I get a lot of questions about co-writing and how co-writing happens in the room. The biggest question is what should I expect to happen when I’m co-writing with someone else, especially if I’ve never met them?
I think what’s really being asked is – “how do I make sure I can participate and not embarrass myself during a co-writing session?” Which is a great question to get out there!
We’ll cover the basics of co-writing and give you some tips on how you can prepare before you show up, and be a great co-writer in the room.
PROMPT BASED CO-WRITING
- Workshops and retreats use this method most often, so if you’re attending one, this is a good one to practice doing ahead of time.
- Why use this type?
- People who have never co-written have a common, neutral starting point for a song. No one is more invested than the other, so it’s easier for people to “get along” in the room.
- You’re tired of the same old ideas and want a fresh look at something.
- You’ll brainstorm the prompt a bit, then decide on a song idea to pursue from it. You can use object writing to find a song idea and hook, or simply have a conversation that gets you to “what is the big picture meaning of the song and how are we going to make that clear to the listener?”
- Start creating structure and/or writing:
- I like to create an outline – some people don’t and want to start writing lines. So, I contribute to the “line writing” but write a structure down for myself.
Why use an outline? It gives you something to work within (a beginning and an end) and you can always change it later if the song wants to be something different.
I’ve also found for beginning songwriters that defining structure and rhyme pattern early makes the process less intimidating and creates stronger songwriting skills down the road. But, we’ll play it by ear based on what you’re comfortable with in terms of getting the song down.
- I also start to think about the rhyme pattern (my songwriting super-power from my poetry training) and start mapping it to help refine the song later. Again, on my on workspace (paper or computer).
- You’ll toss out melodies, lyric lines, etc. to fill in the structure – no judging allowed, but you may get a “how about this instead” if the person’s done it a few times. Just keep throwing lines, words, or ideas until the song is complete.
- Most important thing – get down the page!!
SONG IDEA-BASED CO-WRITING
- This type is driven by a songwriter bringing a preformed idea to the co-write.
- We each toss out some things from our songwriting notebooks. They can be hook lines or song ideas. Or someone has a song started and throws that out there as something to work on.
- Eventually there’s an idea or hook that comes out that the other person says, ”yeah, I’ve got an idea for that,” or “let’s write that one, it’s interesting.”
- A lot of songwriters will come to a co-write with some song ideas sketched out.
Meaning, they’ll have a concept pre-defined for their hook line. This can save time, especially if it’s a clever idea like a twist on a common phrase with an outline of how it would work “down the page” or within the structure of a song.
The great news is that those are good starting points that reduce the awkward time with a stranger when you’re trying to figure out what to write.
- Then simply use the same process as the above sectand things to keep in mind as above.
Sort of long explanation, but the big take away – don’t worry.
It’s meant to be a fun experience that has something come out of it at the end that is brand new to the world. Doesn’t have to be perfect or jaw-droppingly awesome. You can always make it those things later!
So no pressure – and no need to worry! ;^)
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Lines don’t need to be perfect. It’s about getting down what you mean to say and going back to rewrite (otherwise you’ll get stuck)
- I’m coming at it from a place of helping you get a song written, so don’t worry about what you haven’t done.
- You won’t believe it, but we’ll be able to write a whole song in 2 hours. I’ve done it a bajillion times (with some bizarre and unpleasant people at that), so I know we’ll be able to get one down!
- What we end up with as a song can always be tweaked by either party to end up being two different songs! If it’s OK for Ray Wylie Hubbard and Hayes Carl, then it should be OK for the rest of us! So no pressure for it to be perfect in the room.
- Kristen Hart of Amelia Earhart Returns came to me with her journal entry, which evolved into the song idea summary below:
“Story of friend Holly and how during hurricane Harvey she had to flee her home. She felt she was abandoning her family’s history as the water washed through the house. Saw water rise against the wall below her family picture from 1817, wedding gown floating by, fish swimming by.
Had her boys and guns – and come hell or high water, she was going to make sure they were all safe and made it through the night. They say come hell or high water – but both came tonight.
Gotta have faith as we wade through the dark. Hell and high water are both going to leave their mark. Hell or High Water – hook/title?”
- Next we . . .
- Decided on a song structure to start:
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
- Decided on a song type:
Storyline in chronological order, use verses to move through time – start with moment it happened (no pre-story, so write it a way that it could be any flood – song is about resilience and identifying what’s truly important to you, not Harvey per se).
- Decided on hook to write around after writing the idea summary:
Hell or high water
- Decided bridge would be the a-ha moment:
Premise – What’s most important is in the boat
- To start co-writing:
We agreed on the journal entry Kristen made directly from Holly telling her about what happened that night. Crafted her lines to fit into a succinct story with better rhythm based on Kristen’s accompaniment – knew we wanted start on Em.
- Notebook entry became chorus:
“Hell or high water, both came tonight/Gotta have faith as we wade through the dark./Hell and high water, gonna leave a mark.”
- We later added a chorus to the front so the hook happened sooner.
- The song was written within a one hour window once we sat down to write it because we’d both had a clear, single direction early, and storyline songs in chronological order are easier to write in general.
Listen to “Hell Or High Water” by Amelia Earhart Returns
HELPFUL CO-WRITING PREP ARTICLES ON SONGCHOPS
- Starting Your Songwriting Notebook
- From Outline To Song
- Creating a Song Outline Worksheet
- Creating a Song Story Arc with Story Streaming
- Summer Song Camp Newsletter