiting for the other person to stop talking simply so you can change something about the song, actually listen to what they have to say. Observe their technique and genuinely take into account what they have to offer.
4. Be Willing To Make Sacrifices
You and the other person aren’t always going to agree on how the song should be written. If a small disagreement over a single line starts to become a major impediment, be willing to swallow your pride and just let that one part of the song be something you didn’t plan for it to be. It’s more important to move forward than to fight over scraps.
5. Limit Your Co-Writes To 3 People
A kitchen with too many cooks scurrying around is doomed to burn down at some point. Everybody is different with the number of people they prefer to write with, but understand that at some point, too many minds at work on the same thing will inevitably congest the process.
6. State What Your Goal Is With The Song
It’s a good thing to show up the writing session and clarify from the start what you intend to do with the song. Are you looking to record it? Are you planning on pitching it to publishers? How do you plan to divide potential profits amongst writers?
7. Be On Time
Guys, this is so simple… but such an important part of co-songwriting etiquette. Don’t be late to stuff. It’s disrespectful and illustrates poor organizational skills/overall unprofessionalism. It also inadvertently implies that the other person’s time isn’t as important as yours, which is bound to cast a rain cloud over the writing session. If you’re going to be late, at least provide a warning.
8. Always Be Co-Writing
Make it a part of your weekly (if not daily) routine. I know several people who schedule multiple co-writes a day, though there are obviously other things that will need your attention as well. Essentially, get your name on as many songs as possible and learn as much as you can.
9. Try Writing Up
All this means is that you should write with people who are at least as skilled as you. Writing up boosts your own skillset and shows other serious musicians that you have something to offer.
10. Use Positive Language
It’s easy to get frustrated in certain situations if there’s some sort of dissonance arising between creative minds. Regardless, try to stay positive in your speech so you don’t repel the other person with your advice. You can still be critical, but express yourself from a place of patience, empathy, and encouragement.
11. Discuss Ownership In Advance
This is more for later on down the line – probably just before the song gets pitched to a publisher. Make sure royalties/credits/whatever other formalities and legalities are clearly defined beforehand. However, it’s rarely necessary to discuss ownership the first time you meet and write together.
12. Have Fun
Maybe it’s cliché to end with this, but seriously – HAVE FUN! Co-writing is an exciting and enlightening experience, so allow yourself to enjoy the process.
You’re all set! Now test your new co-songwriting etiquette skills by getting your first co-write setup on the Muze app and connecting with other musicians in your area. Give it a try!)