Sunday, February 5, 2012

Co-Writing: Not For Sissies or Wood-Nymphs

If you hang out with other songwriters, sooner or later the suggestion to co-write will come up. This fascination with co-writing used to completely mystify me, and repel me all at once. My friends would take on a soft, rosy glow as they spoke of it. They would get all dewy-eyed and clutch their hearts and speak of how it changed their lives. But it felt contrary to my process and my instincts. I wanted nothing to do with it!
I’ve co-written a couple of times at workshops, and it was hard for me. I’m stubborn and I always want to use the lines I write. I am not the queen of compromise. But I’ve been feeling like maybe I should try it more, because I think trying things that are outside of my comfort zone can help me grow as an artist.
My process for writing is normally very unstructured.  Picture someone sitting in their jammies, guitar in hand, laptop open. When I’m working on a song lyric, I usually get to a point where I am stuck. I might have to get up and walk around for a while, and disconnect from it until a line mystically travels through several distant galaxies and breaks through the ozone to trickle down into my head. YES!  I have always been willing to wait days, weeks, months – YEARS for the right word or line to take its rightful place in a song.
But when you co-write, such a process will not do. It will not do at all. Instead, one must employ discipline (ugh, hateful word). Discipline! Pah! I am a gypsy! A wood nymph! A forest sprite! I dance through the woods, gathering my words on gossamer pages! I cannot be shackled or fettered, or tied down to such a restricting practice!
Co-writing – I have discovered – is not for sissies. In addition to discipline, it requires immense courage. You’re vulnerable. It’s scary to go out on a limb with a line, knowing that someone can whip out their chainsaw and cut it off, sending you crashing to the ground. And for me, it’s hard to be diplomatic and nice and not grab my own chainsaw too often.
More importantly, it takes practice. If you want to get better at it, you have to keep working at it, keep trying. I just completed a co-write on one of the songs for my CD project.  It didn’t feel natural. I had to struggle. I had to wear my regular clothes and not my pajamas. But I hung in there, and the song is going to be better for it – a stronger song. And THAT is the best reason to consider a co-write.


  1. To expound a bit on Laura's comments; in my own experience, co-writing or colaborating of any kind, is an art and a skill. You must let your artistic pony run while applying the skill of give and take, all for the highest purpose of creating one piece. Laura's right about vunerability. You have to throw lines out there while trusting your fellow colaborators to not just shoot it down but to build on it until it's just right. The skill is to keep creating while not destroying the energy with your "chain saw" and the attitude of "building" is the key to doing it constructively.

    There are many ways to co-write. There's the Nashville way where 2,3 or more writers gather in a room and throw around ideas they've been sitting on or cultivating, both musical and lyrical, until one strikes them and off they go into creating something out of mid air.

    There's the Lennon and McCartney way where each writer has some piece of lyric or musical hook and when they put them together they, magicalaly fit.

    There's the Elton John and Bernie Taupin way where they never were together in the same room when writing. Either Bernie would send a full lyric to Elton, who would then craft an incredible melody and chord progression or Elton would send Bernie the music and he would write the lyric.

    There's the Mick Jagger and Keith Richard's way where they would get together in a private place where either Mick would have a piece of lyric and Keith would pull some incredible guitar lick out the air that fits perfectly and off they'd go or Keith would have a new sound or guitar tuning and when he'd play some catchy thing for Mick who would hear some lyric in the mystic of the music and write the lyric hidden in it.

    What they all have in common is the attitude of building something by feeding off each other's ideas and inspirations. The synergy of co-writing is greater than just two or three individuals writing together. It's the exponentially multiplied energies of tapping the universe and corralling them into one concentrated piece of work. When you surrender to it, it's wonderful. When you resist it, it's a struggle.

    As a songwriter it can be a great source of creation. It doesn't take anything from you and it adds a great deal to you.

    That's enough expounding.

    1. Thanks so much for the input/insight! I welcome all comments about co-writing. I plan to keep on working on it until it's not such a struggle. Because you're right - it doesn't take anything from you.

  2. Fascinating post and comment. I think there may be a lesson here in how our ego can get in the way of creativity. And how creativity can flourish when we don't try to control everything. However, I think a key point too is that it has to be a true collaboration --not one ego dominating another. Which I guess is one reason it's an art and a skill that takes practice. Also, I know for myself, choosing the right partner would be important --finding someone whose artistic sensibilities are in sync with my own.

  3. soooooooo.....when you co-write, does one person bring to the table the actual idea/theme for a song? is there usually one person stronger in the melody dept.? interesting,,,thanks for sharing part of your creative life with us non-creates.

    1. sue, the short answer is...yes to any or all of the above.

  4. Your a creative genius; I am not even close so can't really help you. KFKF had a band at a Super Bowl Party known as the Farm - one member was from Kenny Chesney's show - is this a guy that might be in Nashville with you on your CD work - he was blonde haired, but can't remember his name. older folks can't remember stuff either...LOL
    Hope to see you soon!