How to Prepare for a Co-Writing Session
Combining your talents with another songwriter in a co-writing session can lead to something better than either of you might have written alone. If you’re thinking about collaborating with another musician, here’s our guide to collaborating with a partner and our best co-songwriting session tips.
So how can you prepare beforehand so you and the other writers can get the most out of a co-writing session? We’ve prepared 15 advice tips that will help you prepare for co-writing sessions, co-writing royalty agreements and how to find and work with a songwriting partner.
The questions we get asked include ones like what is the best way to find a co-songwriter, co-writing agreements, co-writing song royalties, co-writing songs online and how to write a song with a partner? Find below a comprehensive article to answer the question how to prepare for a co-writing session?
#1 Songwriting co-writing
Partnering up with other singer/songwriters for song writing can be hugely valuable, helping to break you out of your comfort zone. Allowing you to work with other musicians to discover different writing styles and sounds to produce something unique.
Working with co-writers can bring a new set of challenges compared to writing by yourself. It requires collaborating with other creative minds that may work in highly different way. It takes patience, flexibility and time to get into a creative flow that works for all parties.
If you’re about to enter into your first co-writing session, it’s a good idea to prepare beforehand so you and your song writing team know what it takes to get creative together, have a great time and write amazing songs.
#2 Co-writing agreements
From the start, it is essential that you are all clear on who you are writing for, what you are expecting out of it and if you have any withstanding songwriting agreements.
An even split of song royalties could be the easiest way forward, however, things can get tricky if one or more of you have a publishing agreement.
This is where someone agrees to write songs, usually exclusively, for a publishing company that manages the song copyrights and royalty distributions.
They are likely to be obligated to owe any royalties to a song they write under the publishing company agreement.
If you are independent and can’t afford a solicitor (lawyer) then it is better to have some simple principles discussed and agreed at the start and agreement between writing parties signed at the end.
#3 Co-writing songs royalties
If you are and your co-writers are serious about songwriting, make sure you are all signed up to a collection society. In the UK, this is PRS for Music (Performance Rights Society).
PRS will distribute royalties to the songwriter if your song gets publicly performed, for example in a venue or on the radio.
Anywhere that plays music have to pay PRS a license to broadcast music. The performance of a song gets registered and a royalty gets distributed depending on the size of the audience.
You have to register your song and the songwriters for this to happen though. If you are co-writing, the song is a joint work and when you register the song with all of the writers, the royalty will be distributed amongst all of you.
#4 How to find a co-songwriter
The hardest part of the process could be finding a person to write with. The best way to go about it is to surround yourself with people who write music and build relationships with them.
This can be done by going to local gigs or open mics and engaging with the people there. Don’t expect them to want to write with you straight away as they may be a bit apprehensive at first. The more time you spend around them may show synergy and that you can work with them.
You should write as much as you can as an individual in the meantime. Keep trying to get better and show off your songs at open mics, you never know who might be listening and others might want to work with you based on the strength of your songs.
#5 Co-write songs online
You don’t always have to go outside to meet other songwriters. Share videos of your songs online and always respond to people who engage with it. Find other people who are doing the same and reach out to them and you might find an opportunity that way. This could also be less intimidating than being in a room with others you may not know as well so give it a try and see how it goes.
It can be quite difficult to work with others if they’re on the other side of the world. However, you should be open to developing a back and forth arrangement with them. You could even arrange responsibilities so one of you writes melodies and lyrics whilst the other writes the music.
Check out Music Gateway, a great platform to collaborate with people around the Globe.
#6 How to write songs with a partner
You might find that one extra person is all you need. Some of the greatest songwriting teams in history have been between two people, just look at Lennon/McCartney with the Beatles. An even 50/50 songwriting split also makes things much easier to calculate if things go well!
Writing with one extra person can give both of you more freedom to balance what you write individually and as a partnership. You both might have started writing an awesome song but it just needs some extra perspective to finish it off. You can then both jump over to each other’s songs, make your contributions and continue working back and forth with each other.
You can build up a lot of trust writing with one single person more easily than going from team to team and constantly having to get to know new writers from scratch. A lot of songwriting duos are really effective because they start out as great friendships that developed into a great songwriting partnership.
It can be easy to get fed up with working with the same songwriter year after year, especially if you end up writing hundreds of songs together make sure you can get some space from each other when you need it. Also, stay open to starting other partnerships with new songwriters to get a new perspective.
#7 Familiarise yourself with your co-writer(s)
If you don’t know each other personally, find out as much as you can about your co-writer’s music before the session in order to foster a positive relationship. Listen to some of their songs and note down anything that you think makes their music stand out. What could you learn from them or apply in your session?
Then, reflect on how your strengths and weaknesses might work together. Create a list of things that you have in common, musically or personally. This will make the process of getting to know each other through the session much easier as you’ll immediately be able to communicate with each other on common ground.
It’s good to know what everyone’s different skills are so that you can complement each other throughout the session. Be willing to concede that the other person might be better than you at something you’re good at but make sure that responsibilities are assigned so that you can bring out the best in each other.
“Play to your strengths. If one person is more skilled musically, and another is better with lyrics, use this to your advantage and negate responsibilities. You should still try and contribute to all areas of the writing process but being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is likely to make for a better overall song.”
– Pendrop, Brighton-based folk duo
#8 Come with some ideas
Some artists like to come completely unprepared and create a song organically from scratch. However, if you are about to enter your first co-writing session, it’s a good idea to come armed with some ideas, such as lyric concepts, melodies, or snippets of a chorus that you can present to get the ball rolling.
Nevertheless, you should be prepared to throw these out of the window or save them for another day if they don’t suit the song that is shaping in the session. You might feel attached to your early ideas and think that they are great but this will change with the more ideas you have. Your amazing ideas from a couple years ago will seem mediocre compared to the better songs that you are writing now.
#9 Listen to plenty of music
Make sure you’re regularly listening to music, especially new releases from successful songwriters. This will keep you inspired and the best way to learn about great songwriting is to listen to and analyse hits as they come out. Other songwriters will probably be doing the same thing and it helps if you all can talk about amazing new songs that have recently come out.
You should also step outside of your comfort zone when listening to music so that you can gain new perspectives. There are incredible songs and hooks across pretty much all genres. As you diversify and incorporate your influences, you will probably find that you are able to work with and relate to more co-writers across other genres of music.
“It’s easy to go into a songwriting session with a specific sound, feeling, or vibe you’d like to achieve. But more importantly, you should go into it relaxed and ready to accept whatever happens in there. By being relaxed, you’ll be safe knowing that what you have written is natural, organic, and not in any way contrived.”
– ORLATA, Jazz-Electronica band from Exeter
#10 Leave your ego at the door
Don’t try and act as though you are the best songwriter in the room, regardless of how much experience you may have. Humility is essential to make everyone feel comfortable enough to be creative. If people feel intimidated or that they can’t be sincere then this will have a negative effect on the music.
Remind yourself that there is a clear distinction between solo writing and co-writing: the expectation should not be to come out with a song that matches you perfectly, but to produce something that is a product of various inspirations with a core concept still running through it.
If your co-writer isn’t a fan of a snippet of lyric you created that you think is brilliant, don’t force it. If all parties don’t agree, you should let it go. Make sure you listen actively to your fellow co-writers and give everyone the opportunity to pitch ideas. Be respectful, have an open mind and do your best to create a relaxed environment!
#11 Keep sensitive information to yourself
For most artists, the act of songwriting is very personal so it can be daunting to suddenly have to share this intimate process with one or more people. Be very prepared to be open, honest and sensitive to the ideas and experiences of the people who are around you.
It is likely that some very personal experiences will be shared in the songwriting room when writing lyrics. This is why trust in each other is so important because why should another writer want to work with you if you’re going to share their intimate experiences with the others. Even though this experience might be broadcast to the world through the song, respect what you discuss with each other and keep it to yourselves.
#12 Be prepared to fail
Sometimes things just don’t work out. You or the person you’re writing with may be going through writer’s block, having a bad day or not ready emotionally to be that vulnerable in front of others. It is important you are aware if things aren’t working out so you can make changes to improve the situation.
Don’t expect the first session to result in a hit song. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come with an optimistic attitude, but rather that you should manage your expectations and relieve the group from the expectation that you need to hit a home-run the first time around. This pressure will only stifle the creative process. If one session isn‘t successful, don’t beat yourself up about it – just set yourselves realistic goals for the next one.
#13 Enjoy yourself
The most important thing to do is enjoy the experience and make sure those around you are enjoying themselves too. People are much more creative and productive when they are relaxed and happy. A good atmosphere will help everyone quickly learn more about each other and make it a positive experience, regardless of the quality of the music you make.
If you’re just starting out, it is much more important to focus on improving your abilities and working with others than searching for quick successes. The more time you commit to learning more from other songwriters and implementing that through your own experience, the more likely success will find its way to you.
Don’t be ashamed or feel down for writing an awful song. In fact, you should feel good that you have the awareness to know that it’s awful in the first place. You and the other writers will be brought closer together if you are all able to see the humour in it. A bad song will probably quite amusing and become something you can all laugh about together.
#14 Try everything
As with any creative session, the word “no” is an immediate idea-killer. Not only will it make the person who brought the idea forward feel deflated or defensive, but it will also remove any chance of the idea flourishing into something great.
It is very rare for an initial idea to come fully formed, and you never know, putting it into practice may have completely unpredicted results. It may be far better than you could have imagined, or far worse. You won’t know until you try, so make sure give it a proper go first before abandoning it. Even if you end up choosing not to go down this pathway, it may inspire something new.
Between yourself and the other writers see if you can come up with 3 or 4 different variations for each aspect of the song. Apply this to a certain chord in the progression, hooks in the chorus and lengths of sections. By doing this, you will constantly be challenging yourself to keep an open mind and find new paths to take the song.
Jake Gosling, who’s collaborated with Ed Sheeran, told the Evening Standard, “Sometimes a conversation may lead to a lyric that determines where the song would go, other times drums and rhythms can help drive the songwriting. Feel and emotions are so important to writing and making a great track come through.”
#15 Coming prepared will help you feel confident on the day
Especially for those who are new with co-writing, the best way to beat your nerves is knowing that you have prepared ideas to fall back on if new ones fail to come to you on the day. Having a good understanding of the people you are working together with will also allow you to find commonalities faster, which will lead to a more harmonic collaboration.
Lastly, be mindful of how your behaviour and attitude will impact the session: be open-minded, flexible to try new things and enjoy the ride!
Please let us know in the comments whether you have any experience writing with others and how it went!