By Cari Cole
As an artist who wrote most of my own songs during my solo career, co-writing always seemed like a cop-out. I was a child of the days of the great solo songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen. I was more than hesitant to co-write, and when I did, the songs were never that good. But, what I didn’t realize is that I hadn’t found the right writers.
Right now, there is a trend of songwriters writing for and with artists, and a lack of emphasis on going solo. And it’s working. Many of the biggest hits have several names following the title.
Billboard says that according to a Hit Songs Deconstructed report, “Who’s Writing the Hits?,” roughly 90 percent of Billboard Hot 100 top 10s in 2014 were written by two or more writers, and nearly half were written by at least four. “If you plan on writing a hit song, you’d better find a writing partner,” Penn advises. “Preferably, four or more.”
Songwriting collaboration, with the right writers, can be mightier than a well-penned solo effort, pulling the strengths from each making the sum greater than its parts. That’s what happens when you start finishing each other’s sentences – literally. It can be magic (more fun and faster too! Hell yes!)!
Once I started writing with other artists for their careers, I came to cherish the power of a great co-write. My company currently co-writes anywhere from 150 – 200 songs per year with our artists and we plan on doubling that next year. I love to match up an artist with the right writer who can help bring out their unique voice and get their sound and message on the page.
Here are my top DO’s and DON’Ts to help you navigate your co-writing terrain:
1. Prep for Your Co-Writing Session
Prepare Ahead. Especially when you’re the artist, or you’re not used to co-writes. Bring your journals, song concepts, and ideas. Life experiences. Be ready to share your ideas. Go with the best idea whether it is yours or your co-writers. Best song idea wins ;). If you are writing for you as an artist, make sure the theme applies to you.
What not to do: Don’t write a generic song that doesn’t relate to either of you particularly. Don’t just write a generic song without deciding who or what it is for. Write songs that are from real life experiences. They have a greater chance of being relatable. Also, decide who you are writing for at the top of the session: you as an artist, or another artist, or a project like a TV show or film for licensing, etc. ~ but always, always, always, put yourself in your songs. Like a great actor put themselves in their characters, great songwriters do the same.
2. Write With a Large Volume of Writers.
Push yourself to write with a lot of co-writers. Adele wrote with multiple co-writers during the making of 25. She was committed to the best songs (not her ego.) Beyonce, well, on Lemonade one of the songs had 72 names listed? #overkill? Think Lennon & McCartney, Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards… #songwritingcollabsrock.
It’s kind of like speed dating or matchmaking. You have to work with a lot of writers to get results. Don’t give up after a few sessions or a few co-writes gone wrong. Give yourself a chance to find the right people. Look for 2-4 of those magical, awe-inspiring co-writers. You’ll be so glad you stuck it out. Plus, once you get in the saddle with the right writers, songwriting can be SO much fun. #dontmissout.
3. Protect Your Work But Don’t Be Stingy.
The best way to agree on copyright percentages is to fill out a split sheet once the song is done. It’s easy to forget this stuff and better to do it right after writing. If you’ve got a ton of co-writes, fill one out at (or just following) each session. It’s easy to skip this and it’s important because when you go to copyright you’ve got all the info and have already agreed on percentages. Don’t put it off. It’s a funny thing, but even pro writers are a bit sloppy with their song administration. Be sure to follow through with:
- Sign a split sheet (Google one.)
- Registering each song copyright and sending a copy to each writer. Don’t register songs in collections, register each one to protect its copyright.
- Add your Song Registration once the song is “published” or “recorded” and released with your PRO (Performing Rights Organization). It’s how you get paid for public performance (venues, radio etc.)
- Register your songs with Sound Exchange to collect online royalties. #getorganized.
Oh, and – super important. Don’t fuss over songwriting credit. It’s important to get credit where credit is due, however, I don’t recommend nitpicking over percentages. Most pro writers split evenly when a song is written from scratch at the session. Sometimes one person only adds a line or two, but their influence was in the room from the start. Plus you can’t quantify songwriting bythe quantity of lines, think quality baby!! Besides, that one line might be the best one or make the song come together ;). Most professional writers are the most generous in spirit and attitude, and are the ones everyone loves to work with. Even split for all writers in the room and you’re an instant #pro and #badass. 🙌
4. Write With Co-Writers Who Are Better Than You.
One of the biggest challenges is finding writers who are better than you.
Write with unexpected matchups. Don’t judge a book by its cover. You never know who is going to be a great match. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected partners. A great song defies genre. Think “I Will Always Love You” written by country artist Dolly Parton, made famous by R&B artist Whitney Houston. Stay open, you never know.
We’ve answered the call in our Signature Songwriting Circle and pulled together a team of signed writers who are churning out hits and blowing up on Spotify. Uplevel your songs, instantly.
5. Be Prepared to Get Personal.
The best songs are written from real experiences (with a dash of drama and exaggeration ;)). Be prepared to write from personal experience. The song could be a blend of several people’s experience – all the better as long as you stay focused on the point.
Don’t hold back information from your co-writer. Be prepared to get personal as you’ll want to share the details of your experiences. Holding back information that a writer may need to paint a picture holds back the impact of your song.
6. Leave Your Ego at the Door
The dearly beloved late-great songwriter and past president of ASCAP, Marilyn Bergman, often said that when you enter a songwriting co-write session, you should check your ego at the door. She said, a songwriting session is a collaboration, not a solo write clothed in collaboration.
Looking for to write with award-winning co-writers who write for and with well known artists and whose songs have blown up on Spotify? Join our Signature Songwriting™ Circle and uplevel your songwriting right now.