Last updated on March 13th, 2022
Yes, it’s true. The music business is insanely competitive. There are millions of individuals out there just like you with exactly the same goal who are willing to do whatever it takes to reach it. Some people can handle it, others can’t.
But don’t worry. Competitive as it may be, the music industry isn’t the vicious, blood-splattered Battle Royale that you’re probably picturing. A lot of the success you’ll garner is contingent upon the relationships you build with other people. Luckily, it really isn’t hard to make friends in this trade if you want to, which is good, because you need to.
And what’s the best way to solidify a new friendship? Create something. Maybe you’ve cowritten songs before. Maybe you’ve only ever written on you own. Maybe you’ve never written a song in your entire life. In any case, start warming up to the idea of sitting down with someone for a few hours until you’ve got a solid tune polished up, because cowriting is crucial. It’s a great way to hone your craft and learn something new, as well as get your name on as many songs as possible in case one of them gets picked up. Personally, I prefer to write alone at 3am, but I had to adapt. So will you. Here’s a few tips on how to do so.
First off, you’ll need to find people to actually write with. In Nashville, there are a myriad of writers rounds that you can sign up for (it’s really not that hard) or attend casually. I used to host a few of these, and I can tell you that the majority of interpersonal connections are forged within these circles. It’s a great way to meet new people and show listeners/fellow musicians what you have to offer on the song front.
For an example to those living in Nashville, here are a few locations/events you can check out:
- The Midtown Hoedown
- The Listening Room
- Commodore Grille
- The Bluebird Cafe
- The Local
- Cabana Taps
Okay, so you’ve got a writing date set up. Good on you. When you show up, be prepared to take notes/scrap said notes/make new ones. Wash, rinse, repeat. The writing process entails a lot of back and forth. New ideas will arise, previous ones won’t seem so favorable, etc. It’s good to have an official cowriting notebook that you can mark the date/person’s name you’re writing with so it doesn’t get lost after the fact. Bring a pen or pencil too.
Swallow your pride
It’s important to understand that cowriting is a process that requires compromise and patience. Maybe you think the song should be a certain way or a particular lyric belongs/doesn’t belong, but you have to pick your battles. Plus, you might not know everything about what makes a song great after all, right? That’s a big reason why we’re doing this in the first place: to learn. Sometimes, you’ll have to write songs that you otherwise wouldn’t be inclined to. Maybe you’re not the quintessential country boy/girl who loves trucks, beer, and wide open spaces, but if there’s a chance that the song could be marketable, all the more reason to get your name on it. There are also useful and effective writing methods that go into songs that you aren’t generally accustomed to writing, so it’s really a win/win situation.
Cut your losses
Okay, so this isn’t designed to negate or trivialize the previous section by any means, but rather to add a happy medium/positive balance to the equation that’s very important to the overall process. A good part of the time, you will walk away from any given cowrite with at least something to show for it. Whether it’s an entire song, a new friendship, or a fresh take on the songwriting method in general, it can rarely ever be considered a waste of your time. However, there are instances where the chemistry between you and the other party(ies) just indisputably isn’t there. Oftentimes when this is the case, someone in the room is refusing to budge on any number of details or cannot/will not break away from doing things their own way. Zero compromise means zero solution.
When this happens, just keep your cool and practice patience until it’s over. Or be honest and explain to the person that you don’t think it’s working, wish them the best, and be on your way. Nobody can shun you for that. At least you’re getting a crash course in what NOT to do if this happens. But bear this in mind – if this is constant struggle you keep running into, consider the possibility that you are the stubborn one and need to swallow a little more of your pride. Otherwise, there’s no hope for longevity or growth as far as your music career goes.
Listen to as much music as possible
This is probably a given, but it’s something that should be refurbished. For both the purposes of your own writing and that of what you’ll do with someone else, it’s important to be well-versed (no pun intended) in as much music as possible. If you’re likely to write a country song, study up on country music. If you’re set to write a blues song, listen to some blues beforehand. However, you don’t always know exactly what you’re in for. You could show up with the intention of writing a pop tune and come out with a brooding, melancholy rock ballad. I’ve seen it happen. Regardless, just take into account who you’re stepping into a room with and what their musical background is and listen accordingly. It’s a great way to expand your own musical/lyrical perception as well for when you elect to write alone.
Start on similar footing
Here’s a more tangible, direct way to start off the cowriting process. If you’re unsure as to what exactly you want to write about or how to approach the topic, one thing that helps me connect with someone creatively off the bat is to ask the simple question, “How do you feel today?” Songs are really just manifestations of our thoughts and emotions after all, so if you can be honest about how you’re feeling, you ‘re more likely to write an honest song based on open communication/connection with someone. I’ll then suggest (suggest, not demand) that we both take a minute, put pen to paper, and write for three minutes straight in stream of consciousness fashion. Whatever comes to mind, no matter how seemingly non-sensical or chaotic, put it down on paper. You’ve then got a foundation of raw material to reference on both ends and while also having greased up your thinking wheels. In effect, it invites the other person to say what’s on their mind in a manner equal with yourself. Humility is the agent at play here.
When all is said and done, cowriting is mostly a learn on the job type thing. Just do it as much as possible and you’ll become acquainted with the method to the madness before too long.