Songwriting Sessions: How to Prepare for a Co-Writing Session [15 Tips]
Getting experience in co-writing sessions can prepare for a career as a songwriter. You might end up writing something better than either of you might have written alone. Here’s our guide to collaborating with another writer along with our best co-writing session tips.
A songwriter should always be prepared before going into a co-writing session. You should go in with your own ideas and an open mind to the ideas of others. Be respectful and understand that you all won’t agree on everything. This actually helps create more ideas and can result in great songs.
Writing great songs with others can be an incredible experience. However, you need to find other writers first and then come to agreements regarding song splits.
Writing songs with a co-writer
Partnering up with other singers and songwriters for writing session can be hugely valuable. First of all, it helps you break out of your comfort zone. It allows you to work with other musicians to discover different writing styles to produce something unique.
Working with co-writers can also bring a new set of challenges compared to writing by yourself. It requires collaborating with other creative minds that may work in a 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. You and your songwriting team should want to be as effective as possible. This means being creative together, having a great time and hopefully writing amazing songs.
From the start, it is essential that you are all clear on who you are writing for. You should know 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 already have a publishing agreement.
This is where someone agrees to write songs, usually exclusively, for a publishing company. These companies manage the song copyrights and royalty distributions of its writers. Their writers 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 the Musicians Union has a template song share agreement for co-writing sessions.
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 the royalty will be distributed amongst all the writers.
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. They may be a bit apprehensive at first and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have to build a positive relationship as you spend more time around 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.
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. You might find a great opportunity to write songs with someone online. This could also be less intimidating than being in a room with others you may not know as well.
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.
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. It’s easier to come to an agreement about what you write individually and as a partnership. You both might have started writing an awesome song as individuals 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.
Writing with one other person can build up trust more easily than going from team to team. You constantly have to get to know new writers from scratch, making it harder to build trust. 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. This is especially the case 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.
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-writers music before the session. This gives you a better idea of what they’re like so you can build a positive relationship more easily. 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. 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
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. These can be 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. However, this will change with the more ideas you have. Your amazing ideas from a couple of years ago will seem mediocre compared to the better songs that you are writing now.
Listen to plenty of music
Make sure you’re regularly listening to music, especially new releases from successful songwriters. This will definitely keep you inspired. 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. 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
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 strong collaborative effort.
If your co-writer isn’t a fan of a lyric you created that you think is brilliant, don’t force it. If all parties don’t agree, you should be able to 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!
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. Why should another writer want to work with you if you’re going to share their intimate experiences with other people who aren’t involved? 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.
If everyone is comfortable with it, then it can be okay to share the inspirations for songs. In fact, it can make great behind the scenes content and many fans enjoy listening to artists talk about their processes.
Be prepared to fail
Sometimes things just don’t work out. You or the person you’re writing with could be going through writer’s block. Someone could be having a bad day or not ready to be that emotionally 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. Let go of expectations 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 and simply set yourselves realistic goals for the next one.
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. This will make it a positive experience and you’ll want to do it again, 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. Commit to learning more from other songwriters and implementing that knowledge through your own experience.
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. It will also make all of your other songs seem much better.
As with any creative session, the word “no” can be 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. You never know, putting even a small idea into practice can have completely unpredictable 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.
See if you and the other writers can come up with 3 or 4 different variations for each aspect of the song. Apply this to certain chords 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.”
Coming prepared will help you feel confident on the day
The best way to beat your nerves is knowing that you have prepared ideas if new ones fail to come to you on the day. Have a good understanding of the personalities and the process of the writers involved. This 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!
Let us know in the comments if you have written any songs in a co-writing session.